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Hackett on Mechanical Advantage in The Big Book of Maker Skills

hackett-big-book-of-maker-skills-leverage

We’re celebrating the release of Chris Hackett & PopSci’s new book, The Big Book of Maker Skills. Today’s excerpt is about leverage. – Becky Stern

Hackett Says:

Get Mechanical Advantage from Simple Machines

I want to get better at problem solving, and a useful way to get better at stuff is to learn more about the rules. The better you know the rules, the better you can play the game. The better you play, the easier it is to win. The game is rigged and we all lose, but the rules seem clear: Newtonian physics.

Physics grew from classical mechanics—physics explains and predicts how mechanics work and how forces will interact. Mechanics is based on the six simple machines: lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. These are it—there are only six ways to manipulate force. Mix and match and stack and slice, and you have all mechanical technology. The simple machines are based in the concept of mechanical advantage.

Mechanical advantage (and all subsequent technology) sprung from Archimedes and his understanding of the lever. The genius here is twofold: First, realize that the lever, a thing everyone knows and has always understood, is not an example of something, but that everything else is an example of it. Second, if there is one rule, maybe there are others. It’s not that he made the rules—it’s that he was the first person to realize that there were rules.

The simple machines are more than just neat boxes to slot existing things into. They’re descriptive but also predictive—once you know the basics, once you know the rules, you can combine and recombine the basic bits, and proceed rationally.

From Archimedes, we have the engineering and technology that we have now, we have the core rules that underlie everything. More directly, we have the lever—still the best way to break up pallets.


Makers, get ready: This is your ultimate, must-have, tip-packed guide for taking your DIY projects to the next level—from basic wood- and metalworking skills to 3D printing and laser-cutting wizardry, plus the entrepreneurial and crowd-sourcing tactics needed to transform your back-of-the-envelope idea into a gleaming finished product.

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In The Big Book of Maker Skills: 334 Tools and Techniques for Building Great Tech Projects, readers learn classic, tried-and-true techniques from the shop class of yore—how to use a metal lathe, or pick the perfect drill bit or saw—and get introduced to a whole new world of modern manufacturing technologies, like using CAD software, printing circuits, and more. Step-by-step illustrations, helpful diagrams, and exceptional photography make this book an easy-to-follow and easy-on-the-eyes guide to getting your project done.

Images courtesy Weldon Owen


Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

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