Six simple machines: (4) Wedge

This is the fourth in a series about the six classical simple machines.

My two daughters and I use wedges to keep our bedroom doors open. I believe they’re called door stoppers. There, I’m done. (Unless you want to hear about my girls’ nightly ritual of setting the door stoppers just so in order to allow a cat to slither in or out of their rooms at will, but not to let too much light in from other bedrooms, which took weeks to perfect until a proper cat width/light ratio was achieved.)

Hmm. If it seems like we have another inclined plane problem on our hands it’s probably because the wedge is simply two inclined planes put together. The door stopper kind of wedge holds an object in place, which likely gives the impression of passivity, but if you’ve ever done the deceptively simple Warrior 2 pose in yoga, you know that holding something in place is a very active achievement indeed.

Action shot

Action shot

But there’s the probably (no judgments here) more interesting type of wedge: the kind that is used to split objects apart. I am talking about the knife! The knife! The kind of simple machine so simple you hardly realize it’s a machine! But it is! To be more precise, a knife is a cutting utensil used as a wedge. An axe is probably a better example of a wedge and the ancient flint axe used by Native Americans is probably the best example of a classic wedge, but let’s just return to knives.

I am in love with my chef’s knife. If you like to cook even a little bit, you know what I’m talking about. Is there anything more satisfying than the nice clean snap of an excellent chef’s knife on, say, a bunch of unruly parsley? I should probably add an excellent well-sharpened chef’s knife. My old fancy Wusthof chef’s knife was lost as a result of my separation (truly it was my ex-husband’s) (and sure, I’ll point out the knife/separation metaphor and leave it at that) but it had gotten so dull (even with attempts to sharpen it) that my love for it had long faded. So I bought a (supposedly) way inferior chef’s knife at Target, but its sharpness outweighed whatever fancy German precision I had lost in the separation (yes, noted).

The other night, while I was happily cutting scallions, my older daughter remarked that my knife was really a great one. It’s the best knife ever! I said, unable to stop myself from hyperbole as usual. And I looked at this ordinary knife, doing its ordinary/extraordinary work like the simple machine that it was, and felt a great satisfaction. I’ve talked about this before: just the simple act of slicing and chopping that is remarkably calming at the end of a long day, something I had forgotten about in the darkest of times, but now comes to me nearly every night.

All because of the glorious wedge! Keeping our doors open and our vegetables diced finely! Like a great Warrior (2): strong and stoic. The wedge actually reminds me of that old (possibly first) joke: Why does a fireman wear red suspenders? To keep his pants up. Yes, precisely that! We have machines to do that now!

(And now for the pulley!)


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