Through an e-mail, I was recently introduced to Low-Tech Magazine. It's proving to be a real time sink, with articles that can keep me reading and researching for hours on end. To name but a few that have sucked me in:
- The Mechanical Transmission of Power (2): Jerker Line Systems
- Hand powered drilling tools and machines
- The velomobile: high-tech bike or low-tech car?
- How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow
That last article is fascinating. I'd never realized that a Chinese wheelbarrow has a completely different wheel size and position compared to those with which we're familiar in the West. As the article points out:
On the European wheelbarrow the wheel was (and is) invariably placed at the furthest forward end of the barrow, so that the weight of the burden is equally distributed between the wheel and the man pushing it. In fact, the wheel substitutes for the front man of the handbarrow or stretcher, the carrying tool that was replaced by the wheelbarrow.
In the characteristic Chinese design a much larger wheel was (and is) placed in the middle of the wheelbarrow, so that it takes the full weight of the burden with the human operator only guiding the vehicle. In fact, in this design the wheel substitutes for a pack animal. In other words, when the load is 100 kg [220 pounds], the operator of a European wheelbarrow carries a load of 50 kg [110 pounds] while the operator of a Chinese wheelbarrow carries nothing. He (or she) only has to push or pull, and steer.
The result was an extremely powerful and agile vehicle. In 1176 AD, the Chinese writer Tsêng Min-Hsing noted enthusiastically:
"The device is so efficient that it can take the place of three men; moreover, it is safe and steady when passing along dangerous places (cliff paths, etcetera). Ways which are as winding as the bowels of a sheep will not defeat it."
There's more at the link. Really interesting stuff to a history and technology geek like me.
Overall, Low-Tech Magazine is very worthwhile reading, particularly for those living in financially straitened circumstances in rural settings. A lot of its articles can be applied to produce low-cost solutions for everyday problems. Recommended.