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# Simple

Machines

The
Wedge

Education

Overview
Education’s
Wedge
is
crafted
from
du-­
rable
hardwood
to
provide
a
long-­lasting
piece
of

laboratory
equipment
that
lets
students
explore

the
basic
concept
of
this
simple
machine.

The

hinged
boards
and
the
narrow
wedge
allow
stu-­
dents
to
clearly
experience
the
force
ampliﬁ
ca-­
tion
that
this
simple
machine
makes
possible.
The

of
elastic
bands
allows
for
quantitative

measurements.

The
Wedge:
A
Simple
Machine
Most
simple
machines
have
one
basic
goal:
to
allow
you
to
per-­
form
a
using
less
force
than
you
would
otherwise
need.
The

wedge
is
one
of
the
oldest
of
the
simple
machines.
It
is
really
a

stone
age
tool
that
has
been
used
for
thousands
of
years
for
strip-­
ping
bark
from
trees
and
splitting
logs.
And
the
wedge
is
a
simple
machine
that
you
see
very,
very
fre-­
quently,
though
you
might
not
think
of
it!
Our
ofﬁ
ce
space
has

wedges
by
every
door,
that
we
use
to
hold
the
doors
open!
The

force
that
we
apply
to
the

end
of
the
wedge
turns

into
a
very
large
force

between
the
wedge
and

the
ﬂ
oor
that
keeps
it

from
sliding.
Of
course,
wedges
are
also
used
the
way
they
always
have

been:
to
split
wood.
Of
all
of
the
simple
machines,
the

wedge
is
the
one
that
is
the
least
changed
over
the
years

and
the
easiest
to
recognize!
1

Physics
Principles
Suppose
you
raise
a
maul
(a
heavy
wedge
on
a
handle)
over

your
and
bring
it
down
on
a
piece
of
wood
that
you
want

to
split.
Two
things
happen:
1)
The
wedge
turns
the
vertical
motion
of
the
wedge
into
a
hor-­
izontal
force.
The
wedge,
like
other
simple
machines,
changes

the
direction
of
a
force.
2)
The
wedge
works
a
bit
like
a
ramp,
or
an
inclined
plane.
The

wedge
needs
to
move
a
long
way
in
order
to
split
the
wood
just

a
small
amount.
This
means
that
the
force
is
ampliﬁ
ed—a
small

force
on
the
wedge
turns
into
a
large
force
on
the
wood.
You

can’t
split
a
log
with
your
bare
hands,
but
the
wedge
ampliﬁ
es

the
force
so
that
the
force
of
your
body
is
all
that
is
needed!

Experiments
Part
I:
The
Basic
Principle
Force
Ampliﬁ
cation
Step
1:
Put
several
rubber
bands
on
the
outer
of

the
two
sets
of
pegs.
Now,
lift
up
the
top
board,

and
feel
the
resistance.
Now,
force
the
boards

apart
by
sliding
the
wedge
between
them.
This

is
easier—and
if
you
oil
the
wood
so
that
the

wedge
slides
more
easily,
it’s
even
easier!
(You

can
use
lemon
oil
for
this—the
kind
meant
for

ﬁ
nishing
furniture!)
your
students
to
note
the
motion.
The

wedge
moves
a
long
way
to
raise
the
top
board

by
a
small
amount;
that’s
why
it
gives
as
much

force
as
it
does.
A
small
force
over
a
long
dis-­
tance
is
turned
into
a
large
force
over
a
small

distance,
just
as
for
other
simple
machines.
A

skinnier
wedge
would
move
even
farther,
and
so

would
provide
even
more
force
ampliﬁ
cation.
So:
The
force
is
ampliﬁ
ed,
and
it
is
directed
in

another
direction,
both
of
the
key
elements
of
a

simple
machine.

2

Step 2: Next, do the same experiment as above,
but place the rubber bands on the inner pegs.
Will it be easier or harder to force the boards
apart? As you can see, the rubber bands don’t
stretch as much, so it will be easier to force the
boards apart than in step 1.
1. Increase the number of rubber bands. How
does this change the force necessary to move
Here are some other variations you could make the wedge?
on this basic experiment:
2. Rather than use the rubber bands to make a
force, place a weight on the top board. Now
you can lift the weight with the wedge!

Part
II:
A
Bit
More
Detail
Other
Uses
of
the
Wedge
Step
1:
Rather
than
pushing
the
wedge,
tap
it

with
your
hand.
Now
you
are
changing
the
im-­
pulsive
force
of
your
blow
into
a
much
larger

force
moving
the
boards
apart.
An
even
gentle

tap
will
make
a
remarkably
large
force!
It’s

easy
to
force
the
boards
apart
even
with
all
of

the
rubber
bands
in
place.
Step 2: Use several rubber bands on the outer
set of pegs, and drive the wedge in between the
two boards. Now, let it go. It will stay in place!
This is how a door wedge works. The friction
between the wedge and the boards is enough to
keep it from sliding, so you can use a wedge to
prop a door open. A shallower angle makes a
more effective prop. Can you see why?
1. How could you increase the force of the
wedge? (You can make a skinnier, longer
wedge. This will amplify the force even
more.)
2. Can you think of practical examples of
wedges? (There are many—one example is
on the next page.)

3

Extensions
Where
do
you
see
wedges?
We’ve
seen
a
few
examples;
here’s
one
more
to
get
you
thinking!

Wedges
in
the
Kitchen:
The
Knife
A Wedge Makes an Opening
You often see wedges used to make an opening.
A knife is a wedge: it is thicker at the top than at
the blade. As it moves through a banana, it forces
it apart. Scissors are just two wedges that work
together.
What other examples can you think of in which
you use something that is skinny on one side and
thicker on the other that you use to make an opening by forcing in the skinny side?
And you use this principle in less obvious ways as
you dive into a swimming pool...

This
guide
written
and
illustrated
by
Brian
Jones,
Little
Shop
of
Physics,