Crankshaft at Wortley Top Forge 2010 - IMG 9993

A large industrial single cylinder crank

The crankshaft, sometimes casually abbreviated to crank, is the part of an engine which translates reciprocating linear piston motion into rotary motion. To convert the reciprocating motion into rotation, the crankshaft has "crank throws" or "crankpins", additional bearing surfaces whose axis is offset from that of the crank, by which the "big ends" of the connecting rod for each cylinder attaches and imparts its downward motion into the shaft.

It typically connects to a flywheel, to reduce the pulsation characteristic of the four-stroke cycle, and sometimes a torsional or vibrational damper at the opposite end, to reduce the torsion vibrations often caused along the length of the crankshaft by the cylinders farthest from the output end acting on the torsional elasticity of the metal.

Ancient historyEdit


4-cylinder crank

The crank-connecting rod system was fully developed in two of al-Jazari’s water raising machines in 1206. Similar crankshafts were later described by Conrad Keyser (d. 1405), Francesco di Giorgio](1439–1502), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), and by Taqi al-Din in 1551.[1] A Dutch "farmer" Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest also described a crankshaft in 1592. His wind-powered sawmill used a crankshaft to convert a windmill's circular motion into a back-and-forward motion powering the saw. Corneliszoon was granted a patent for the crankshaft in 1597.


Crankshafts can be monolithic (made in a single piece) or assembled from several pieces. Monolithic crankshafts are most common, but some smaller and larger engines use assembled crankshafts.

Forging and castingEdit

Crankshafts can be forged from a steel bar or cast in ductile iron. Today more and more manufacturers tend to favour the use of forged crankshafts due to their lighter weight, more compact dimensions and better inherent dampening. With forged crankshafts, vanadium micro-alloyed steels are mostly used as these steels can be air cooled after forging reaching high strengths without additional heat treatment, with exception to the surface hardening of the bearing surfaces. The low alloy content also makes the material cheaper than high alloy steels. Carbon steels are also used, but these require additional heat treatment to reach the desired properties. Cast iron crankshafts are today mostly found in cheaper production engines where the loads are lower. Some engines also use cast iron crankshafts for low output versions while the more expensive high output version use forged steel.


Crankshafts can also be machined out of a billet, often using a bar of high quality vacuum remelted steel. Even though the fibre flow (local inhomogeneities of the material's chemical composition generated during casting) doesn’t follow the shape of the crankshaft (which is undesirable), this is usually not a problem since higher quality steels which normally are difficult to forge can be used. These crankshafts tend to be very expensive due to the large amount of material removal which needs to be done by using lathes and milling machines, the high material cost and the additional heat treatment required. However, since no expensive tooling is required, this production method allows small production runs of crankshafts to be made without high costs.

Fatigue strengthEdit

The fatigue strength of crankshafts is usually increased by using a radius at the ends of each main and crankpin bearing. The radius itself reduces the stress in these critical areas, but since the radiuses in most cases are rolled, this also leaves some compressive residual stress in the surface which prevents cracks from forming.


Most production crankshafts use induction hardened bearing surfaces since that method gives good results with low costs. It also allows the crankshaft to be reground without having to redo the hardening. But high performance crankshafts, billet crankshafts in particular, tend to use nitridization instead. Nitridization is slower and thereby more costly, and in addition it puts certain demands on the alloying metals in the steel, in order to be able to create stable nitrides. The advantage with nitridization is that it can be done at low temperatures, it produces a very hard surface and the process will leave some compressive residual stress in the surface which is good for the fatigue properties of the crankshaft. The low temperature during treatment is advantageous in that it doesn’t have any negative effects on the steel, such as annealing]]. With crankshafts that operate on roller bearings, the use of carburization tends to be favored due to the high Hertzian contact stresses in such an application. Like nitriding, carburization also leaves some compressive residual stresses in the surface.


Some expensive, high performance crankshafts also use heavy-metal counterweights to make the crankshaft more compact. The heavy-metal used is most often a tungsten alloy but depleted uranium has also been used. A cheaper option is to use lead, but compared with tungsten its density is much lower.

Stress on crankshaftsEdit

The shaft is subjected to various forces but generally needs to be analysed in two positions. First, failure may occur at the position of maximum bending. In such a condition the failure is due to bending and the pressure in the cylinder is maximal. Second, the crank may fail due to twisting, so the crankpin needs to be checked for shear at the position of maximal twisting. The pressure at this position is not the maximal pressure, but a fraction of maximal pressure.

See also Edit


  1. Ahmad Y Hassan, The Crank-Connecting Rod System in a Continuously Rotating Machine

External linksEdit

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