Splines are ridges or teeth on a drive shaft that mesh with grooves in a mating piece and transfer torque to it, maintaining the angular correspondence between them.

For instance, a gear mounted on a shaft might use a male spline on the shaft that matches the female spline on the gear. The splines on the pictured drive shaft match with the female splines in the center of the clutch plate, while the smooth tip of the axle is supported in the pilot bearing in the flywheel. An alternative to splines is a keyway and key, though splines provide a longer fatigue life.

There are two types of splines, internal and external. External splines may be broached, shaped (for example on a gear shaping machine), milled, hobbed, rolled, ground or extruded. There are fewer methods available for manufacturing internal splines due to accessibility restrictions. Methods include those listed above with the exception of hobbing (no access). Often, with internal splines, the splined portion of the part may not have a through-hole, which precludes use of a pull / push broach or extrusion-type method. Also, if the part is small it may be difficult to fit a milling or grinding tool into the area where the splines are machined.

To prevent stress concentrations the ends of the splines are chamfered (as opposed to an abrupt vertical end). Such stress concentrations are a primary cause of failure in poorly designed splines.