How Brakes Work by Karim Nice Part 3

How Brakes Work

Karim Nice
Brake Friction

Friction force versus weight


Friction is a measure of how hard it is to slide one object over another. Take a look at the figure below. Both of the blocks are made from the same material, but one is heavier. I think we all know which one will be harder for the bulldozer to push.

To understand why this is, let's take a close look at one of the blocks and the table:

Because friction exists at the microscopic level, the amount of force it takes to move a given block is proportional to that block's weight.

Even though the blocks look smooth to the naked eye, they are actually quite rough at the microscopic level. When you set the block down on the table, the little peaks and valleys get squished together, and some of them may actually weld together. The weight of the heavier block causes it to squish together more, so it is even harder to slide.

Different materials have different microscopic structures; for instance, it is harder to slide rubber against rubber than it is to slide steel against steel. The type of material determines the coefficient of friction, the ratio of the force required to slide the block to the block's weight. If the coefficient were 1.0 in our example, then it would take 100 pounds of force to slide the 100-pound (45 kg) block, or 400 pounds (180 kg) of force to slide the 400-pound block. If the coefficient were 0.1, then it would take 10 pounds of force to slide to the 100-pound block or 40 pounds of force to slide the 400-pound block.

So the amount of force it takes to move a given block is proportional to that block's weight. The more weight, the more force required. This concept applies for devices like brakes and clutches, where a pad is pressed against a spinning disc. The more force that presses on the pad, the greater the stopping force.


An interesting thing about friction is that it usually takes more force to break an object loose than to keep it sliding. There is a coefficient of static friction, where the two surfaces in contact are not sliding relative to each other. If the two surfaces are sliding relative to each other, the amount of force is determined by the coefficient of dynamic friction, which is usually less than the coefficient of static friction.

For a car tire, the coefficient of dynamic friction is much less than the coefficient of static friction. The car tire provides the greatest traction when the contact patch is not sliding relative to the road. When it is sliding (like during a skid or a burnout), traction is greatly reduced.


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