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Simple

Machines

The
Wedge

Crusader
Education

Overview
Crusader
 

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
 


addition
 

 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
 

task
 

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
 

head,
 

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!)
Ask
 

 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
Here are some questions to ask your students
more.)
about this exercise:
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
well. Think about how you hold your arms when
you dive into a swimming pool...

This
 

guide
 

written
 

and
 

illustrated
 

by
 

Brian
 

Jones,
Little
 

Shop
 

of
 

Physics,
 

Colorado
 

State
 

University

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