Tooth Forms, Including Involute Tooth Form

Bob L. emails:  Hi,  I am considering your Toucan clock plans.  I have a little past experience in gear design, and am thinking of making the gears by a different method than scroll sawing.  Because of this, I wonder if you tell me:
1)  Do the gears in the Toucan have the common "involute" profile or are they a different profile??
2)  What diametral pitch are gears in the Toucan??

Toucan by Jeff Hecht
Aloha Bob, it is nice to hear from you and I'm glad you enjoyed viewing my site.  The Toucan is a wonderful, fun and easy to build clock.  It's my top design engendering the creativity and personalization of the various builders.  You can see many of their delightful "brain children" in the Flickr' pool of builder' pix (link on the Toucan order page).  Those pix really are worth viewing for some great ideas.

And how can I say that it is easy to build?  Because when you are looking through the Flickr' pool of builder's pix the first one is of a 13 year old boy that successfully built the Toucan.  Of course, maybe he's just a genius(?).

Gear design is a very popular topic and lots of time is spent on gear design in engineering books.  I write many pages in my book about gear design as it relates to wooden clock building, and I really do need to create a blog post about the topic.

First we have to ask ourselves what the purpose of the gears really is, and what is their real function?  

We could simply have two circles turning edge to edge and get the same ratio, but without the addendums and dedendums (the uppity and downity parts of the tooth) of spur gears our circle gears could easily slip.  Slippage would cause a deficiency of the transmission of the driving force through the system, but more than that, in a clock slipping wheels would also cause the hands to show the incorrect time and even cause a desynchronization of the relationship of the minute to hour hands.  

However, that does not mean we cannot use edge driven circles in our clock designs.  Take a look at my Horologium and you'll see that the hour wheel is actually a pulley run by the drive weight cord.  The gear ratio is maintained by the barrel diameters of the drive pulley and hour wheel.  http://www.lisaboyer.com/Claytonsite/horologium.htm

So basically the "teeth" on a gear do two things for us; they efficiently transmit the driving force, and by doing so they prevent misalignment caused by slippage of the wheels.

When we are contemplating tooth forms for a particular mechanism, a couple other things that need consideration is the speed of transmission of the drive force, and the direction of that force through the gear train.  

In a clock the transmission of force is extremely slow.  In the normal grandfather clock the fastest wheel only turns one revolution per minute.  This slow transmission of forces allows for some very forgiving tooth forms.  There are medieval metal clocks that are still operational with simple triangular shaped tooth forms.  Some of the teeth in the very early wooden clocks were created with hand tools and look as though some teeth were hacked into shape.  These inefficiency of these irregularities and imperfections many times can easily be overcome with a bit more drive weight.  

It is only when we have gears rapidly moving together that we actually need the perfect involute gears with close tolerances that we've all learned about in physics class.  There are other very efficient ways of transmitting power through the system without the use of involute gears.  Take a look at my Vortex.  Vortex has straight sided teeth on all of its gears.  Straight sided gear teeth are about as far from the perfect involute curve as you can get.  Scroll down the page a little further and take a look at the side view and you'll see how I created the roller lantern pinions that perfectly match with the straight sided tooth forms of the wheels to give excellent power transmission and minimize contact friction. http://www.lisaboyer.com/Claytonsite/vortexpage1.htm

And the last thing to consider is the direction of the forces transmitted through the gears.  Clocks run in only once direction.  Clocks do not ever run in reverse.  That means that the back side of the gear tooth never gets used and can be created in any form that the designer favors, as long as it does not interfere with the incoming tooth from the other gear.  Most of the time we simply make it a mirrored reflection of the front side of the tooth, but that mirroring is not necessary since that back side of the tooth is never used in a clock.

Most all of my tooth designs are of a modified involute design because even as forgiving as these wonderful mechanisms are one of the goals of a good design is to try and decrease the amount of driving force required.  Involute-like teeth help with that, but as we've discussed above involute tooth forms have no particular spiritual holiness sent from the God of Physics.  This gives us a tremendous latitude in design.  We can make our teeth straight sided, curved sided, or perfectly involute, but I have to chuckle because whatever tooth form we choose, we still don't need the back of it.

Enjoy!  Aloha.  Clayton

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I love comments, but in order for me to have more time playing in my sawdust, I cannot respond to them here. If you have a technical question, please do not post it here, or I will have my wife answer it for me and her technical knowledge is highly suspect. For technical questions, check out the FAQ section of my website, or find my email link there. Mahalo and Aloha, Clayton