A drive shaft is a mechanical component for transmitting torque and rotation, usually used to connect other components of a drive train that cannot be connected directly because of distance or the need to allow for relative movement between them. As torque carriers, drive shafts are subject to torsion and shear stress, equivalent to the difference between the input torque and the load. They must therefore be strong enough to bear the stress, whilst avoiding too much additional weight as that would in turn increase their inertia.
To allow for variations in the alignment and distance between the driving and driven components, drive shafts frequently incorporate one or more universal joints, keys to connect a rotating machine element to a shaft as Woodruff keys. These are semicircular shaped, such that, when installed, leave a protruding tab. The keyway in the shaft is a semi-circular pocket, the mating part, a longitudinal slot. They are used to improve the concentricity of the shaft and the mating part, which is critical for high speed operation. The main advantage of the Woodruff key is that it eliminates milling a keyway near shaft shoulders, which already have stress concentration.