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How Gear Ratios Work

Putting Gears to Work

Gears are generally used for one of four different reasons:

  1. To reverse the direction of rotation
  2. To increase or decrease the speed of rotation
  3. To move rotational motion to a different axis
  4. To keep the rotation of two axes synchronized

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You can see effects 1, 2 and 3 in the figure above. In this figure, you can see that the two gears are rotating in opposite directions, that the smaller gear is spinning twice as fast as the larger gear, and that the axis of rotation of the smaller gear is to the right of the axis of rotation of the larger gear.

The fact that one gear is spinning twice as fast as the other is because of the ratio between the gears -- the gear ratio. In this figure, the diameter of the gear on the left is twice that of the gear on the right. The gear ratio is therefore 2:1 (pronounced "two to one"). If you watch the figure, you can see the ratio: Every time the larger gear goes around once, the smaller gear goes around twice. If both gears had the same diameter, they would rotate at the same speed but in opposite directions.

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