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Let’s consider what’s involved
In achieving the correct tension of a V-Belt
Typical Construction of a Standard Duty V-Belt
1. Wear and Oil Resistant External Fabric
2. Compression Section
3. High Strength Tension Members
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Here are a few examples
of different belt designs
that can be applied to
varying applications:
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Take a closer look at what goes on.
Pulley wear is very important
If the pulley is worn you’re fighting a loosing battle.
The belt’s “V” shape produces
more contact surface than a flat
belt can for a given pulley width.
The wedge shape helps the pulley
“get a grip” on the belt.
The bottom of the “V” swells
under the compression of the belt
being bent around the radius of the
If the grooves of the pulley are worn,
the contact area is largely reduced.
When a new belt is run on a worn
pulley, the areas of contact between
the pulley and the belt are at very
high pressures. The belt material
cannot withstand the excessive
compression so the belt material will
quickly be worn away.
As the accelerated wear occurs, your
belt drive will begin slipping in short
order. You will be called back to
increase the belt tension again to stop
the slipping.
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The “Deflection Method” is the best way to
“QUANTIFY” belt tension.
A popular “Rule of Thumb” is to deflect the belt 1/64” per inch of center distance. That is to say, if the
center distance between two shafts is 100 inches, the belts should be deflected 100/64” or 1 9/16”. A
decimal equivalent chart is a big help in converting the measurements. You will always have a chart if you
keep your copy of the Electrical Engineering Pocket Handbook nearby.
The question then becomes, “How much pressure should it take to deflect the belt that
much?” This is where the fly gets into the ointment. The following table can be used as a starting point.
Recommended Tension for V-Belt Drives
Small Sheave
Deflection Force in Lbs.
Speed Range Diameter
Speed Ratio
Speed Ratio
Speed Ratio
Speed Ratio
4.0 +
1800-3600 3.0 2.0 2.3 2.4 2.6
1800-3600 4.0 2.6 2.8 3.0 3.3
1800-3600 5.0 3.0 3.3 3.4 3.7
1800-3600 7.0 3.5 3.7 3.8 4.3
1200-1800 4.6 3.7 4.3 4.5 5.0
1200-1800 5.0 4.1 4.6 4.8 5.6
1200-1800 6.0 4.8 5.3 5.5 6.3
1200-1800 8.0 5.7 6.2 6.4 7.2
900-1800 7.0 6.5 7.0 8.0 9.0
900-1800 9.0 8.0 9.0 10.0 11.0
900-1800 12.0 10.0 11.0 12.0 13.0
700-1500 16.0 12.0 13.0 13.0 14.0
900-1500 12.0 13.0 15.0 16.0 17.0
900-1500 15.0 16.0 18.0 19.0 21.0
700-1200 18.0 19.0 21.0 22.0 24.0
700-1200 22.0 22.0 23.0 24.0 26.0
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Of course you can remember all of those numbers.
Well, don’t worry, ‘cause nobody else does either.
In practice, I think you will find if you apply the criteria from the table above, your belts
will be “fiddle string” tight. When belts are run that tight, there is no question that they
will perform to their rated capacity. The belt people want you to be satisfied that their belts
will “pull the load”, and they want you to get them so tight that they can’t slip.
The problem is though, in higher
horsepower, multiple belt applications,
these deflection specifications can add up
to disaster. Remember, there are other
mechanical concerns that the belt
manufacturer can’t begin to take into
account. Concerns like will the shafts
break? Can the bearings stand up under
that much load? Will the heat generated in
such heavily loaded bearings cause the
grease to melt and run out. The bearings
surely won’t last if that happens.
This motor shaft was broken due to
excessive loading.
Machines can be built to withstand excessive belt loads, but in most cases they are not. So
the “onus” is on you to do it right. Don’t take the belt manufacturers’ tensioning tables and
use them as “Gospel”, because they are only addressing belt performance. They are NOT
accounting for the limitations of your machinery.
Use the Deflection Method to achieve uniformity in your V-belt applications. It
will take good organization to establish what the correct amount of deflection is. Every
application needs to be treated separately, because every application is different. You will
need to establish records of successful belt drive installations and use those records in
ensuing repair and maintenance operations.
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In the final analysis, the correct belt tension is just enough
tension to keep the belt from slipping under normal load
Please Notice the word normal now, because we’ll want to talk more about that
The determination of the correct tension is a matter of knowing the dynamics of the
application, making some careful observations, and drawing the right conclusions.
The first step in a successful v-belt installation is having some idea of the capacity of the
belt and pulley combination. If you know what the horsepower-per-belt rating is, you will be
able to get a feeling for how much you are demanding from the belts. This information is
available from the application data established by the belt manufacturer. In most cases, V-
belt application engineering has been done by the equipment manufacturer or your belt and
pulley vendor. It’s a good thing to ask who specified the components, because anybody can
make a mistake, even an equipment manufacturer. You need to know who was involved,
because you need to have confidence in the finished installation.
There are different approaches to V-belt application engineering, and too often, COST
becomes a deciding factor in how conservatively, or aggressively V-belts and pulleys are
Be advised that it costs more money to keep the applied horsepower per belt low, so if your
horsepower-per-belt ratio is at the higher end of the manufacturers established limits, you
will know that the belts will have to be awfully tight to transmit the load back to the motor.
If the belt drive is at the high end of the horsepower per belt ratio, or works out to only have
a 1.0 Service Factor, I recommend that you ask whoever specified the components to go back
to the drawing board, and get you some heavier duty stuff before you waste your time putting
it all together.
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The next step is to “take control”, and take responsibility for the tensioning
operation. Make a careful installation so you will be able to eliminate misalignment of the
belt drive. This is very important to the belts, and it is important to the bearings in your
machine and to the motor. Misalignment can damage the cords in the belts, cause excessive
wear and excess heat, as well as waste energy.
Multiple belt installations require careful alignment so that the belts can be tightened evenly.
Accurate alignment is the part of the job
your supervisor doesn’t want to deal with
either. So make him proud, don’t ask
questions, just go ahead and do it right.
Now is the time, to take the time, to give
the belts and your machine an even chance
for success.
Misalignment will significantly reduce the
capacity of the drive and demand higher
belt tensions in order to pull the load.
Use a Straight edge or a piece of string that you can draw across the face of the pulleys to
gauge the misalignment.
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Taper Lock Bushings will cause you a headache too, because the engagement of
the taper and the offset of the edges of the bushing and pulley will vary from one pulley to
the next.

After you have resolved the initial angular misalignments, you will probably
have to move one of the pulleys to correct any remaining parallel misalignment. Do yourself
a favor by taking some measurements while the pulleys are mounted.
Your straight edge will indicate how much the
pulley has to move. This measurement is
indicated by the RED lines in the drawing to the
In this particular instance, I would decide to
move the top pulley back further onto the shaft.
This will get the pulleys closer to the machine
and help to reduce bearing loads.
The BLUE lines are the measurement from the
bushing to the end of the shaft. I would add the
earlier pulley offset to the bushing measurement
and then position the top bushing accordingly,
further onto the shaft. After the bushing is
retightened, the parallel alignment of the pulleys
should be correct.
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When mounting the belts, don’t force them onto the pulleys. Move the shafts close
enough together so there is plenty of slack to allow the belts to slide easily over the pulleys.
Never STRETCH the belts when putting them on. If you get too rough putting the belts on
the pulleys, you could damage or even break the internal “tension members” in the belts.
Damage to the “tension members” might cause the belts to “flip over” or even break when
they go into operation and encounter heavy loads.
Go ahead and tighten the belts to something approaching what the manufacturer calls
for in their table. Be sure to roll the pulleys as you get closer to the final tension setting. Let
the belts feel their way into the pulley grooves as you increase the tension. Verify the
accuracy of your alignment as you go. Continue to take up the slack while maintaining even
tension on all of the belts.
If the belts aren’t equally tensioned, find out why and make the necessary
Now you’re ready to start the machine. Follow all of your normal safety precautions
and then alert those working within the vicinity of the machine about your intentions to
attempt a start-up. Remove the lockouts and start the machine.
Listen and observe carefully.
If you are NOT using some “soft
start” method for starting the
motor, don’t be alarmed if the
belts “Squawk” during the
acceleration of a high inertia or
fan load. Normal, Design B,
squirrel Cage motors develop 200%
(or more) of their rated torque
during acceleration. Keep in mind
that your belt drive needs to be
rated for the motor and the load. It
doesn’t need to be rated for twice
your motors horsepower. In the
case of “across the line starting”,
it’s OK, and you can expect, the
belts to slip a little at some point
while the load is accelerating.
Don’t think you need to totally eliminate “belt
squawk” when a motor starts.
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In the case of an existing installation, it is natural, due to “belt stretch”, to have to re-
tension a belt drive, but consider the possibility that something may have changed to increase
the load. Electric motors are capable of developing more power than their continuous rating
implies, so if your belts are slipping, you should measure the motor currents before you
decide on what action to take. Re-tensioning the belt drive might not be the right thing to do.
If the belts squeal or slip when the machine is at full speed and running at a full normal load,
shut it down and re-tighten the belts. Use the “Deflection Method”, and employ the data that
was learned during the initial start-up on the machine.
If you are working on a new installation, be sure and consider whether the machine
was running normally, or if it is encountering some unusual “transient” load. Be aware that
new start-ups may present overload situations that can be accounted for and eliminated once
the process variables have all been examined and properly adjusted. Make sure that the
motor is not being overloaded before you tighten the belts.
In any event, monitor bearing temperatures before and after making adjustments to belt
drives. Elevated bearing temperatures may be your best indicator of potential problems.
Ball bearings will run hot if they are under-greased, over-greased, or if they are overloaded.
Most ball bearings get warm when running, and a good rule of thumb is that normal
conditions should not generate bearing temperatures higher than about 150 degrees F at the
housing. If you see bearing housing temperatures over 170 degrees F, something is probably
wrong, or you are dealing with a very unusual application.
Know what the normal operating temperatures of the bearings are before making adjustments
to the belt drive. It is a good idea to ask if someone has just added grease to the bearings
before you begin your work. If recent (excessive) relubrication is a possibility, check your
maintenance records to determine that the bearings are operating at their normal temperature
before re-tensioning the belt drive. If the bearing temperatures are elevated, you may have to
purge excess grease before making adjustments.
If you have determined the appropriate course of action is to re-tension the drive,
go ahead and tighten the belts. Just be sure to use the “Deflection Method” so the belts are
tightened to established standards, or document your work so that YOU can establish those
standards. Always remember: the correct belt tension is just enough
tension to keep the belt from slipping under normal load