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....

A pulley

Farmer Bill says this pulley arrangement doubles the force of his tractor. Is he just a dumb hayseed, or does he know what he's doing?

To use Newton's first law, we need to pick an object and consider the sum of the forces on it. Since our goal is to relate the tension in the part of the cable attached to the stump to the tension in the part attached to the tractor, we should pick an object to which both those cables are attached, i.e., the pulley itself. As discussed in section 5.4, the tension in a string or cable remains approximately constant as it passes around a pulley, provided that there is not too much friction. There are therefore two leftward forces acting on the pulley, each equal to the force exerted by the tractor. Since the acceleration of the pulley is essentially zero, the forces on it must be canceling out, so the rightward force of the pulley-stump cable on the pulley must be double the force exerted by the tractor. Yes, Farmer Bill knows what he's talking about.

Last Update: 2009-06-21