In piston engine engineering, a balance shaft is an eccentric weighted shaft which offsets vibrations in engine designs that are not inherently balanced (for example, most four-cylinder engines). They were first invented and patented by British engineer Frederick Lanchester in 1904.[1]


Balance shafts are most common in inline four cylinder engines which, due to the asymmetry of their design, have an inherent second order vibration (vibrating at twice the engine RPM) which cannot be eliminated no matter how well the internal components are balanced. Four-cylinder flat engines in the boxer configuration have their pistons horizontally opposed, so they are naturally balanced and do not incur the extra complexity, cost or power loss associated with balance shafts (though the slight offset of the pistons introduces a rocking couple). This vibration is generated because the movement of the connecting rods in an even-firing four-cylnder inline engine is not symmetrical throughout the crankshaft rotation; thus during a given period of crankshaft rotation, the descending and ascending pistons are not always completely opposed in their acceleration, giving rise to a net vertical inertial force twice in each revolution whose intensity increases quadratically with RPM, no matter how closely the components are matched for weight.[2]

The problem increases with larger engine displacement, since the only ways to achieve larger displacement are with a longer piston stroke, increasing the difference in acceleration, or by a larger bore, increasing the mass of the pistons; either way, the magnitude of the inertial vibration increases. For many years, two litres was viewed as the 'unofficial' displacement limit for a production inline four-cylinder engine with acceptable NVH characteristics.

The basic concept has a pair of balance shafts rotating in opposite directions at twice the engine speed. Equally-sized eccentric weights on these shafts are sized and phased so that the inertial reaction to their counter-rotation cancels out in the horizontal plane, but adds in the vertical plane, giving a net force equal to but 180 degrees out-of-phase with the undesired second-order vibration of the basic engine, thereby canceling it. The actual implementation of the concept, however, is concrete enough to be patented. The basic problem presented by the concept is adequately supporting and lubricating a part rotating at twice engine speed where the second order vibration becomes unacceptable.

There is some debate as to how much power the twin balance shafts cost the engine. The basic figure given is usually around 15 hp (11 kW), but this may be excessive for pure friction losses. It is possible that this is a miscalculation derived from the common use of an inertial dynamometer, which calculates power from angular acceleration rather than actual measurement of steady state torque. The 15 hp (11 kW), then, includes both the actual frictional loss as well as the increase in angular inertia of the rapidly rotating shafts, which would not be a factor at steady speed. Nevertheless, some owners modify their engines by removing the balance shafts, both to reclaim some of this power and to reduce complexity and potential areas of breakage for high performance and racing use, as it is commonly (but falsely) believed that the smoothness provided by the balance shafts can be attained after their removal by careful balancing of the reciprocating components of the engine.[citation needed]

Four cylinder applicationsEdit

Mitsubishi Motors pioneered the design in the modern era with its "Silent Shaft" Astron engines in 1975, with balance shafts located low on the side of the engine block and driven by chains from the oil pump, and they subsequently licensed the patent to Fiat, Saab and Porsche.[1]

Saab has further refined the balance shaft principle to overcome second harmonic sideways vibrations (due to the same basic asymmetry in engine design, but much smaller in magnitude) by locating the balance shafts with lateral symmetry but at different heights above the crankshaft, thereby introducing a torque which counteracts the sideways vibrations at double engine RPM, resulting in the exceptionally smooth B234 engine.

Six cylinder applicationsEdit

Another balance shaft design is found in many V6 engines. While an inherently balanced V6 engine would have either 60 or 120 degrees angle between the two banks of cylinders, many current V6 engines are derived from older V8 engines, which have a 90 degree angle between the two banks of cylinders. While this provides for an evenly spaced firing order in an 8 cylinder engine, in a six cylinder engine this results in a loping rhythm, where during each rotation of the crankshaft three cylinders fire at 90 degree intervals, followed by a gap of 90 degrees with no power pulse. This can be eliminated by using a more complex, and expensive, crankshaft which alters the relationship between the cylinders in the two banks to give an effective 60 degree difference, but recently many manufacturers have found it more economical to adapt the balance shaft concept, using a single shaft with counterweights spaced so as to provide a vibration which cancels out the shake inherent in the 90 degree V6.

Production implementationsEdit


Other manufacturers having produced engines with one or two balance shafts include:

Numerous motorcycle engines, particularly parallel twins, and even some small single cylinder engines have employed balance shaft systems as well. Other ingenious systems used in place of balance shafts include a "dummy connecting rod" in Ducati Supermono engines and hinged counterweights on the crank as used in BMW F800 motorcycles.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Engine Smoothness", Mark Wan, AutoZine Technical School, 1998–2000
  2. "Shaking forces of twin engines", Vittore Cossalter,

External linksEdit

de:Ausgleichswelle es:Eje de equilibrado nl:Balansas ja:バランスシャフト

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