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Simple Machines

When you think of a machine, you usually think of giant metal things that make all kinds of noise and make toys and other items, right? Well, those things are machines. However, there are also many things that are very simple but still called machines! That’s because a machine is any kind of device that uses energy to perform an activity or a type of work. Tools today are much more complex and can do things like print barcode labels but you would be surprised at how simple the earliest machines are!

1. Pulley

Pulleys have been used for a very long time. In fact, they are one of the oldest types of “machines” out there! A pulley consists of a wheel (known as a sheave) that has a groove in it. That groove is the key to how a pulley works. Ropes, cables, belts, and even chains can be fitted into those grooves because they are the perfect size. Pulleys are used to help make it easier to lift things and move them. Cranes use a pulley system for lifting large, heavy loads. Pulleys were even used in old castles to help raise and lower drawbridges!

Pulley : Has a picture of a pulley as well as examples of where pulleys are used.

Pulleys : Has moving graphics that demonstrate how pulleys work.

2. Lever

Levers are one of the simplest machines out there. Any flat surface can be a lever if you need it to be. Levers make is easier to move things by moving the load around what’s called a “pivot.” They use a central point and move around it, making it easier to lift and move things. There are many examples of levers out there including common ones like see-saws. There are several things you probably don’t realize are types of levers like scissors or pliers.

Types of Levers : Talks about types of levers and gives examples.

Levers : Shows a little bit more about how a lever works.

3. Wedge

You’ve probably heard of wedges before. They are triangle-shaped tools used for many different purposes. They can separate two different objects, lift an object, and even hold an object in place. A wedge is basically two inclined planes that meet to form an edge that is capable of cutting things. Knives, forks, nails, and axes are all examples of wedges!

Wedges : Provides information and diagrams about wedges.

Wedge Photo : Has a great picture of what a wedge looks like.

4. Wheel & Axle

Wheels and axles are also one of the most common types of machines out there. They’ve been around for 7,000 years! An axle is a rod that goes through the wheel and lets the wheel turn. This process allows something heavy to be moved easily. There are wheels and axles on car tires, wagons, and even doorknobs!

Wheel & Axle : A very detailed description of how wheels and axles work.

Wheel & Axle Examples : Has great examples of wheels and axles.

5. Inclined Plane

An inclined plane is basically a slanted surface used to move objects. They make it easier to move things from the higher end of the surface to the lower because inclined planes let gravity do all the hard work – heavy loads slide right down! Ramps are an example of inclined planes.

Inclined Planes : Discusses inclined planes.

Inclined Plane Demonstration : This demonstration lets you interact with an inclined plane!

6. Screw

Screws come in many different types. They are basically shafts that have grooves carved into them. Those grooves translate torque into what’s linear force by capturing the motion of something turning and transferring it down and out, allowing screws to carve into things! Screws are used to hold many different types of things together.

Types of Screws : Lists the different types of screws.

Truly, simple machines are the precursors to the bigger machines. Without them, the world may be a whole different place.