Rack and Pinion 101: What You Need to Know

July 17, 2018 / Tuesday

Rack and pinion gearsets are a type of linear actuator, designed to translate rotational motion into linear motion. In other words, it takes the rotational motion of something like a gear, and turns it into a forward-or-backward motion.

Rack and pinion gears are just one of our gear manufacturing capabilities, and you should know exactly what they’re used for, and why they’re advantageous.


There are several potential applications for rack and pinion gears:

  • Vehicle steering. In some types of steering, the steering shaft is attached to a small pinion gear. When you turn the wheel left or right, the gear spins, translating that rotational motion into a linear movement. Then, a tie rod at the end of the rack connects to the steering arm to ensure the linear motion is translated to the correct new direction.
  • Stairlifts. Most stairlifts employ a similar feature. The rotational motion of a pinion gear allows the system to move along a linear path, such as up the stairs.
  • Railways. Locomotives move efficiently along a flat surface, but it can be difficult to get up steep gradients. That’s where rack and pinion systems come into play; a rack can be placed along the steep hill, while pinon gears allow the locomotive to climb up it.
  • Actuators. Rack and pinion gearsets are also used for actuators, which move various components within a machine. For example, in pipeline transport, rack and pinion-based actuators can control the valves necessary to keep the system moving.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Rack and pinion gearsets don’t provide as much mechanical advantage as systems like a recirculating ball, but do offer less backlash and more feedback. They’re also the ideal way to translate the rotational motion of a gear to linear motion.

If you’re interested in a quote for rack and pinion gearsets, or any other of our gear manufacturing capabilities, make sure to reach out to Federal Gear today!

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