Gear Terminology

      Last time we reviewed the ancient origins of gears and saw how they’ve been around a lot longer than most people realize.    Now let’s familiarize ourselves with the terminology of modern gears by taking a look at the most basic and commonly used gear construction, the spur gear.

      A spur gear is shown below, so named due to its resemblance to spurs commonly found attached to horse riding boots.

Mechanical engineering expert witness.

Spur Gear

      At their most basic gears are wheels containing many projections which resemble teeth.    These teeth are equally spaced around the wheel’s circumference and are designed to mesh, or fit together, with the teeth of other like gears.

      Looking more closely at the teeth of a modern spur gear, we see they have a rather complex and peculiar curved shape, along with their own terminology.

Gear Tooth Terminology

      There’s a pitch circle that intersects each gear tooth between the root of the tooth, or bottom land, and the tip of the tooth, or top land.    Above the pitch circle each tooth side bears a face.    Below the pitch circle and under each face is a flank.

      Spur gear teeth don’t necessarily have to have this shape.    All that’s required is that the teeth fit together in such a way so as to permit fluid interaction between them as they rotate.    As a matter of fact, some primitive gears consisted of wooden wheels with teeth made of wooden pegs.    These pegs were inserted into evenly spaced holes which were drilled around the circumference of the wheel.    The wooden pegs of each wheel would mesh with one another, and when one gear wheel was caused to rotate, its pegs would press against the pegs of the other gear, making it rotate along with it.

      So if simple pegs worked well enough, then why are modern gear teeth so specifically shaped?     We’ll see why next time when we join gears together to form a gear train.


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