Balancing goes hand-in-hand with performance engine building. Balancing reduces internal loads and vibrations that stress metal and may eventually lead to component failure.
From a technical point of view, every engine regardless of the application can benefit from balancing. A smoother-running engine is also a more powerful engine. Less energy is wasted by the crank as it thrashes about in its bearings, which translates into a more usable power at the flywheel. Reducing engine vibration also reduces stress on motor mounts and external accessories, and in big over-the-road trucks, the noise and vibration the driver has to endure mile after mile.Though all engines are balanced from the factory (some to a better degree than others), the original balance is lost when the pistons, connecting rods or crankshaft are replaced or interchanged with those from other engines. The factory balance job is based on the reciprocating weight of the OE pistons and rods. If any replacements or substitutions are made, there's no guarantee the new or reconditioned parts will match the weights of the original parts closely enough to retain the original balance. Most aftermarket replacement parts are ""balanced"" to the average weight of the OEM parts, which may or may not be close enough to maintain a reasonable degree of balance inside the engine. Aftermarket crank kits are even worse and can vary considerably because of variations within engine families.
The process of balancing begins by equalizing the reciprocating mass in each of the engines cylinders. This is done by weighing each piston on a sensitive digital scale to determine the lightest one in a set. The other pistons are then lightened to match that weight by milling or grinding metal off a non-stressed area such as the wrist pin boss. The degree of precision to which the pistons are balanced will vary from one engine builder to another, and depends to some extent on the application. But generally speaking pistons are balanced to within plus or minus 0.5 grams of one another.
Next the rods are weighed, but only one end at a time. A special support is used so that the big ends of all the rods can be weighed and compared, then the little ends. As with the pistons, weights are equalized by grinding away metal to within 0.5 grams. Its important to note that the direction of grinding is important. Rods should always be ground in a direction perpendicular to the crankshaft and wrist pin, never parallel. If the grinding scratches are parallel to the crank, they may concentrate stress causing hairline cracks to form.
On V6 and V8 engines, the 60 or 90 degree angle between the cylinder banks requires the use of bob weights on the rod journals to simulate the reciprocating mass of the piston and rod assemblies. Inline four and six cylinder crankshafts do not require bob weights. To determine the correct weight for the bob weights, the full weight of a pair of rod bearings and the big end of the connecting rod, plus half the weight of the little end of the rod, piston, rings, wrist pin (and locks if full floating) plus a little oil are added together (100 percent of the rotating weight plus 50 percent of the reciprocating weight). The correct bob weights are then assembled and mounted on the crankshaft rod journals.
The crankshaft is then placed on the balances and spun to determine the points where metal needs to be added or removed. The balances indexes the crank and shows the exact position and weight to be added or subtracted. The electronic brain inside the balances head does the calculations and displays the results. The latest machines have graphical displays that make it easy to see exactly where the corrections are needed.
If the crank is heavy, metal is removed by drilling or grinding the counterweights. Drilling is usually the preferred means of lightening counterweights, and a balances that allows the crank to be drilled while still on the machine can be a real time saver.
If the crank is too light, which is usually the case on engines with stroke cranks or those that are being converted from externally balanced to internally balanced, heavy metal (a tungsten alloy that is 1.5 times as heavy as lead) is added to the counterweights. This is usually done by drilling the counterweights, then press fitting and welding the heavy metal plugs in place. An alternate technique is to tap the hole and thread a plug into place. Drilling the holes sideways through the counterweights parallel to the crank rather than perpendicular to the crank is a technique many prefer because it prevents the metal from being flung out at high rpm.
After drilling, the crankshaft is again spun on the balances to determine if additional corrections are required. If the crank is for an externally balanced engine (such as a big block Chevy), the balancing will be done with the flywheel and damper installed. On internally balanced engines, the flywheel and damper can be balanced separately, or installed on the crank and balanced as an assembly once the crank itself has been balanced.