Everything you need to know about chain drive

Just like belts, a chain drive is another method of transmitting mechanical power from one point to another. But it’s often used to convey power to the wheels of vehicles. Chain drives are also called drive chain or transmission chain that often conveys power by a roller chain passing over a sprocket gear with teeth. These teeth mesh with the holes in the chain links.

chain drive components

Today we’ll be looking at the definition, applications, components, types, and working of a chain drive. You’ll also get to know the advantages and disadvantages of chain drives.

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What is a chain drive?

A chain drive is a way of transmitting mechanical power (rotational motion) from one place to another. Chain drives are used apart from transmitting mechanical power but also for conveying goods, as well as lifting and dragging objects. However, the power is said to be output when the chain is rotating.

Chain drives can also be seen as a series of connected links using pin joints. It consists of endless chains wrapped around two or more sprockets.

Typically, chain drives are used where the distance between power produced and where it’s transferred is less. However, some designs and types of chain drives are used to transfer power for longer distances.

A power transmitting in a chain drive is very effective, that is, no power is lost, unlike a belt or rope drive where some percent of slip must occur. Also, the speed ratio in chain drives remains constant, making it a better choice when compared with a belt drive.

Finally, a chain drive runs over a wheel called a sprocket which is designed with several teeth around its circumference. Although not all chains require a sprocket to run over.

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Below are the various applications of a chain drive:

  • Chain drives are used for power transmission.
  • It’s used for lifting loads and conveying materials.
  • Woodworking machinery finds great use of this component.
  • A chain drive is used in material handling equipment.
  • It’s used in vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, bicycles, lorries, etc.
  • Agricultural machinery or equipment makes good use of a chain drive.

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Components of chain drives

The image below contains the diagram and components of a basic chain drive.

chain drive components and diagram

Classification of chain drives

Chain drives can be classified into three types based on their applications. Classification of chain drive includes:

  • Load lifting chains
  • Power transmission chains, and
  • Hauling chains.

Load lifting chains:

These types of chain drives are used for suspending, rising, or lowering loads in material handling operations. Link chains are the most popular types of these types of chains. The chain is beneficial as they have good flexibility in all directions, they are noiseless, the design is simple and easy to manufacture, and they can work on low-diameter drums and pulleys.

Power transmission chains

Power transmission chains are used for transmitting power from one shaft to another.

The limitations of link chains are that they operate at low speeds, sudden failure can occur, prone to overload, and jerks, and it has a heavyweight.

Hauling chains:

Hauling chains are used for carrying materials continuously by sliding, pulling, or carrying.

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Types of chain drives

The types of chain drives are explained based on their classification. Below are the various types of chain drives and their functions:

Hoisting chains:

In normal terms, a hoist is a mechanical device that is used for lifting or lowering a load. It’s used for shifting heavy goods from one place to another in a workstation. So, the chain is a mechanical device used in performing its operation known as a hoist chain drive. The chains are strong enough to handle heavy weight. The hoist types of chain drives are further classified into two categories:

  • Oval-link chain drive:

Overlinks are the common types of chain used in a hoist, it consists of various oval links joined to each other. The chain types are also known as coil chains. Although square link types of chains are also used, kinking occurred so easily due to high loading. This chain is only used at low speeds.  The figure below shows an oval link chain.

  • Stud-link chains:

A stud-link chain drive is used to minimize the deformation and link or tangle easily. The chain is made of round bars or studs, fit inside the oval-link chain to provide more strength to the chain. The types of chain drives are used in a ship to move its anchor up and down. It is also used in some crane hoists where a very high amount of load needs to be lifted.

Conveyor chains:

A conveyor chain drive is commonly used in a conveyor. This conveyor is a mechanical device that is used to move materials from one place to another. The chain drive is well-shaped, which is why it can easily run over sprockets. These chains are made of malleable cast iron and are used in low-speed machinery. The limitation of this chain is that its motion is not smooth, and there are chances of wear and tear.

These types of chain drives are further categorized into two types:

A detachable or hook joint conveyor chain drive – is used in a conveyor where the length between power transmissions is short.

Closed-end pintle conveyor chain drive – this type of conveyor chain drive consists of a barrel and link. It’s made in a single casting which is then heat-treated to offer higher strength.

Power transmission chain drive

The power transmission chain drive is used to offer rotational motion from one shaft to another. it’s made of steel which is sometimes heat-treated to resist wear and tear to some extent. These types of chain drives have greater accuracy and can easily run over sprockets.

Power transmission chains are further categorized into three types:

·         Blockchain:

Block transmission chains are used in low-speed areas and will create noise due to sudden contact between the sprocket and chain. It’s also used in some low-speed conveyor machines.

·         Roller chain:

The components of roller chain drives consist of a bush, inner link, pins, outer plate, inner plate, and rollers. A bush along with a roller is fitted inside both the plates then a pin is passed through both ends of the roller to fasten it. the chain is generally made of steel.

These rollers are free to rotate inside the bush so that when it contacts the sprocket wear and tear will be minimized. Its operation is soundless, wears less compared to that of blockchains, and is used in any circumstance like high-speed power transmission devices, like a motorcycle. It can serve longer if proper lubrication is maintained.

  • Silent chain or inverted tooth chain:

these types of chain drives are also used in high-speed power transmission areas just as the previously mentioned one. But these types do not have any roller, it’s accurately shaped which makes it easily sit and run over the sprocket. lubrication is a key factor of these types of chains otherwise it will wear and tear out.

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Working principle

The working of a chain drive is less complex and can be easily understood. Explaining how the system works with text won’t be cool but visual learning will help a lot that is why I provided the video below that explains the working of a chain drive.

So, watch the video below to learn about how a chain drive works.

Advantages and disadvantages of a chain drive


Below are the advantages of the various types of chain drive:

  • Multiple shafts can be driven from a single chain.
  • They are used for both long and short distances.
  • Fire hazard does not happen.
  • They are compact and have small overall dimensions.
  • Its working is not affected by temperature or environmental conditions.
  • A chain drive can be easily installed.
  • Abrasive conditions can be withstood.
  • Slapping does not occur.
  • They can operate in wet conditions.
  • They have a very high working efficiency of about 96%.

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Despite the good benefits of chain drives, some limitations still occur. below are the disadvantages of a chain drive in its various applications.

  • A chain drive cannot be used on an application that requires slippery.
  • Frequent lubrication is required.
  • Less load capacity is obtained compared with gear drives.
  • Its operation can be noisy and vibrations might occur.
  • They cannot be used where precise motion is required.
  • Housing is required.
  • They are not suitable for non-parallel shafts.
  • Adjustment is required when the chain slack.



Chain drives are a great invention in the mechanical world as they can be used for various purposes. In this article, we’ve explained the definition, applications, diagram, components, types, and working of a chain drive. We’ve also seen the advantages and disadvantages of the system.

I hope you enjoyed the reading, if so, kindly comment on your favorite section of this article. And please don’t forget to share this post with other technical students. Thanks!

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