The main function of the engine inlet and exhaust valves is to let air in and out of the cylinders.
Cooling – the intake valve will be cooled by the incoming air and fuel mixture. The exhaust valve will run at much higher peak temperatures as it sits in the exhaust gas stream.
A significant amount of cooling occurs when the valve is in contact with the valve seat and the heat is conducted away to the cylinder head. Some exhaust valves are filled with sodium to improve heat transfer.
Mass – Intake and exhaust valves must be optimised for mass to operate in high speed engines. The intake valve needs the most attention as it is the largest of the valves. In some engines the intake valves are made from titanium.
Material – the exhaust valve will see extremely high temperature and corrosive exhaust gas. For the intake and exhaust valves on model engines it’s common to make them from stainless steel with phosphor bronze valve guides.
Piston to Valve Clearance – an intake or exhaust valve will not survive contact with the piston. Hence on a number of pistons you will see recesses on the top surface to allow slightly more space for the opening of the valves. This also makes it imperative to get the timing correct.