Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

# Torque distinguished from force

Of course a force is necessary in order to create a torque - you can't twist a screw without pushing on the wrench - but force and torque are two different things. One distinction between them is direction. We use positive and negative signs to represent forces in the two possible directions along a line. The direction of a torque, however, is clockwise or counterclockwise, not a linear direction.

The other difference between torque and force is a matter of leverage. A given force applied at a door's knob will change the door's angular momentum twice as rapidly as the same force applied halfway between the knob and the hinge. The same amount of force produces different amounts of torque in these two cases.

 The plane's four engines produce zero total torque but not zero total force.

It is possible to have a zero total torque with a nonzero total force. An airplane with four jet engines, n, would be designed so that their forces are balanced on the left and right. Their forces are all in the same direction, but the clockwise torques of two of the engines are canceled by the counterclockwise torques of the other two, giving zero total torque.

Conversely we can have zero total force and nonzero total torque. A merry-go-round's engine needs to supply a nonzero torque on it to bring it up to speed, but there is zero total force on it. If there was not zero total force on it, its center of mass would accelerate!

Last Update: 2009-06-21