Split pin

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For split pins used in stationery, see Brass fasteners.
A split pin (UK usage) / cotter pin (USA usage) holding a rod in place with a washer.

A split pin, also known in the United States as a cotter pin or cotter key,[1] is a metal fastener with two tines that are bent during installation, similar to a staple or rivet. Typically made of thick wire with a half-circular cross section, split pins come in multiple sizes and types.

The British definition of "cotter pin" is equivalent to U.S. term "cotter", which can be a cause for confusion when companies of both countries work together. There are signs that manufacturers and stockists are increasingly listing both names together to avoid confusion; this led to the term split cotter sometimes being used for a split pin.


Split pins: A: New
B: Installed
C: Spring type
D: Cross-section of traditional design

A new split pin (see figure A) has its flat inner surfaces touching for most of its length so that it appears to be a split cylinder (figure D). Once inserted, the two ends of the pin are bent apart, locking it in place (figure B). When they are removed they are supposed to be discarded and replaced, because of fatigue from bending.[2]

Split pins are typically made of soft metal, making them easy to install and remove, but also making it inadvisable to use them to resist strong shear forces. Common materials include mild steel, brass, bronze, stainless steel, and aluminium.[3]


Cotter pin ends.svg

As shown above, there are different types of ends available on split pins. The most common is the extended prong with a square cut, but extended prongs are available with all of the other types of ends. The extended prong type is popular because it makes it easier to separate the tines. To ease insertion into a hole the longer tine may be slightly curved to overlap the tip of the shorter tine or it is beveled. The length, L, of the split pin is defined as the distance from the end of the shortest tine to the point of the eyelet that contacts the hole.[3]

Hammer lock split pins are properly installed by striking the head with a hammer to secure the pin. This forces the shorter tine forward, spreading the pin.[4]

  • Standard
  • Humped
  • Clinch


The diameter of split pins are standardized. American split pins start at 132 in and end at 34 in.[4]

Metric split pin sizes[5]
Nominal diameter [mm] Hole size [mm] For bolt size [mm]
1.5 1.9 6
2 2.4 8
2.5 2.8 10
3 3.4 12, 14
4 4.5 20
5 5.6 24, 28
6 6.3 30, 36, 42
8 8.5 48
American split pin sizes[4][5]
Nominal diameter [in] Hole size [in] For bolt size [in]
132 364
364 116
116 564 14
564 332 516
332 764 38
764 18
18 964 12
964 532 58
532 1164 34
316 1364 1, 1.125
732 1564 1.25, 1.375
14 1764 1.5
516 516 1.75
38 38
716 716
12 12
58 58
34 34


A car hub showing a castellated nut cover and split pin (near center).

Split pins are frequently used to secure other fasteners, e.g. clevis pins, as well as being used in combination with hardboard discs as a traditional joining technique for teddy bears.[6] A common application of this is when used to secure a castellated nut. One problem with this type of use is that the castles on the nut must line up with the hole in the mating part so that the split pin can be installed. When the nut is torqued properly, but the holes still do not line up, it is preferable to overtighten the nut than undertighten it.[7]

Split pins may be used in some applications as low-tech shear pins.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Patent 4,298,299
  2. ^ Welsch 2005, p. 141.
  3. ^ a b Soled 1957, p. 312.
  4. ^ a b c Cotter pins, retrieved 2009-08-17 .
  5. ^ a b Jensen 2001, p. 234.
  6. ^ Baby Pip Teddy Bear at CraftBits.com
  7. ^ Reithmaier 1999, p. 151.