Worm gears are used when large gear reductions are needed. It is common for worm gears to have reductions of 20:1, and even up to 300:1 or greater. The worm can easily turn the gear, but the gear cannot turn the worm. This is because the angle on the worm is so shallow that when the gear tries to spin it, the friction between the gear and the worm holds the worm in place.
A worm is a gear that resembles a screw. It is a species of helical gear, but its helix angle is usually somewhat large (i.e., somewhat close to 90 degrees) and its body is usually fairly long in the axial direction; and it is these attributes which give it its screw like qualities. A worm is usually meshed with an ordinary looking, disk-shaped gear, which is called the “gear”, the “wheel”, the “worm gear”, or the “worm wheel”.
The prime feature of a worm-and-gear set is that it allows the attainment of a high gear ratio with few parts, in a small space. Helical gears are, in practice, limited to gear ratios of less than 10:1; worm gear sets commonly have gear ratios between 10:1 and 100:1, and occasionally 500:1. In worm-and-gear sets, where the worm’s helix angle is large, the sliding action between teeth can be considerable, and the resulting frictional loss causes the efficiency of the drive to be usually less than 90 percent, sometimes less than 50 percent, which is far less than other types of gears.