Retaining rings of all sizes show up in a large number of mechanical products. Whether you’re a professional working on multiple products in an industrial shop or a do-it-yourselfer who just wants to fix a lawnmower, understanding what retaining rings are and how to install them is important to getting the job done right.

Retaining Ring Basics: Installation and Removal

What is a Retaining Ring?

A retaining ring is a circular fastener that’s installed in a groove on a shaft or in a housing and that acts as a fixed shoulder to hold a component in place or prevent it from moving past a certain point.

Retaining rings come in three basic types:

  • Tapered section retaining rings decrease in width evenly from the center to the ends of the ring. This construction provides more even, continuous contact of the ring within the groove all the way around.
  • Constant section retaining rings, also called snap rings, maintain the same width all the way around. They take on an elliptical shape when they’re installed, and so come in contact with the groove in isolated points, not continuously.
  • Spiral retaining rings have no ears or lug holes and so provide a more streamlined look and less interference with parts.

Installing and Removing a Retaining Ring

Spiral retaining rings require no special tools to install. You simply separate the ends of the spiral, insert one end into the groove and wind the ring into place. A pair of duck-billed pliers can help you remove a spiral ring.

Tapered rings and snap rings are both installed identically. Before you start, you’ll need a pair of retaining ring pliers that fit the lug holes of the ring itself. A regular pair of small needle-nose pliers can be called into service in a pinch.

The business end of retaining ring pliers tapers down to a pair of small rods. To install a retaining ring, place these rods in the lug holes of the retaining ring and either pull the ends together or stretch them apart, depending on whether you’re fitting it into an interior or exterior groove. Lower the retaining ring into its groove and let it spring back into its original shape. Then just remove the pliers and it’s installed!

To remove a tapered or snap ring, just do the installation steps in reverse. A retaining ring that has been in place for a long time can prove difficult to remove, and doing so might make the ring unusable. If you have to remove a retaining ring to get at another part of a piece of machinery, make sure you have a spare on hand in case the one you remove gets broken or mangled.

These basic steps should help you to efficiently install or remove any type of retaining ring you encounter. For more information, though, you might search online for YouTube videos or consult with your friendly neighborhood handyman.