Crankshaft Surface Finish

By John Havel


Crankshaft surface finish and shape are key factors affecting the performance of all bearings. Crankshaft journal surfaces should be ground and polished to a surface finish of 15 micro inches roughness average Ra or better. Journals on highly loaded crankshafts such as diesel engines or high performance racing engines require a finish of 10 micro inches Ra or better.

The above is a simple straight forward specification which can be measured with special equipment. However, there is more to generating a ground and polished surface than just meeting the roughness specification. To prevent rapid, premature wear of the crankshaft bearings and to aid in the formation of an oil film, journal surfaces must be ground opposite to engine rotation and polished in the direction of rotation. This recommendation can cause a great deal of confusion in actual execution. Understanding the reasons behind the recommendation and examination of the following illustrations will help make the recommendation clearer.

Metal removal tends to raise burrs. This is true of nearly all metal removal processes. Different processes create different types of burrs. Grinding and polishing produces burrs that are so small that we can’t see or feel them but they are there and can damage bearings if the shaft surface is not generated in the proper way. Rather than “burrs,” let’s call what results from grinding and polishing “microscopic fuzz.” This better describes what is left by these processes. This microscopic fuzz has a grain or lay to it like the hair on a dog’s back. Figure 1 is an illustration depicting the lay of this fuzz on a journal. (Note: All figures are viewed from nose end of crankshaft.) The direction in which a grinding wheel or polishing belt passes over the journal surface will determine the lay direction of the so-called, micro fuzz.

In order to remove this fuzz from the surface, each successive operation should pass over the journal in the opposite direction so that the fuzz will be bent over backward and removed. Polishing in the same direction as grinding would not effectively remove this fuzz because it would merely lay down and then spring up again. Polishing must, therefore, be done opposite to grinding in order to improve the surface.

In order to arrive at how a shaft should be ground and polished, we must first determine the desired end result and then work backwards to establish how to achieve it. Figure 2 depicts a shaft turning in a bearing viewed from the front of a normal clockwise rotating engine. The desired condition is a journal with any fuzz left by the polishing operation oriented so it will lay down as the shaft passes over the bearing (Figure 2).

The analogy to the shaft passing over the bearing is like petting a dog from head to tail. A shaft polished in the opposite direction produces abrasion to the bearing which would be like petting a dog from tail to head. To generate a surface lay like that shown in Figure 2, the polishing belt must pass over the shaft surface as shown in Figure 3.

The direction of shaft rotation during polishing is not critical if a motorized belt type polisher is used because the belt runs much faster than the shaft. If a nutcracker-type polisher is used, then proper shaft rotation must be observed (Figure 4). Stock removal during polishing must not exceed .0002” on the diameter.Having determined the desired surface lay from polishing, we must next establish the proper direction for grinding to produce a surface lay opposite to that resulting from polishing. Figure 5 shows the grinding wheel and shaft directions of rotation and surface lay for grinding when viewed from the front or nose end of the crankshaft. This orientation will be achieved by chucking the flywheel flange at the left side of the grinder (in the headstock). Achieving the best possible surface finish during grinding will reduce the stock removal necessary during polishing.

The surface lay generated by grinding would cause abrasion to the bearing surfaces if left unpolished. By polishing in the direction shown in either Figure 3 or 4, the surface lay is reversed by the polishing operation removing fuzz created by grinding and leaving a surface lay which will not abrade the bearing surface.

Nodular cast iron shafts are particularly difficult to grind and polish because of the structure of the iron. Nodular iron gets its name from the nodular form of the graphite in this material. Grinding opens graphite nodules located at the surface of the journal leaving ragged edges which will damage a bearing. Polishing in the proper direction will remove the ragged edges from these open nodules.

All of the above is based on normal clockwise engine rotation when viewed from the front of the engine. For crankshafts which rotate counter-clockwise, such as some marine engines, the crankshaft should be chucked at its opposite end during grinding and polishing. This is the same as viewing the crank from the flanged end rather than the nose end in the accompanying figures.


Severe Use Recommendations

Crankshaft surface finish and shape are key factors affecting the performance of all bearings. These factors become even more critical for thrust surfaces. As in any bearing, increased loading reduces oil film thickness between shaft and bearing surfaces. This is a much more critical situation in thrust bearings due to their flat faces which make formation of an oil film extremely difficult. Radial bearings (those which carry loads in a radi¬al direction like rod and main bearings) form a natural wedge where shaft and bearing surfaces come together in the clearance space. Shaft rotation pulls a wedge of oil into the loaded area of the bearing and forms an oil film that supports the load.

Thrust faces, on the other hand, are made up of two flat surfaces that do not form a natural wedge where they meet. In order to help form an oil film, artificial wedge shaped areas are machined into the bearing surfaces at the ends and sometimes adjacent to the grooves. In spite of all the common design efforts, thrust bearings still run on a much thinner film of oil that makes crankshaft surface finish critical in the successful performance of these bearings.

Recent samples of thrust face surface finish on crankshafts from blown fuel “Hemi” engines have confirmed that better finishes resulted in a reduced rate of bearing distress. The study also showed that when no damage occurred, the crankshaft surface finish was improved after running. The surface finishes of 12 crankshafts were measured (7 new and 5 used). The new shafts ranged from a high of 30 Ra to a low of 5 Ra. The used shafts had a very similar range from 31Ra to 4 Ra. Although this represents only a small sampling, it does demon¬strate a correlation between surface finish and performance when the condition of mating bearing surfaces was evaluated. Prior to these measurements, race experience had shown no problems on a crankshaft with a thrust-face Ra of 6 and DID show problems on crankshafts when the Ra was over 20!

Obtaining a good finish on the thrust face of a crankshaft is difficult to do because it uses side-wheel grinding. Side grinding causes marks that spiral outward toward the OD of the thrust face and may also cause cross¬hatch marks resembling honing patterns. Both patterns are detrimental to the formation of an oil film because they work like wipers as the shaft rotates. Grinding marks must be removed by polishing. Only a circular pattern should remain. Surface finish should be checked in a tangential direction and must be held to 10 Ra max. The thrust surface should be flat within .0002” max.


John Havel has spent over 40 years in the industry, all of it in the engine bearing business and all in an engineering capacity. After working for many of its predecessors, he finished his career with Clevite Engine Parts as Director of Engineering. John spends his retirement in Wadsworth, Ohio and serves as a consultant to MAHLE Clevite Inc.

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