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Original post made by Darrel Miller(Cornhusker) on December 8, 2004

How Many Bearings are realistic in a Casting or Spinning Reel?

Casting reels originally had brass bushing for the spool and that was about it. With improvements in the reel design we began to see ball bearings replace some of the bushings. What I thought of as the better quality reels which demanded a higher price came with ball bearings. It started with 2 ball bearings located on the spool shaft. This trend to replace bushings with ball and later roller bearings has gone beyond what I feel is improvement in the reels performance or value. I can understand where improvements are possible with 4, 5 or perhaps 6 bearing in a casting reel. I cannot see where 10 or more bearings can possibly be used to any advantage. I get a strong feeling that the high number of bearings is a ploy to get fishermen to think they are getting a superior product which may not be the case. As we all know there are exceptions. I am willing to admit that there are perhaps reels out there that do need 10 or 12 bearings for top performance. I just don’t think the reels typically sold to the average fisherman would ever fall into that category.

I would like to go through my logic in coming to such a rash statement. I would like to go through a typical casting reel, naming all the points in a reel where there is a rotating motion. Rotating parts is the only application for a ball or roller bearing.

All the parts in a typical casting reel that rotate are :

- Handle knobs
- Handle, main gear and drag assembly including the hollow shaft they are mounted on.
- Pinion gear
- Spool with fixed shaft.
- Spool with a separate shaft.
- Intermediate gear between the spool and the level wind worm gear.
- Level wind worm gear.

OK, now let’s look at what makes sense for each of these sub-assemblies or parts.

Handle knobs

The knob is subjected to some pretty severe impact loading when the reel is dropped or banged around during transport. Ball bearings do not take heavy impact loads as well as bushings. Top speed on the handle will never be more than say 1 to 1 1/2 revolutions per second (90 RPM). This is a pretty slow speed, vibration is not objectionable. There is no affect in the casting mode because the knob is stationary. I would expect very little affect in the retrieve mode. For these reasons I would say 0 bearings.

Handle, main gear and drag assembly including the hollow shaft they are mounted on.

Although the main gear does rotate on the hollow brass shaft when the drag is over powered and slips I feel the speed of rotation is probably slow enough for a bushing to work well. A bearing could be fitted into the gear with a fiber pad on the side of the gear to prevent metal to metal rubbing during drag slippage. This may cause a widening of the reel’s right side housing in which the gear is located to make room. A sealed, lubed for life bearing would reduce the need for oiling the surfaces between the main gear and the shaft which frequently works its way into the drag causing some difficulty. So although a slow application suitable for a bushing arrangement there does seem to be some benefit to a ball bearing. For these reasons I would say 1 ball bearing.

This sub assembly made up of the handle, main gear and drag assembly including the hollow shaft slides over a solid steel post to keep it in alignment and offer support for the main gear and handle. Because of the size of the load from the main gear I feel a ball bearing of sufficient size would not fit well in the room available next to the main gear. This means there will be a need for oil between the steel post and brass hollow shaft which can get into the drag washers. To be able to drip oil on the shaft at the handle and have it work on down to the area near the main gear I don’t feel a bearing next to the handle is a good idea. For these reasons I would say 0 bearings.

There is one other rotating function for this assembly, the ant-reverse. Some reels use a special clutch type roller bearing at the handle end. It is smooth and works well. For these reasons I would say 1 roller bearing.

Pinion gear

The pinion gear has the spool shaft passing through it. During the cast the pinion is pushed away from the spool and does not rotate. There is sufficient clearance in the gear bore for the spool shaft to rotate freely. During the retrieve the pinion is locked to the spool so it is carried by the spool shaft bearings backed up by a stiff back to help the spool shaft remain straight. For these reasons I would say 0 bearings.

Spool with a fixed shaft

This is an arrangement where the spool and spool shaft are one piece. This is the most common arrangement. Spool speeds during a hard cast can reach thousands of RPM. It is important for smooth long casts to have ball bearings on each end of the shaft. For these reasons I would say 2 ball bearings.

Spool with a separate shaft

For some reason, which I do not fully understand, Garcia has decided to use a separate spool and separate shaft. They have a ball bearing at one end of the spool, brass bushing at the other end and ball bearings at both ends of the shaft. For these reasons I would say 3 ball bearings.

Intermediate gear between the spool and the level wind worm gear

We have frequently mentioned the losses to casting distance caused by the drag from the reels level wind. This intermediate gear is part of that system. It is normally located in the end of the reel opposite the handle, main gear and drag assembly so there should be room to put a ball bearing in this gear. The gear will experience high speed along with the spool during hard casts. For these reasons I would say 1 ball bearings.

Level wind worm gear

Again we are looking at part of the level wind which takes away from casting distance. Although the worm will not turn at as high a speed as the spool and intermediate gear during a cast its speed will be up there. The main reason I see for ball bearings at each end of the worm is to reduce drag. For these reasons I would say 2 ball bearings.

Well now, how many bearings did that give us?

The highest number I can see any use for is 7 ball and 1 roller bearing for a Garcia 2 piece spool and roller bearing ant-reverse which they don’t use.

What might be good for a casting reel is 4 to 6 ball bearings with possibly 1 roller bearing.

Yes, I know. This doesn’t agree with what others are saying. But frankly I do not know where they are sticking 10 or more bearings.

What about Spinning Reels?

Following the same logic used on the casting reels my feeling is that a spinning reel could realistically use :

- Handle and main gear shaft 2 ball bearings

- Pinion gear/shaft 2 ball bearings or 1 ball and 1 roller/anti-reverse bearing

- Oscillation gear to move spool back and forth. A bushing is fine but a bearing could be used 1 ball bearings

- Bail Line Roller. I see bearings used but I am not convinced they are better than a bushing. 1 ball bearings

That gives us 6 ball bearings or 5 ball and a roller bearing.

Once again I do not see where 10 or more bearings can be used to much advantage.
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