Valve gear

Valve gear

The valve gear of a steam engine is the mechanism that operates the inlet and exhaust valves to admit steam into the cylinder and allow exhaust steam to escape, respectively, at the correct points in the cycle. It is sometimes referred to as the "motion".


In the simple case, this can be a relatively simple task as in the internal combustion engine in which the valves always open and close at the same points. This is not the ideal arrangement for a steam engine, though, because greatest power is achieved by keeping the inlet valve open throughout the power stroke (thus having full boiler pressure, minus transmission losses, against the piston throughout the stroke) while peak efficiency is achieved by only having the inlet valve open for a short time and then letting the steam expand in the cylinder (expansive working).

The point at which steam stops being admitted to the cylinder is known as the "cutoff" and the optimal position for this varies depending on the work being done and the tradeoff desired between power and efficiency. Steam engines are fitted with throttles (regulators in British parlance) to vary the restriction on steam flow, but controlling the power via the cutoff setting is generally preferable since it makes for more efficient use of boiler steam.

A further benefit may be obtained by admitting the steam to the cylinder slightly before front or back dead centre. This advanced admission (also known as "lead steam") assists in cushioning the inertia of the motion at high speed.

In the internal combustion engine, this task is performed by cams on a camshaft driving poppet valves, but this arrangement is not commonly used with steam engines, partly because achieving variable engine timing using cams is complicated. Instead, a system of eccentrics, cranks and levers is generally used to derive the motion of a D slide valve or piston valve from the motion of the main crank/big end. Generally, two simple harmonic motions with different fixed phase angles are added in varying proportions to provide an output motion that is variable in phase and amplitude. A variety of such mechanisms have been devised over the years, with varying success.

Both slide and piston valves have the limitation that intake and exhaust events are fixed in relation to each other and cannot be independently optimised. Lap is provided on steam edges of the valve, so that although the valve stroke reduces as cutoff is advanced, the valve is always fully opened to exhaust. However, as cutoff is shortened, the exhaust events also advance. The exhaust release point occurs earlier in the power stroke and compression earlier in the exhaust stroke. Early release wastes some energy in the steam, and early closure also wastes energy in compressing an otherwise unnecessarily large quantity of steam. Another effect of early cutoff is that the valve is moving quite slowly at the cutoff point, and this causes 'wire drawing' of the steam, another wasteful thermodynamic effect visible on an indicator diagram.

These inefficiencies drove the widespread experimentation in poppet valve gears for locomotives. Intake and exhaust poppet valves could be moved and controlled independently of each other, allowing for better control of the cycle. In the end, few locomotives overall ever were fitted with poppet valves. A very late British design, the SR Leader Class, used sleeve valves adapted from internal combustion engines, but this class was not a success.

In stationary steam engines, traction engines and marine engine practice, the shortcomings of valves and valve gears were among the factors that lead to compound expansion. In stationary engines trip valves were also extensively used.

Valve gear designs

Valve gear was a fertile field of invention, with probably several hundred variations devised over the years. However, only a small number of these saw any widespread use. They can be divided into those that drove the standard reciprocating valves (whether piston valves or slide valves), those used with poppet valves, and stationary engine trip gears used with semi-rotary Corliss valves or drop valves.

Reciprocating valve gears

* Gab or hook gear - used on earliest locomotives. Allowed reversing but no control of cutoff.

Link gears

Two eccentrics joined by a curved or straight link. A simple arrangement which works well at low speed. At high speed, a Walschaerts-type gear is said to give better steam distribution and higher efficiency.
* Stephenson valve gear - most common valve gear in 1800s, normally inside the locomotive frame.
* William T. James valve gear 1832, used first by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, USA.
* Allan valve gear, a straight-link valve gear. It is fitted to 0-4-0WT "Dolgoch", preserved on the Talyllyn Railway.
* Gooch valve gear

Radial gears

Both components of the motion come from a single crank or eccentric. A problem with this arrangement (when applied to locomotives) is that one of the components of the motion is affected by the rise and fall of the locomotive on its springs. This probably explains why radial gears were largely superseded by Walschaerts-type gears in railway practice but continued to be used in traction and marine engines.
* Hackworth valve gear invented by John Wesley Hackworth in 1859.
* Joy valve gear - a design used extensively on the L&YR and LNWR in England, and elsewhere. A preserved example is LNWR G2a Class number 49395.
* Marshall valve gear - a modified Hackworth gear, patented in 1879 by Marshall, Sons & Co..
* Southern valve gear - Briefly popular in the United States around 1920. It combined elements of the Walschaerts and Baker patterns.

Walschaerts-type gears

One component of the motion comes from a crank or eccentric. The other component comes from a separate source, usually the crosshead.
* Walschaerts or Heusinger valve gear - most common valve gear on later locomotives, normally externally mounted.
* Baker valve gear - fairly common in the United States, it had no sliding parts.
* Deeley valve gear - fitted to several express locomotives on the Midland Railway. The combination levers were driven, as normal, from the crossheads. Each expansion link was driven from the crosshead on the opposite side of the engine.
* Young valve gear - used the piston rod motion on one side of the locomotive to drive the valve gear on the other side. Similar to the Deeley gear, but with detail differences.
* Baguley valve gear - used by W.G. Bagnall.
* Bagnall-Price valve gear - a variation of Walschaerts used by W.G. Bagnall. This gear is fitted to Bagnall 3023 and 3050, both preserved on the Welsh Highland Railway.
* J. T. Marshall seems to have designed at least two different modifications of Walschaert gear. One was relatively conventional. The other was very complex and drove separate valves on top of the cylinder (for admission) and underneath the cylinder (for exhaust). The latter gear was fitted experimentally to Southern Railway N Class locomotive number 1850 in 1933 but was replaced by standard Walschaert gear in 1934.
* Isaacson's patent valve gear - a modified Walschaerts gear. It was fitted to the Garstang and Knot-End Railway's 2-6-0T "Blackpool".

Poppet valve gears

* Caprotti valve gear, British Caprotti valve gear
* Hugo Lentz, oscillating-cam valve gear, rotary-cam valve gear
* Franklin oscillating-cam valve gear
* Franklin rotary-cam valve gear
* Reidinger valve gear

Conjugating gears

These enable a 3-cylinder or 4-cylinder locomotive to be built with only two sets of valve gear. The best known is Gresley conjugated valve gear, used on 3-cylinder locomotives. Walschaerts gear was usually used for the outside cylinders. Two rods connected to the outside cylinders drove the valve for the inside cylinder. On a 4-cylinder locomotive the arrangement is simpler. The valve gear may be inside or outside and only short rocking-shafts are needed to link the valves on the inside and outside cylinders.

Bulleid chain-driven valve gear

:"See Bulleid chain-driven valve gear"

Power reverse

:"See Cutoff (steam engine)

ee also

* Steam locomotive nomenclature

External links

* [ Valve gear simulation software for MS Windows] , showing twenty different valve gear designs.
* [ Berry accelerator valve gear] .
* [ Diagrams] of Walschaerts valve gear and Stephenson valve gear, as supplied on working steam model locomotives.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Valve gear — Valve Valve, n. [L. valva the leaf, fold, or valve of a door: cf. F. valve.] [1913 Webster] 1. A door; especially, one of a pair of folding doors, or one of the leaves of such a door. [1913 Webster] Swift through the valves the visionary fair… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • valve|gear — «VALV GIHR», noun. a mechanism which regulates the motions of the valves of an engine or other mechanical apparatus …   Useful english dictionary

  • valve gear — noun : any of numerous gears by which motion is given to the valves of an engine and especially a steam engine; specifically : such a gear for a steam engine by which the cutoff may be varied while the engine is running and the engine started,… …   Useful english dictionary

  • valve gear — (in a reciprocating engine) the mechanism for opening and closing the valves at certain points in each stroke. Also called valve train. * * * …   Universalium

  • valve gear — /ˈvælv gɪə/ (say valv gear) noun the mechanism for opening and closing the valves of a reciprocating engine …  

  • valve gear — noun the mechanism that controls the opening and closing of the cylinder valves in a steam engine or internal combustion engine …   English new terms dictionary

  • valve gear — A mechanism that operates the intake and exhaust valves; includes the cams, pushrods, rocker arms, etc. but not the valves themselves …   Dictionary of automotive terms

  • Walschaerts valve gear — The Walschaerts valve gear is a type of steam engine valve gear invented by Belgian railway mechanical engineer Egide Walschaerts in 1844. The gear is sometimes named without the final s , since it was incorrectly patented under that name. It was …   Wikipedia

  • Stephenson valve gear — The Stephenson valve gear or Stephenson link or shifting link [Snell, J B (1971). Mechanical Engineering: Railways, Longman Co, London] is a simple design of valve gear that was widely used throughout the world for all kinds of steam engine. It… …   Wikipedia

  • Gresley conjugated valve gear — The Gresley conjugated valve gear was a valve gear for steam locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, chief mechanical engineer of the LNER, assisted by Harold Holcroft. It enables a three cylinder locomotive to operate with only the two sets… …   Wikipedia

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