Roller Chain vs Bush Chain: How to Choose
19th Jun 2024

Two chain types see heavy use in power transmission – economical roller chain and bush chain. Both feature alternating inner and outer link plates, enabling articulation via bushings or rollers. However, performance and ideal use cases differ.

  • Roller chain handles heavy loads but cost more
  • Bush chain is limited yet excels in light-duty applications
  • The choice depends on speeds, loads, precision needs, and budget

Below, we’ll clarify the pros, cons, and distinguishing features to guide selection between these common chain varieties.

Roller Chain: The Workhorse

As the backbone of industrial power transmission, precision miniature roller chains consist of inner and outer articulated link plates with rotating load-bearing rollers held by bushings. The roller diameter exceeds bushing thickness, enabling direct power transfer between the pin and sprocket.


  • Heavy load capacity of over 113,759 lbs
  • High allowable speeds from shock load absorption
  • Smooth meshing enables precision control
  • Rollers withstand wear far longer than bushings


  • More expensive than bush alternatives
  • Noisy at high speeds without lubrication
  • Extra components increase the chance of failure points

Bush Chain: The Lightweight

True to its name, bush chain substitutes sleeve-like bushings for rollers between each articulated joint. This saves material costs while reducing weight – up to 40% over roller chains. The simpler design also speeds manufacturing[1].


  • Very inexpensive to produce and buy
  • Weighs up to 40% less than a roller chain
  • Quiet operation functions unlubricated
  • Flexible for long spans and compact layouts


  • Max working load under 1,100 lbs
  • Rapid stretch and wear without load rollers
  • Imprecise meshing causes vibration
  • Unsuitable for high-speed or shock loads

How to Choose Between Roller and Bush Chain

Weigh key factors like load capacity, precision needs, and environment against budget to guide ideal chain selection:

  1. Load Capacity

If conveying or lifting heavy loads over 1,100 lbs, the thicker rollers in the roller chain can handle the workload across long-duty cycles. Light loads under 500 lbs do fine on bush chains.

  1. Precision Indexing

Applications needing accurate positioning, low backlash movement, or smooth variable speed capability call for roller chains. The rollers mesh cleanly for precision control that bush chains lack.

  1. Environmental Conditions

Corrosive, extremely hot/cold, or dirty environments favor stainless steel roller chains with nickel-plated rollers that resist wear and corrosion far better than bush chains.

  1. Speed Capability

With higher shock load absorption, roller chains accommodate faster cyclic speeds than bush alternatives – often 30%+ faster rating for equivalent pitch.

  1. Budget Constraints

Bush chains provide extreme cost savings over roller chains, allowing more length for the same budget. But consider total longer lifecycle costs, not just upfront price.

  1. Cleanliness Requirements

Bush chains withstand contamination better by eliminating roller wear surfaces. But add lubrication to bush chains in clean environments for a longer working life.


Specifying a chain is all about balancing strengths and costs against requirements. Bush chain serves remarkably well in light-duty utility conveyance, given its affordability. But where reliability matters most – industrial power transmission, high precision indexing, or demanding environments – proven roller chain still rules.

Count on the chain experts at Universal Chain to walk your application details and guide the optimal chain selection. Request your consultation and quote today.

Article Sources
The Universal Chain uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Our commitment to accuracy and reliability ensures that readers receive well-researched information they can trust.