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I see that 4 stroke engines use hard gaskets at the cylinder heads, whereas two stroke slow speed engines that are used for the propulsion of ships or for production of electricity on land have soft gaskets.

What determines which gasket should be used?

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Gaskets are selected based upon the mating surface materials, pressure, surface area, surface condition and what they are sealing.

As far as I know, harder gaskets are used in harsher locations. But there are many factors involved with modern to do with making them lighter and stronger. A strong steel gasket may be applied to a cylinder head because it adds strength to an aluminum block. The large engines used for power generation or ships have heavy steel or cast iron blocks that are machined to a high tolerance that only need a thin film or soft gasket to make the seal tight.

There are many conditions that determine what gasket is best, but some of it is just what the designers choose.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also a "soft gasket" and Wills rings were used in some engines (thinking of Hillman (L)Imp), the Wills ring was a toroidal ring filled with gas that the hotter it got the more it expanded and the tighter the seal. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike May 12 '17 at 15:13

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