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The crankshaft is that part of an engine which translates linear piston motion into rotation. Generally more than one piston is attached to the crank to provide a smoother delivery of power to the rotation cycle, though many small engines use only a single piston, such as those found in garden machinery. The configuration of pistons in relation to each other and the crank and their number leads to descriptions such as straight eight eight pistons in direct line, V12 twelve pistons alternately angled, diametrically opposed five five pistons with three set diagonally opposed to two.

In the Wankel engine, the crankshaft and the chamber in which it rotates is shaped to provide a compression and expansion area allowing the forces caused by detonation of the fuel to act directly on the crankshaft.