ISO 286 Tolerances Standard Overview

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) develops and publishes worldwide standards for products, services, and systems to ensure quality, safety, and efficiency. ISO 286 is an ISO standard that specifies tolerance grades for holes and shafts and establishes a system for tolerances on fits.

Understanding ISO 286 is important for engineers and manufacturers to properly design, manufacture, and assemble mechanical components that fit together. This complete guide provides an overview of ISO 286, its key provisions, and how it is used in industry.

What is ISO 286?

ISO 286 is an international standard that defines tolerance grades for holes and shafts and establishes tolerances for how much a shaft can deviate from its nominal dimension and still be able to fit within a given hole. Specifically, ISO 286:

  • Establishes a system for tolerances on mating fits between hole and shaft components.
  • Specifies tolerances for holes and shafts by tolerance grades.
  • Provides tables with upper and lower deviation limits for hole and shaft sizes.

The standard establishes a system where a shaft and hole from any manufacturer or country will fit together properly if made to the ISO 286 specifications. ISO 286 standard is divided into two parts: ISO 286-1 and ISO 286-2.

ISO 286-1:2010

ISO 286-1:2010, titled “ISO system of limits and fits — Part 1: Bases of tolerances, deviations, and fits,” provides the fundamental principles of the ISO system of limits and fits. It applies to sizes up to 3150 mm but can also be used for sizes outside this range by agreement between the interested parties.

Here are some key components of ISO 286-1:

  • Bases of Tolerances and Fits: This part of the standard provides the fundamental understanding and principles for the ISO system of limits and fits.
  • Tolerance Grades: These are specified to provide a measure of the precision of a component or assembly. Smaller grades indicate higher precision.
  • Fundamental Deviations: This term refers to the difference between a feature’s highest or lowest size limit and its corresponding basic size.
  • Tolerances for Specific Fits: The standard details the specific tolerances for different types of fits: clearance fit, interference fit, and transition fit.

ISO 286-2:2010

ISO 286-2:2010, titled “ISO system of limits and fits — Part 2: Tables of standard tolerance grades and limit deviations for holes and shafts,” is the second part of the standard. It applies to sizes over 3150 mm up to 4000 mm.

Key components of ISO 286-2 include:

  • Tables of Standard Tolerance Grades: These tables provide the specific measurements for different tolerance grades for both holes and shafts.
  • Limit Deviations for Holes and Shafts: This part of the standard provides the permissible maximum and minimum sizes for a feature, determined by adding or subtracting the tolerance from the basic size.

History of ISO 286 Standard

The ISO 286 standard has evolved over many decades:

  • Pre-1938 – Various national standards existed, leading to problems with the interchangeability of parts between countries.

  • 1938 – International standards group develops the first version of ISO Recommendation R286 to align hole and shaft tolerance systems.

  • 1940s-1960s – Updated and expanded with additional tolerance grades and tables.

  • 1988 – Major revision adopted as ISO 286-1 to improve usability and international consistency.

  • 2010 – ISO 286-1:2010 published with only minor revisions to tables and content.

ISO 286 has now reached a level of maturity and widespread use where significant changes are infrequent. The 2010 version remains the current edition.

Why ISO 286 is Important

Some key reasons why ISO 286 holds such importance as an international standard:

  • Enables interchangeable fits between hole and shaft components globally. Vital for international trade.

  • Provides a common language and specifications recognized across borders.

  • Improves quality control in manufacturing and assembly.

  • Allows parts to be made separately and assembled efficiently.

  • Reduces waste from poor fits leading to rejection or rework.

  • Increases product reliability and safety.

  • Optimizes inventory by avoiding excess part deviations.

For these reasons, ISO 286 delivers major cost and quality benefits worldwide to manufacturers and equipment users. The standardization facilitates global commerce and coordination in design and manufacturing.

Purpose and Benefits of ISO 286

The main purposes and benefits of ISO 286 include:

  • Interchangeability – Establishes tolerances so that holes and shafts will mate properly, no matter the manufacturer or country. This allows for the interchangeability of mechanical parts.

  • Quality control – By providing specific tolerance grades and deviation limits, ISO 286 improves quality control in manufacturing.

  • Simplified communication – The standardization eliminates confusion and ambiguities around tolerances. Companies can specify “ISO 286” on technical drawings.

  • Improved efficiency – Proper tolerances lead to easier assembly, fewer rejected parts, and optimize inventory and production costs.

  • International compatibility – ISO 286 ensures dimensional coordination of hole and shaft parts across international borders.

Overall, ISO 286 facilitates quality, interchangeability, and global trade of mechanical components. It is widely used as an international reference for tolerance specifications.

Key Provisions of ISO 286

ISO 286 establishes a system of tolerance grades for holes and shafts and provides tables with tolerance values for each grade. The main provisions include:

Tolerance Grades

Tolerance Grades provide a measure of the precision of a component or assembly. Smaller grades indicate higher precision, while larger grades indicate lower precision.

  • ISO 286 specifies 18 tolerance grades for holes and shafts, designated with the letters: E, F, G, H, JS, K, M, N, P, R, S, T, U, V, X, Y, Z, ZA.

  • The alphabet progresses from loose/inexact fits (E) to tighter/more exact fits (ZA).

  • For example, tolerance grade H would be tighter than JS fits.

IT grade(s) describe an internationally accepted code system that categorizes the linear tolerances into 12 categories. This allows Product Owners and Data Scientists to handle tolerances with a single number. The system is defined in ISO 286 and frequently used.

From IT6 to IT18, the standard tolerances are multiplied by the factor 10 at each fifth step. This rule applies to all standard tolerances and may be used to extrapolate values for IT grades not given in Table 1. For example, the nominal size range 120 mm up to and including 180 mm, the value of IT20 is:

Deviation Limits

Deviation Limits are the permissible maximum and minimum sizes for a feature. They are determined by adding or subtracting the tolerance from the basic size.

  • ISO 286 provides tables with upper and lower deviation limits for each grade for holes and shafts.

  • The deviations are provided in microns (μm) for hole and shaft diameters up to 500mm.

  • This specifies the allowable difference between the actual and nominal dimensions.

Fundamental Deviations

Fundamental deviation refers to the deviation closest to the basic size. It determines the maximum and minimum amount of clearance or interference possible for a particular size of the tolerance zone. The upper case letters represent the fundamental deviation for the holes, while the lower case letters indicate the fundamental deviation for shafts. There are 28 fundamental deviations in the ISO system for each of the 18 tolerance grades on both holes and shafts.
Hole: A, B, C, CD, D, E, EF, F, FG, G, H, JS, J, K, M, N, P, R, S, T, U, V, X, Y, Z, ZA, ZB & ZC.
Common hole tolerance: H7, H8, H9, H11
Shaft: a, b, c, cd, d, e, ef, f, fg, g, h, js, j, k, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, v, x, y, z, za, zb & zc.
Common shaft tolerance: c11, d9, e8, f7, g6, h6, k6, n6, p6, s6, u6

  • ISO 286 defines standard fundamental deviations for each tolerance grade based on the nominal dimension holes.

  • The fundamental deviations provide the reference point for the upper and lower deviations.

  • For example, a grade H hole has a fundamental deviation of 0 μm. The lower and upper deviations are symmetrical around the fundamental deviation.

Tolerances for Specific Fits

The ISO system of limits and fits provides a range of standard fits. These include clearance fits, interference fits, and transition fits. The specific tolerances for each fit are determined by the basic size and the required fit.

  • In addition to the tolerance grades, ISO 286 provides hole and shaft tolerances for different categories of fits: clearance, transition, and interference.

  • This further refines the system for different fit requirements. For example, an H11/c11 fit would provide a clearance fit with grade H hole and shaft tolerances.

Using ISO 286 Standard

Manufacturers and engineers use ISO 286 in several ways when designing, making, and assembling parts:

  • Specifying tolerances – ISO 286 gives designers a standard system for defining tolerances on drawings by specifying the tolerance grade or type of fit needed (H11, JS11, c11, etc.).

  • Selecting fits – Engineers can use the ISO 286 tables to select appropriate hole and shaft tolerance grades to achieve the type of fit required, like clearance, transitional, or interference.

  • Measuring and quality control – Inspection teams utilize the ISO standard and tolerance tables for go/no-go gauging and statistical process control. It provides clear pass/fail criteria.

  • Cutting tools and gauges – ISO 286 ensures cutting tools and gauges are used to make holes and shafts align with the standard’s tolerances.

  • Interchangeability – Assemblers can count on proper mating of hole and shaft parts from any supplier if made to ISO 286 specs.

  • Global compatibility – Products designed using ISO 286 can be exported/imported worldwide with assurance of fit.

Applying ISO 286 during design, machining, inspection, and assembly is essential for achieving interchangeable and functional hole and shaft component fits. It provides a common language for tolerance across borders.

ISO 286 and Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerancing (GD&T)

While ISO 286 provides tolerance specifications for hole and shaft fits, it does not specify other geometric dimensions or tolerances associated with the features’ orientation, profile, or location. For these other controls, manufacturers must utilize geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) principles in technical drawings per standards like ISO 1101 or ASME Y14.5M.

Key differences between ISO 286 and GD&T:

  • Scope – ISO 286 is specialized for hole and shaft tolerances. GD&T is much broader, covering all feature tolerances.

  • Basis – ISO 286 gives tolerance grades based on fit. GD&T defines individual tolerances based on function.

  • Orientation – ISO 286 only controls diameter deviations. GD&T controls orientation, profile, etc.

  • Symbols – ISO 286 uses letters and numbers. GD&T uses specialized symbols in feature control frames.

So, in summary, ISO 286 focuses on hole and shaft tolerances and fits, while GD&T controls all feature geometries on a part. Engineers use both standards together as needed for complete tolerancing.

Tolerance Chains and Stacks

When combining multiple components with toleranced holes and shafts in an assembly, the individual tolerances can stack up, resulting in gaps or interferences.

To account for this, engineers analyze “tolerance stacks” to determine if the specified tolerances will yield an acceptable assembly. The analysis calculates the combined effects of part tolerances in a “tolerance chain.”

By using ISO 286 to specify hole and shaft tolerances, manufacturers help optimize tolerance stacks and chains. ISO 286 grades and deviation limits provide consistency and control of individual tolerances to limit stack-up.

Difference between ISO 2768 and ISO 286

ISO 2768 – General Tolerances

ISO 2768 specifies general tolerances on linear and angular dimensions and geometry that can be applied to drawings where individual tolerance values are not specified. It covers tolerance classes and grades ranging from fine to coarse tolerances based on the generic product’s nominal size.

The main linear tolerance classes per ISO 2768 are:

  • Fine – Press fits, precise bearings, precision parts
  • Medium – Normal machining and drafting fits
  • Coarse – Rough fits, castings, forgings

Angular tolerances like perpendicularity and angularity also have fine, medium, and coarse grades.

ISO 2768 is applicable where specific tolerance requirements are not critical for functionality, but some normal permissible variation is required for interchangeability based on the type of part and operation. It is applied on technical drawings and models to indicate general manufacturing and measurement variations without specifying individual tolerances.

Key uses of ISO 2768 general tolerances:

  • Drawings of parts made by common manufacturing processes where specific fit is not required. E.g., General machined components.
  • Assemblies where stack up of general tolerances will not interfere with assembly or functionality.
  • Limiting measurement uncertainties for inspection and testing.
  • Drawings made during preliminary design stages where detailed tolerances are not yet defined.

The versatility of ISO 2768 allows engineers to apply general tolerances to any design based on its application and required precision. It simplifies drawings by reducing the need for detailed individual tolerance specifications.

ISO 286 – Limits and Fits

ISO 286 specifies tolerances associated with shaft and hole fits. It establishes a system for defining and selecting tolerances when mating parts are designed for assembly with clearance, transition, or interference fits. The fit type is designated using symbols for hole basis and shaft basis systems.

Clearance fits provide play between parts for free movement and production adjustment. Transition fits give controlled sliding or location fits. Interference fits produce pretension between force-fitted assemblies. ISO 286 gives deviations for holes and shafts and basis values for calculating the actual mating part dimensions.

Mating parts are designated with fit symbols like H7/h6 indicating a clearance hole fit and shaft interference fit. The assembled parts then achieve the desired functional relationship.

Uses of ISO 286 tolerance fits:

  • Bearings fits in housing bores
  • Sliding or location fits for precise positioning
  • Force fits for tight assembly with pretension
  • Fits with clearance for free movement and adjustability

ISO 286 provides the basis for engineering fits to achieve the right functionality through controlled interference, location or clearance between assembled components. This facilitates optimal design of moving joints, bearings and force transmission joints.

Comparison Between ISO 2768 and ISO 286

  • ISO 2768 specifies the general permissible tolerances without regard to fit. ISO 286 provides specific tolerances for clearance, transition and interference fits.
  • ISO 2768 tolerance class is selected based on function and production method. ISO 286 class depends on the type of fit required.
  • ISO 2768 gives overall tolerances. ISO 286 provides separate deviations for holes and shafts.
  • ISO 2768 aims for interchangeability. ISO 286 targets optimal fit and functionality.
  • ISO 2768 is applied where fit is not critical. ISO 286 is used where controlled fit is required between mating parts.
  • ISO 2768 is broader and covers total dimensions. ISO 286 focuses specifically on hole and shaft fits.

In general, ISO 286 deals with tolerances for specific fits between parts, while ISO 2768 defines general allowable tolerances without focusing on fit. ISO 2768 is applied for overall dimensions when the fit is not critical.


ISO 286 provides an invaluable standardization for hole and shaft tolerance grades and fits in mechanical engineering and component manufacturing. By establishing consistent deviation limits and specifications for clearance, transitional, and interference fits, ISO 286 enables quality control, interchangeability, eased assembly, and international compatibility.

Mastering ISO 286 is critical for organizations and professionals with precision parts that mate together. The standard gives designers, manufacturers, and assemblers worldwide a common language and system for hole and shaft tolerances. Although ISO 286 does not specify other GD&T controls, it fills a crucial niche focused solely on proper hole and shaft fits. With a well-established tradition and widespread adoption, ISO 286 will remain a cornerstone standard for the global engineering and manufacturing community.

Frequently Asked Questions About ISO 286

1. What are the main differences between hole and shaft tolerance grades in ISO 286?

ISO 286 specifies 18 tolerance grades for holes and shafts designated with letters from E to ZA. Generally, the grades progress from loose/inexact fits (E) to tighter/more exact fits (ZA). Lower alphabet grades like JS and K have larger allowable deviations while higher grades like Z have smaller deviations for a more precise fit. The fundamental deviations also grow smaller for higher alphabet grades. This range of grades allows designers to select the appropriate fit tightness level for the application.

2. What is the difference between clearance, transitional, and interference fits in ISO 286?

ISO 286 defines specific tolerance requirements for three categories of hole and shaft fits:

  • Clearance Fit – The hole tolerance is greater than the shaft tolerance to provide a loose sliding fit. This allows for easier assembly but with more play between parts.

  • Transitional Fit – The high and low limits of the hole and shaft overlap somewhat, providing a controlled sliding fit. This balances ease of assembly with precision.

  • Interference Fit – The shaft tolerance is greater than the hole tolerance to create a press or shrink fit needing force. It provides a tight connection, but assembly is difficult.

So in summary, clearance fits are loose, interference fits are tight, and transitional fits are in the middle – offering both benefits.

3. When would a mechanical designer specify a fine tolerance grade over a coarse grade for ISO 286 hole and shaft fits?

The choice depends on the application’s fit requirements:

  • Fine tolerance grades like H or JS would be specified when a precision fit is critical – such as for a gear shaft that must mesh accurately with other gears.

  • Coarse grades like K or L would be appropriate when looser tolerances are acceptable – such as for a shaft in a non-critical spinning pulley.

  • Coarse grades also allow faster manufacturing and reduce costs but may sacrifice quality.

  • Components that must slide or rotate freely need looser fits than secured press fits.

So, in summary, the designer selects fine vs. coarse ISO 286 fits based on the functional needs – considering precision, manufacturing method, cost, assembly, movement, and performance.

4. How are ISO 286 hole and shaft tolerances beneficial for quality control and inspection?

ISO 286 provides clear quantitative criteria that quality and inspection teams can utilize for effective statistical process control.

  • Tolerance tables give inspectors pass/fail gauge limits for rapid checks.

  • Software programs can continuously track processes vs. ISO 286 tolerances to detect deviations.

  • Sampling-based on ISO 286 grades provides objective quality data.

  • Benchmarking and process capability analyses are straightforward with ISO tolerances.

  • Audits are simplified via published ISO 286 specifications.

So, in summary, ISO 286 gives inspection personnel and quality teams definitive standards for quality control that are not subject to interpretation – enabling data-driven oversight.

5. Why is a common international hole and shaft tolerance standard important for manufacturing?

A shared international standard like ISO 286 is critical because:

  • It enables the interchangeability of hole and shaft parts globally. Companies can source, sell, and assemble components worldwide.

  • Efficiency is improved by eliminating rework and scrapping of out-of-tolerance parts.

  • Inventory is optimized with fewer deviations to account for.

  • No ambiguity in interpreting various national standards for tolerances.

  • International trade is facilitated by a common language around hole and shaft fits.

  • Overall costs are lowered.

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