Product Profiles

Tool Tech: An Overview of Camshaft Degree Wheels

(Image/Wayne Scraba)

When a camshaft is “degreed” it means the camshaft position in the engine has been synchronized with the crankshaft position.

Degreeing the cam is the only real way to determine if the rise and fall of the pistons correctly matches the opening and closing of the valves. Several degrees of misalignment can have a profound effect on engine operation and performance.

In a perfect world you’d only need to line up the timing marks on the timing gears (sprockets) and you’d be good to go. But the truth is, there’s a good chance dimensional stack ups will catch up to you. Things like tolerances in the camshaft, crankshaft, timing chain, and sprockets can add up. As a result, checking the relation of the camshaft to the crank (or “degreeing the cam”) is the only option.

To degree the cam, you’ll need a degree wheel. Prices range from roughly $15 up to $220+. Less-costly examples aren’t as large in diameter as the more expensive ones, some of which are designed so that you can access the timing set for bushing changes without removing the wheel. Because these large degree wheels have an open design, they have to be built rather beefy. As a result, they’re typically a full ¼-inch thick.

When it comes to overall diameter of the degree wheel, you’ll find the least costly ones typically measure about 11 inches. As the wheel size increases, the cost goes up. But there’s a pretty big advantage to a larger wheel — they’re easier to read and as a result, can be more accurate than smaller ones. If you check out the accompanying photos, I’ve placed an 11-inch diameter Moroso degree wheel alongside a 14-inch diameter B&B Performance (Stef’s) degree wheel. You can see that the difference on the scale is considerable.

Some degree wheels include center adapters to fit the cranks of various engines. Some do not and you’ll have to order them separately. Further to this, some wheels are designed to work in conjunction with crankshaft turning sockets too (case-in-point is the big professional COMP Cams degree wheel shown in the accompanying photos).

In many cases, you’ll have to buy or fabricate a timing pointer to work with the degree wheel. Powerhouse Products makes an inexpensive one. If you want, you can build something similar from a metal coat hanger.

In the end you’ll find the choices are many when it comes to degree wheels. It boils down to your budget. Since they’re simple devices, they all work well. Here’s a closer look at some other degree wheel options.

This is an 11-inch diameter wheel from Summit Racing (part number SUM-G1057). It comes with several adapters to fit various crank snout arrangements. They measure 7/16-inch, ½-inch and two of them measure 5/8-inch (with different step diameters). (Image/Summit Racing)
Here’s a honking 18-inch diameter degree wheel from Moroso (part number 62191). Obviously, the extra-large size makes it easier to read. It also includes three different bushings for use with various crankshaft snouts. (Image/Summit Racing)
This is third type of available wheel. It’s a large diameter setup from Competition Cams (part number 4791-1). Its slightly smaller than the big Moroso, but the open area allows you to adjust cam timing (in some cases) without removing the wheel. (Image/Wayne Scraba)
Here’s an 11-inch Moroso part number 62190 wheel from my tool box. You can see its battle worn. That’s because it’s been in use for oh…45 years or so. (Image/Wayne Scraba)
Another degree wheel from my toolbox is this 14-inch diameter example from B&B Performance (Stef’s Performance part number 45050). It’s my go-too degree wheel. Newer examples may be a different color. (Image/Wayne Scraba)
This is a direct comparison of the pair of degree wheels in my toolbox. Obviously for most applications, bigger can be better. (Image/Wayne Scraba)
You’ll need a pointer of some sort to work with the degree wheel. As noted in the text, Summit Racing sells this inexpensive example from Powerhouse Products under part number POW101501. (Image/Summit Racing)
If you can’t wait to order a pointer, they’re pretty easy to fabricate from an old metal coat hanger. You really don’t need anything too fancy. (Image/Wayne Scraba)
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  1. I appreciate seeing articles like this, keeps me sane and in touch. Just a few weeks ago there was a debate going on in an online chat where several participants were spewing that degreeing a cam wasn’t necessary these days. I wanted to say something but so many joined in on the banter I figured I’d just let it be and allow these mental midgets have their moment in the sun. Thanks again.

  2. The first decision to make, and which was not mentioned, is whether the engine is in the car or is on the stand. Many large ones will not work if engine is in the car. Not everyone has the luxury of pulling the engine when changing a cam.

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