Learn by Taking Things Apart

DN Staff

April 5, 2011

2 Min Read
Learn by Taking Things Apart

My Mom used to say I had a lot of disappointed friends in elementary school.  I would invite them to see my Lionel model-railroad setup only to show them a layout half assembled or disassembled. Mom said I’d tell the kids about all the “improvements” I planned to make after I got everything back together, which I eventually did.  I learned a lot by taking things apart and in some cases putting them back together. This happened with lawnmowers, an outboard motor, a washing machine scavenged from the dump, and numerous discarded radios and TVs.

If you don’t have an opportunity to disassemble something to learn how it works (or worked), I recommend anyone interested in mechatronics take a look at the small book, “Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements,” by Henry T. Brown.  The Astragal Press publishes the book, which costs $US 14.95, ISBN: 978-1603863117.  For more information, visit: http://www.astragalpress.com/507_mechanical_movements.htm. The book has a copyright date of 1868.  That’s not a typographical error.  The eighteenth edition that Astragal publishes has a 1896 copyright date. Amazon carries the reprinted book, which has a 4-star rating.

I opened my copy by chance this morning to the page that shows Samuel Colt’s mechanism for rotating the cylinder of a pistol by cocking the pistol’s hammer and C. R. Otis’ mechanism that revolutionized elevators. Prior to the use of Otis’ safety mechanism, when an elevator rope broke occupants often died. In the Otis mechanism, the lack of tension on a broken rope caused pins on a track to engage teeth, which stopped the elevator.  Clever and effective.

Yes, the mechanisms might seem dated, but they provide a lot of ideas and food for thought. You might not find all mechanisms clever at a time when some engineers think a brushless-DC motor and a microcontroller can solve any motion problem, but you’re likely to better understand practical mechanics. And if you think such mechanical movements have become obsolete, take apart a DVD drive or a top-loading washing machine. –Jon Titus

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