Why You Should Use a Wave Spring for Bearing Preload

A bearing is engineered to move smoothly and consists of several moving components that function together as a single unit. However, tolerance accumulation during manufacturing and assembly can lead to problems. This is where bearing preloading becomes crucial. Preloading a bearing involves applying a constant axial load to it.

There are two main methods to preload a bearing. The first is solid preload, achieved by holding the inner and outer races in place with a locking mechanism. The more common, simpler, and less expensive method is spring preload, which is achieved by using a spring to apply a constant axial load on one side. A Smalley single-turn wave spring provides the necessary preload force between the inner or outer races while compensating for any tolerance stack-ups or thermal misalignments.

So what’s the big deal, why do we preload bearings?

Bearing preload is crucial as it enhances the performance and lifespan of the bearing, ensuring smooth operation and minimising the risk of premature failure. Controlling play is necessary to maintain bearing functionality and longevity. Preloading a bearing provides constant contact between the bearing type (ball, needle, etc.) and bearing races. The sustained load provided by the spring eliminates axial and radial play, among other benefits. The overall goal of preloading is to prolong bearing life and, therefore, your application.

Using a spring for preload is critical for high-precision or high-speed applications, as it essentially eliminates the need for holding tighter tolerances and helps withstand high operating speeds.


  1.  Axial and radial play control
    Ball complement and bearing races mate reliably and take up dimensional variation.

  2.  Less wear on bearing
    Greater load sharing between bearings due to wave design.

  3.  Vibration and noise reduction
    Quieter assemblies, even in high-vibration applications.

  4.  Eliminate ball skidding
    Constant force is applied for smooth movement.

  5.  Precise shaft positioning
    Wave spring keeps shaft centred for optimal centrifugal distribution.

What type of spring should I use to preload a bearing?

Every application is unique, making selecting the proper wave spring important. It’s important to consider overall tolerances, as placing too much preload on the bearing can reduce longevity, while too little can cause higher noise output in high-vibration systems.

Smalley’s bearing preload wave spring SSB series is carefully designed with the application in mind. The two types of single-turn wave springs we offer are gap and overlap. As the name suggests, the gap type has ends that are split, while the overlap type has overlapped ends. Both end configurations are free to move around the circumference as the spring is compressed, which is an advantage over traditional wave washers. Wave washers can bind or become rigid if pushed into the cavity too much, causing the spring load to become unpredictable.

We have over 300+ standard parts available in carbon steel and stainless steel to match popular bearing sizes. Find your size by checking out the bearing cross-reference table.

If you’re looking for higher force applications, a Nested spring is another type of spring we offer that can accommodate higher preload requirements.

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Our engineering team can assist you in designing a custom preload bearing spring for your unique application or call 01435 866011 to speak to a member of our design team.