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The Guide To Roller Chain

  • History of roller chain

    Did you know that the idea for roller chains was first conceived in the 16th century?

    Leonardo da Vinci sketched a chain that shows a roller bearing mechanism. Although Hans Renold is more commonly credited with inventing the chain in 1880.

    Reasons Why The Roller Chain Idea Is So Innovative

    The roller chain design minimizes friction compared to simpler designs, which results in higher efficiency and less wear and tear. The original power transmission chain varieties lacked bushings and rollers, with both the outer and inner plates held by pins that directly contacted the sprocket teeth. However, this configuration of roller chain sprockets showed extremely rapid wear and tear of both the sprocket teeth, and the plates where they spun on the pins.

    This problem was partially resolved by the development of roller chain bushings, with the pins holding the outer plates passing through bushings or sleeves that connect the inner plates. This distributes the wear of the chain across a greater area. However, the teeth of the roller chain sprockets still wore much more rapidly than is desirable, due to the sliding friction against the bushings. The addition of rollers that surround the bushing sleeves of the chain, and provide rolling contact with the teeth of the sprockets, results in excellent resistance to wear of both sprockets and chain.

    All roller chain is used for the transfer of kinetic energy. Today’s chain consists of a series of short cylindrical rollers and bushing held together by side links. The roller chain is driven by a toothed wheel called a sprocket. This chain -- made from a series of short rollers, cylindrical in shape, held with side links and moved by a sprocket -- is one of the most efficient and reliable means of transmitting mechanical power.

  • Construction of Roller Chain

    The different components of a roller chain, like 40 chain or 420 chain, include the outer plate, the inner plate, pin, bushing, and roller. Single strand roller chain with one roller link between plates is most commonly used for transmission of mechanical power on many kinds of domestic , industrial, and agricultural machinery , including conveyors, printing presses, cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Conversely, where extra strength and the smooth drive of a smaller pitch is necessary, instead of just single strand chain, with one roller, there may be two rollers ("duplex"), three rollers ("triplex"), or more rows of plates and bushings running parallel, with bushings and rollers between each adjacent pair, and the same number of rows of teeth running in parallel on the sprockets to match. Timing chains on automotive engines, for example, typically have multiple rows of plates called strands.

    There is also bushingless roller chain, which is comparable in use, although not in construction. Instead of separate bushings or sleeves that can hold the inner plates together, the plate has a tube stamped into it protruding from the hole which serves the same purpose. Clearly, this system has the advantage of removing one step in the assembly of the chain, reducing time and cost for the users.

    Roller chains are often tied together through what is known as a master link (also known as a connecting link). The master link typically has a single pin held by a horse-shoe-shaped clip rather than through friction fit, thus enabling it to be inserted or removed with simple tools.

    Materials used for roller chain

    Steel chains are most often used in the industrial units of today. Steel is heavy enough to stand up to the punishment the chain will receive, and steel is thick enough to maintain itself over many hours of work every day. A chain that is settled in its place should last a very long time, and steel is the most durable product available.

    A Nickel Plated Coating on each steel roller chain helps prevent wear on the chain over time as the chain is used. A nickel plated coating on a roller chain will wear away long before the steel begins to wear. You can observe the wear on the plating. Plated roller chain is standard chain which is nickel-plated before assembly. It features a sheen and has the property of being resistant to corrosion, together with the same strength and wear resistance as standard roller chain. This makes it ideal for use with machines which must be kept highly clean, such as food processing equipment, textile machines, business machines, and printing machines. In addition, the corrosion resistant feature of nickel-plated chain permits its use either underwater or in places where conditions of high humidity prevail. “NP” is added to the chain number for identification.

    The coating is fitted to every part of the chain, and the coating makes the chain noticeably slick. You may also apply grease to the chain in order to keep it running, but you do not need to apply much. Maintenance on these chains is much easier than it would be otherwise, and you will be able to keep the chain working and moving for quite a long time.

    Stainless roller chain made of 304 stainless steel, has superior corrosion and heat resistance properties. Stainless steel chains are the best in corrosive environments. Stainless steel will not tarnish, but the steel may not be very thick or as hard as steel chain. An alternative 600 series chain has specially hardened pins, bushings and rollers for greater wear resistance than 304 series chain. 600 Series Steel Chain provides both corrosion resistance and good wear. The special 600 series stainless steel material is used in the round parts which allowsfor greater working loads. The side plates are “304” series stainless steel allowing increased corrosion resistance. 600 series stainless steel chains are ideal when FDA regulations are required to be met You may find that a steel chain will last longer than a chain made from stainless do to stress or fatigue. Steel has therefore been the standard in the industry.

    In summary, most roller chain is made from plain carbon or alloy steel, but stainless chain is used in food processing machinery or other places where lubrication is a problem, and nylon or brass are occasionally seen in those applications for the same reason.

  • Uses of Roller Chain

    Roller chains are the best applications of force in a small system. A roller chain is capable of taking energy from a motor and transferring that energy to a small area. The chain can turn infinitely, and it can connect many parts of the same system at once. Large machines rely on these chains to connect many cams to the power, and roller chains can lift doors weighing several tons using a fraction of a horsepower. Roller chains are used in low- to mid-speed revolutions at around 600 to 800 feet per minute; however, at increased speeds, around 2,000 to 3,000 feet per minute, V-belts are normally used because of wear and noise issues. They are used in industrial, agricultural and domestic applications, which can include tube-drawing machines, printing presses, motorcycles, cars, bikes, and conveyors.

    Roller chains are most often seen inside large engines, on large doors and within machinery of all types. A roller chain connects many parts of the system to one another. A large machine in a warehouse or factory must use roller chains to connect multiple parts of the same machine. Several gears may run through the links in the chain, and you must have a chain that can withstand the pressure put on it as it runs all day. However, roller chains are not used in heavy machinery that employ hydraulic rams. Chains used to lower and raise the body are not considered roller chains, but are classified as lift or leaf chains.

    In older car engines from the United States and other countries, roller chains would traditionally drive the camshaft(s) off the crankshaft, thus leading to less noise than a gear drive as used in very high performance engines, and offering more durability than the timing belt frequently used on more modern engines.

    A bicycle chain is another common form of roller chain. Bicycle chains may have a master link, or may require a chain tool for removal and installation. A similar but larger, and thus stronger chain, is used on most motorcycles although it is sometimes replaced by either a toothed belt or a shaft drive, which offers a lower noise level and fewer maintenance requirements.

    Doors can also use roller chains. A door that uses a roller chain to rise and fall requires a chain that will reach from the motor to other end of the door. A simple roller chain will infinitely turn between the motor and the roller. A large industrial door can be raised and lowered with a chain on each side, or a powerful motor can use one chain to raise and lower the door.

  • Handling Roller Chain to Make it Last

    As you know, the roller chains and sprockets you use must be handled properly from start to finish. A roller chain is a durable piece of equipment, but it must be handled correctly to ensure a long life. Sprockets that interact with your roller chains must be properly installed and fitted to your chains. There are several things to keep in mind when handling roller chains and sprockets.

    Best Handling Practices

    Roller chains are coated with a polymer that will prevent wear and tear on the surface. The coating could be scratched at any time while you handle the chain, but you can avoid problems by gently carrying and installing the chain. No one wants to damage the chain before they have had a chance to use it. Obviously the chain will not last as long if the protective coating has been worn away.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the links in each chain can be broken during handling if they are not stored or transported properly. Allowing a roller chain to slosh around the back of a truck will create more damage, and shoving the chain into a toolbox could leave some of the links unstable. It is always a good idea to carefully store the chain in a place that will prevent damage.

    And, naturally, a roller chain that is greased properly will prevent wear and also preserve your sprockets.

    If taken care of properly, roller chains will last longer than any other item you can find for your machines or doors. Roller chains are not guaranteed to last a certain amount of time, but chains well cared for will give you the maximum life.

    Best Installation Practices

    Roller chains cannot be installed with a heavy hand. Roller chains fit with sprockets in a machine or industrial device. The teeth on the sprockets turn to fit into small gaps in each chain, but the chain is no good if it is damaged during installation. You must take the time required to fit the chain to the machine’s sprockets.

    Careful installation of a roller chain allows time for each sprocket to be fitted to the chain itself. The chain will be taut when the installation is complete, and the machine will be ready to run. Running the machine prematurely without fitting the chain will damage the chain, damage the sprockets, or even break the motor on the device.

  • Adjusting Roller Chain

    You can easily adjust your roller chain with a breaker. These can often be purchased from the same supplier that sold you the chains. Roller chain breakers can take on any chain for a link adjustment. Your 40 chain or 420 chain can be adjusted to fit the unit you are using; for the reasons previously discussed it is important to have the correct sizing.

    Simple roller chains can be adjusted using a roller chain breaker that pushes the pins through the links. The chain breaker is used for repair applications and adjustment. You must choose to remove or add a link to improve efficiency in your machines, or you may need to adjust the links when you realize your machine would benefit from the change. The small adjustments in the chain can be made in moments when you have a breaker on-hand. You must gently remove links, and you must carefully add new links without disturbing the rest of the chain. Heavy-handed work in this area will render the chain useless.

    You may adjust your roller chain at any time. The links on the chain may be removed to change the length of the chain, and the links snap back together when you are finished with your work. Machines are not static objects that remain the same for several decades at a time. It is possible that a machine will require a different roller chain after years of use and abuse. Adding or removing a single link is a fine way to avoid damaging the system.

  • Cleaning and Lubrication

    Cleaning Regular cleaning is one of the most important ways to care for chains and sprockets. You can clean the chains and sprockets in your machines easily, but they must be removed with care. After cleaning the sprockets with soft soap and a cloth, the chains must be greased to make movement easy. You should consider how often each sprocket and chain needs to be cleaned.

    Yearly service on an industrial machine is a wise choice, but you must look over the requirements for the machine you are using. Services may be required in shorter intervals for certain industrial products.


    Many roller chains have to operate in dirty conditions, and for size or operational reasons cannot be sealed off from the elements. Some examples include chains on farm equipment, bikes, and chainsaws. These chains will necessarily have relatively high rates of wear, especially when the operators are prepared to accept more friction, less efficiency, increased noise and more frequent replacement as they neglect lubrication and adjustment. That's why stainless chain in corrosive environments is preferable, since their coating allows them to survive the corrosive environment.

  • Sprockets: Installation and Care

    Proper sprockets are another consideration. Roller chain sprockets must fit your chain perfectly if you wish the chain to function as it should. You should be able to find gears and sprockets to match your chain type and size, whether you are producing your own machine or replacing the parts inside an existing machine.

    Sprocket Matching

    Many roller chains are used improperly with sprockets that fit to a degree, but not perfectly. Your chain is not designed to function on sprockets that are too big or too small, no matter how slightly. The roller chain sprockets must fit into each groove perfectly, and they must not leave any slack as the chain rolls over the sprockets.

    Sprockets that are too small may not catch the chain with every turn, and sprockets that are too big will cause wear on the chain that could break it prematurely. You are rarely in danger of breaking your chain, unless the sprocket is too large. If you are not careful, the sprockets you use will not hit the chain in the right places. A chain that is a bit too tight could break your sprockets or run inefficiently. A chain that is too large will simply miss the sprockets as it turns. The motor will use energy, but the system will not function properly.

    Clearly, you must choose sprockets measured and rated for your roller chain. Some chains are sold with accompanying sprockets. You may check the rating on the chain to buy extra sprockets, or you may purchase sprockets that match those that came with the chain on your original purchase. You may think of the sprockets as a secondary item, but sprocket matching to your chain will keep it in good condition.


    Sprockets that are used in your machines or industrial devices must be handled with the same care you handle each chain. The chains you use interact with your sprockets on a surface level. The two items must work closely together, and you should not mishandle the sprockets before you get started on your work.

    The sprockets you are installing must be installed with the greatest care possible. Every tooth on the sprocket must be aligned. Be cautious: bending the teeth will cause a lack of alignment in the system. One damaged sprocket tooth could destroy the efficiency of a system, or the sprocket tooth could eat away at the chain until the chain breaks.

    Slowly screw in the sprocket until the screw it tight, but do not tighten the screw too much. The screw could break the face of the sprocket, and you will lose the integrity of that piece of the system. You must carefully remove screws when adjusting the system, and then you can adjust each part of the system without causing further damage.

  • Purchasing Roller Chain and Sprockets

    You can purchase 40 chain, 420 chain, and all other roller chain for your needs online from redboarchain.com. We specialize in these products. You may select standard lengths from the catalog, and you may purchase as many chains as you need. Keeping a supply in your facility is always helpful, but we always have inventory available if you prefer to buy replacements when you need new chains.

    However, bulk purchasing roller chain is always a good idea to save on costs. You must have a proper selection of roller chains at your disposal when you work with machinery or industrial applications. The machinery you work with every day could depend on a roller chain you have kept in storage. You never know when you are going to need a roller chain as an emergency replacement.

    You may also want to consider purchasing as many accessories as you can find for your chains at the same time. Keeping sprockets, gears, rollers and breakers on-hand will increase your response time to any mechanical problems. You can quickly replace sprockets with your spare parts, or you can use a spare ring roller when one breaks. If you want to be prepared to quickly repair your machinery that uses roller chains, bulk purchases keep you in good shape for the future.

    And as mentioned previously, roller chains and sprockets should offer a perfect fit. You must consider how the sprockets you buy fit into the chain you already own. You can match sprockets to the chains you use when installing your new system. Replacing sprockets and chains require a match on both ends, and you must purchase sprockets that are the same size as the gaps in your chains. Every purchase you make must match the chain, and you may purchase also sprockets in bulk for easy replacement.

  • FAQs Technical

    How is the drive roller chain drive ratio calculated and what is the recommended maximum single loss?

    The transmission ratio is a function of the number of teeth of the large sprocket divided by the number of teeth on the smaller sprocket. Recommended maximum speed for one roll reduction gears is 7:1. In practice, the reduction limit of practical single-speed is noted at the minimum size is of the smaller sprocket. The maximum size of the large sprocket is needed for adequate packaging compared to a smaller sprocket. For ratios greater than 7: 1, it is preferable to have a double reduction.

    Why does my roller chain sprockets stretch too fast?

    Proper lubrication is key to achieve maximum wear resistance of each of the roller chain. Since the chain articulates around the sprockets, this causes wearing expansion or "parting" in the string.

    What's the temperature limits of the roller chain sprockets?

    Carbon steel-based chains can be used in a conventional manner, where the temperatures are between 0 ° F and 350 ° F. A riveted chain is constructed or sidemashed at their edges with pins that extend a small amount through the panel on both sides, and then "riveted" to add a special strength to the power of the pin and plate. Note: sidemashing riveting is what keeps the pin and plate together, by fitting between the size of the plate hole and the diameter of the nail to keep the two together.

    Cottered chain with pins extend a small amount of an additional distance above the disc. On the other hand, with a cross-drilled hole, inserting the erected pin means a Cottered chain can also be done with a press fit between the size of the plate and the pin hole diameters. The plate in this instance would easily be removed after removing the cotter pin, because grinding a riveted end pin is not necessary.

    What is the length of the corresponding roller chain and why is it used?

    Many applications require two or more channels to be generally parallel to the "flight" linking chains along a conveyor belt or the type of transmission system, which runs with attachments. In these cases it is important that as a set of ordered chains, each one is installed on the machine with the same ratio to each other as if they were tuned to the roller.

    You must find a chain that properly fits the needs of your application. There are industry standards that keep chains at certain lengths. Whether your chain was used for an industrial door, large machine or other industrial device, you should be able to find a replacement with the same specifications as the original.

    How is the correct chain tension being measured and why is it important?

    Proper tension is critical to achieving acceptable chain life, as excessive tension may result in accelerated wear or overload and excessive chain slack lead can cause jumping of the chain on the sprocket, resulting in a total failure of the chain and the machine. For most low and medium-speed movement of the entire middle section, you're looking at approximately 4-6% of the mean distance of the disc in the sag of the chain. For drives with high speeds, shock loads or cancellation, the entire middle movement range should be reduced to 2-3% of center distance. With vertical bodies, they should be set to a smaller percentage. If the drive to adapt the boot or idler pulleys, the amount of movement that includes "take-up" always allows the exclusion of two divisions chains.

    How can the wear of roller chain and chain depletion be accurately measured?

    Roller chain is relatively accurately determined by measuring the load side of the disk when the disk is turned off, and taking into account the degree of the center pin towards the center of the other pin. The more pitches (pins) contained within the measurement, the more the accuracy increases. If the measured value exceeds the nominal by more than the allowed percentage, you must replace the chain. Maximum wear elongation of 3% for most industrial applications is based on the sprocket design.

    Tear and wear of the string is calculated as a percentage using the formula: 200 / N, where N is the number of teeth in the large sprocket. The relationship is often helpful because the normal maximum allowable chain wear elongation of 3% is valid for a maximum period of 67 large sprocket teeth. For drives with fixed center distances, walking or parallel strings in the smooth functioning of the necessary amount of wear should be limited to 1.5%. Whether it is 40 chain or 420 chain, make sure it is properly lubricated to get the best performance and longest life.

    What about the "pre-stretching" or "pre-load" roller chain? How is it produced, and what is important to understand?

    After installing the initial network load, the pre-load is applied. This pre-load is approximately the maximum recommended load assignment operation. Then align the individual components of the chain, such as pins, bushings and brackets. The advantage is that it helps find the initial part of the "small" chains.

    Can I design new devices and machinery using standard roller chains and sprockets?

    Yes! Many people design new industrial devices that use roller chains and sprockets, but you must use roller chains and sprockets that you believe will hold up to the power of your machine. A machine you design produces a certain amount of power, and you must choose chains or sprockets that can withstand that sort of power. The chains and sprockets are rated for certain uses, and you must consider how the items have been designed before you choose to use them.

    Your designs should include enough space for the sprockets and chains you use, and the design should take into account vertical and horizontal space for the sprockets. You must look at the sprockets laterally to ensure they do not touch one another. Your designs must factor in the size of the sprocket along with the size of its teeth. You can quickly make changes to your plans when using these parts, and you can purchase anything you like for your design.

    The care you put into the installation will result in a better machine, and the care you put into the installation will result in longer life for the machine.

    You cannot treat these steel parts like they are invincible. The parts will break down easily under poor conditions, and you can avoid poor conditions with a bit of wisdom. Your industrial devices will last much longer when using proper sprockets and chains. The sprockets and chains will make the machines more efficient, and the parts can be serviced every year. You are not without options when you are managing large industrial equipment in your facility.