A crankshaft is a shaft driven by a crank mechanism consisting of a series of cranks and crankpins to which the connecting rods of an engine is attached. It is a mechanical part able to perform a conversion between reciprocating motion and rotational motion. In a reciprocating engine, it translates reciprocating motion of the piston into rotational motion, whereas in a reciprocating compressor, it converts the rotational motion into reciprocating motion. In order to do the conversion between two motions, the crankshaft has crankpins (also called "rod bearing journals", to which the "big ends" of the connecting rods from each cylinder attach.
It is typically connected to a flywheel to reduce the pulsation characteristic of the four-stroke cycle, and sometimes a torsional or vibrational damper at the opposite end, to reduce the torsional vibrations often caused along the length of the crankshaft by the cylinders farthest from the output end acting on the torsional elasticity of the metal.
The earliest hand-operated cranks appeared in China during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). They were used for silk-reeling, hemp-spinning, for the agricultural winnowing fan, in the water-powered flour-sifter, for hydraulic-powered metallurgic bellows, and in the well windlass. The rotary winnowing fan greatly increased the efficiency of separating grain from husks and stalks. However, the potential of the crank of converting circular motion into reciprocal motion never seems to have been fully realized in China, and the crank was typically absent from such machines until the turn of the 20th century