Single-acting Piston Valve
A single-acting valve in a reciprocating engine is a cylinder in which the working fluid acts on one side of the piston only. A single-acting cylinder relies on the load, springs, other cylinders, or the momentum of a flywheel, to push the piston back in the other direction. Single-acting cylinders are found in most kinds of reciprocating engine.
They are almost universal in internal combustion engines (e.g. petrol and diesel engines) and are also used in many external combustion engines such as Stirling engines and some steam engines. They are also found in pumps and hydraulic rams.
Double-acting Piston Valve
A double-acting valve is a cylinder in which the working fluid acts alternately on both sides of the piston. In order to connect the piston in a double-acting cylinder to an external mechanism, such as a crank shaft, a hole must be provided in one end of the cylinder for the piston rod, and this is fitted with a gland or “stuffing box” to prevent escape of the working fluid. Double-acting cylinders are common in steam engines but unusual in other engine types.
Many hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders use them where it is needed to produce a force in both directions. A double-acting hydraulic cylinder has a port at each end, supplied with hydraulic fluid for both the retraction and extension of the piston. A double-acting cylinder is used where an external force is not available to retract the piston or where high force is required in both directions of travel.