How To Test A Hydraulic Cylinder

Hydraulic excavator boom cylindersIn a previous post, I described the danger associated with the intensification of pressure in a double-acting hydraulic cylinder. In this post, I will explain how to use the intensification effect to test the integrity of the piston seal in a double-acting hydraulic cylinder. But before attempting this test procedure, it is absolutely essential that the danger associated with pressure intensification in a hydraulic cylinder is fully understood. Therefore, read this article FIRST!

The conventional way of testing the integrity of the piston seal in a double-acting cylinder is to pressurize the cylinder at the end of stroke and measure any leakage past the seal. This is commonly referred to as the “end-of-stroke bypass test”.

The major limitation of the end-of-stroke bypass test, is that it generally doesn’t reveal ballooning of the cylinder tube caused by hoop stress. The ideal way to test for ballooning of the cylinder tube is to conduct a piston-seal bypass test, mid-stroke. The major difficulty with doing this is that the force developed by the cylinder has to be mechanically resisted, which in the case of large diameter, high-pressure cylinders is impractical.

However a mid-stroke bypass test can be conducted hydrostatically using the intensification effect. The necessary circuit is shown in Figure 1 below.

hydraulic cylinder test circuit

Figure 1. Hydraulic cylinder test circuit.

Test procedure

The procedure for conducting the test is as follows:

  1. Secure the cylinder with its service ports up.
  2. Fill both sides of the cylinder with clean hydraulic fluid through its service ports.
  3. Connect ball valves (1) and (2), gauges (3) and (4), relief valve (5) and directional control valve (6) as shown in Figure 1.
  4. With ball valves (1) and (2) open, stroke the cylinder using the directional control valve (6) multiple times to remove all remaining air from both sides of the cylinder – take care not to ‘diesel’ the cylinder.
  5. Position the piston rod mid-stroke and close ball valve (2).
  6. With the adjustment on the relief valve (5) backed out, direct flow to the rod side of the cylinder.
  7. Increase the setting of relief valve (5) until the cylinder’s rated pressure is seen on gauge (3).
  8. Close ball valve (1) and center directional control valve (6). Note: it is assumed that the hydraulic power unit used to conduct the test has its own over-pressure protection – not shown in Figure 1.
  9. Record the respective pressure readings on gauges (3) and (4) and monitor any change over time.

If the ratio of effective area between the piston and rod side of the cylinder is 2:1, then if the rod side of the cylinder has been pressurized to 3,000 PSI, gauge (4) on the piston side should read 1,500 PSI. If the differential pressure across the piston is not maintained, this indicates a problem with the piston seal or tube.

Under no circumstances should flow be directed to the piston side of the cylinder with ball valve (1) closed. This will result in potentially dangerous pressure intensification, and failure of the cylinder and/or personal injury could result. When conducting this or any other hydrostatic (pressure) test, always wear appropriate personal-protection equipment.

For more on testing and troubleshooting hydraulic cylinders, read chapter 13 of The Hydraulic Troubleshooting Handbook

13 thoughts on “How To Test A Hydraulic Cylinder

  1. Brendan, Thanks for a wonderful follow up article. You included a lot of really good and detailed information. Because it can be so dangerous I would say that each person testing the hydraulic cylinders should know their system inside and out before starting any testing. I look forward to your next article!

  2. Brendan, Thanks for this and all of your other articles on hydraulic systems. I keep them for reference and to pass on to others. It must be my nagging attention to detail but in this article when you discuss the ratio of 2:1 you refer to gauge (2) when I think you mean (4). I don’t want to come across as critical just wanted to let you know. If I am miss reading this then please let me know. Thanks again

  3. Yes i agree brendan i could sort a problem on a excavator boom cylinder with your help thanks so much can you maybe help me with some drawing or website help to fit a hydraulic hammer system instalation on a cat 330 cl excavator want to do it the rite way thanks brendan regards jan

  4. If you want a quick visual test, then you can also make a mark on the piston rod close to the gland nut and see if the piston rod extends when you pressurize the rod end port ,which would indicate the piston seal is leaking !

  5. Good Morning Mr Branden

    I am your great Fan. After so many years, i am writing something. Kindly throw lights on Hydraulic Cylinder’s Ballooning Effect.


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