Valve Seats – Installing And Grinding Valve Seats – Learn The Basics

Valve Seats - Installing And Grinding Valve Seats - Learn The Basics
Valve Seats - Installing And Grinding Valve Seats - Learn The Basics

Learning how to machine, install and grind valve seats can help solve many; valve leakage and valve burning issues.

The growth of the valve seats market can be traced, back to the early 1970s.

This is when the switch to unleaded fuel took place.

Most of the engines in use had to have replacement valve seats; inserted in the exhaust side.

This was to prevent valve seat recession. Engines running on unleaded gas were more affected. Many people think that lead was a lubricant and somehow prevented wear. In fact, the lead caused a chemical reaction with the cast iron cylinder head and the stainless steel valve. Consequently, forming oxides and halides that locally hardened the wear surfaces.

Local hardening is what actually helped. As a result, preventing seat recession. Vehicles running on leaded fuel switched to unleaded fuel. The initial use of leaded fuel had created the local hardening required; making the switch to unleaded fuel easy.

However, if these same heads were then reconditioned; the machine shop would machine away the protective layers. As a result, valve seats recession would occur very rapidly; sometimes in as little as 3,000 miles.

Machining Valve Seats
Machining Valve Seats

The (OEM)s used an induction hardening technique to locally harden the valve seats areas. The depth of hardness was about .070”. Unfortunately, it was not deep enough for re-machining during cylinder head rebuilding. As a result, These early unleaded fuel heads needed to have exhaust seats installed.

Machining New Valve Seats
Machining New Valve Seats

The Switch To Aluminum Cylinder Heads

The cylinder heads today are mostly aluminum. With the exception of diesels and truck engines. These heads have inserts already fitted at the factory; this has contributed to the growth in the seat insert market at the (OEM) level.

When the time arrives for these aluminum cylinder heads to be rebuilt; they are often cracked around the valve pocket areas. Before welding the cracks valve seats must be removed.

New Valve Seats Materials

The growth in the (OEM) seat market has led to the widespread use of powder metallurgy. Allowing (OEM)s to produce inserts in large volumes. These valve seats are engine specific; and can almost exactly replicate the heat transfer characteristics of the parent metal.

Valve Seat Variety
Valve Seat Variety

The use of powder seats demands very large production runs to justify the tooling costs. But, using powder does produce a part that is very close to finished size. Requiring very little machining.

This lack of machining has led to the use of some very hard alloys that are; extremely difficult to re-machine.

In fact, some of these latest alloys work-harden after one or two turns of the cutter blade. The result is blunting the cutter almost immediately. In most passenger car type heads running on gasoline, these seats are overkill.

Upgraded Materials For Diesels With Higher Operating Temperatures

These upgraded materials are often nickel or cobalt based and come with a corresponding increase in cost. The composition of these nickel based alloys is about SAE610b; numbers 11, 12 or 13 compositions. These seats are capable of withstanding; higher operating temperatures and higher levels of corrosion found in (LPG) type engines. Gasoline leaves behind an ash content that acts as; a lubricant between the valve face and seat insert. (LPG) type fuels burn very cleanly and this ash content is missing.

(LPG) engines have to have the correct insert to avoid failure. Very often the valve material must also be changed to provide good service life in these applications. The last series of materials are the cobalt or stellite-based alloys. Most of these are application specific.

A good example of this is the Cummins K Series engines. The intake valve in the premium engine is made from tribaloy and; must be run with a tribaloy seat insert.

Diesel Cylinder Head
Diesel Cylinder Head

These alloys have hardness values around 50 to 55 HRC and maintain higher hardness at elevated operating temperatures. Tribaloy is abrasion resistant. Tribaloy also costs more money to produce. It contains about 30% chromium, also known as Stellite. These seats are normally the hardest to machine of all the seat alloys used in the replacement market.

Finished Machining
Finished Machining

Press Fit And Surface Finishes

The powder (OEM) seats are often made of a material that matches; the expansion rate of the parent material. For this reason they often have press fits of about .003″; but can be as low as .002″. The replacement cast seats, however, need varying press fits; to prevent them from falling out during heat soaks.

Most aftermarket seats need about .005″ press when installed in iron heads. And, about .007″ press when installed in aluminum heads. Seat suppliers usually build the required press fit into the O.D. of the seat. A 1.500″ O.D. seat will measure 1.505″ for cast iron applications and 1.507″ for aluminum heads.

Always use the press fit recommended by your seat supplier not the value listed in (OEM) manuals.

Selecting a seat by size only could create a problem in obtaining the correct interference fit. If the fit is too small problems can happen. Oven cleaning can cause huge problems. It is not uncommon for seats to fall out during the heating process. Seats can fall out during the heating process.

Cleaning the cylinder heads upside down is a prefered process. Doing this will help to prevent these type of problems from occurring. Most valve seats have a 15 Ra surface finish. The finish in the counterbore should be equally smooth and round to within .001″ T.I.R. This will ensure good contact area and excellent heat transfer properties for the valve to operate against.

Valve Seats Cutting Techniques

More and more shops are changing to seat cutting equipment to replace their older grinding systems. To ensure good tool life with these systems it is necessary to; keep close control over feed and speed rates. Always adjust spindle speeds from intake to exhaust valves. Especially where there are large diameter differences. The cutting speed increases with the increase in the diameter; from the exhaust to the intake side.

Generally speaking, uncoated carbide inserts work best for seat inserts. A sharp cutting edge (no hone) on the uncoated carbide will provide lower cutting forces overall. Although C2 grade carbide can provide satisfactory results; we suggest that C4 carbide will provide the best overall tool life. Check with your tool supplier for availability of both these grades.

Carbides used for steel (grades C5 to C8) do not work well with valve seat insert materials. You will have increased productivity by using ceramics. Ceramic cutters also will provide excellent results on iron-based materials.

There are three main requirements to be aware of, i.e., seat width, seat angle and seat runout:

Grinding And Machining Finished
Grinding And Machining Finished

Valve Seat Width

The seat width is important because about 70% of heat transferred from a valve; goes out the seat contact area. The old rule of thumb used to be to try to maintain a seat width of about .070″. Today’s engines, have valves that are so thin it is impossible to locate a seat that wide on the valve. It is important to remember that valve seat width problems show up on the valve and rarely burn the seat.

Valve Seat Angle Mistakes

The seat angle is also very important. Seat angles are responsible for most mistakes. This happens on the 6.9/7.3L Navistar than any other engine. The mistake made is to cut the exhaust seat at 30 degrees instead of 37.5 degrees. Reducing the contact point will burn out the valve. Also keep in mind that tool holders wear out. As a result, allow the cutter to tip during operation. The runout requirement is generally between .001″ and .002″. The larger the valve head the more runout allowed.

Valve Seat Runout

Excessive runout will eventually break the valve head off at the underhead radius. This is due to the flexing that occurs every time the valve; opens and closes against the seat. The most common causes of excessive runout are a loose fitting pilot; and the condition of the machine spindle bearings.


Valve seats must to be cut concentric to the center of the valve guide. Lack of concentricity in the valve seat itself can also prevent the valve from sealing tightly against the seat. As a result, causing a compression leak and a possible misfire. By applying vacuum to the intake and exhaust ports valve-to-seat sealing can be confirmed.

Thank You !