Monday, February 4, 2013

The delights of 'Low-Tech Magazine'

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:

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.



Chris said...

The Chinese wheelbarrow looks great for some types of loads, but what I use my European model for (mostly) is moving dirt and yard debris, which the Chinese version seems ill-suited for, looking at the picture.

GreyLocke said...

I love Low Tech Magazine. Their series of articles on windmills is also a very good read.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

A similar idea is the two wheeled hand cart as used by the LDS Pioneers (who died in large numbers). The Chinese built paved roads (paths?) sized to the barrows giving them an efficient transportation system.

In this country hunters use "buck barrows";same design but with smaller wheels.

The Raving Prophet said...

I think Chris hits at a major point the article ignores- the uses of Chinese and European wheelbarrows is rather different.

The Chinese version would indeed excel at long distance transportation of heavy goods. However, it would be rather less successful at the landscaping work where the European style wheelbarrow comes into its own. Landscaping work tends to involve much shorter distances and the ability to dump a load of bulk material with ease. The European version is great at dumping a large load and the shorter distance means the inefficiency is of minor concern.

To use a Chinese wheelbarrow as most of us use a wheelbarrow one would need to load both sides to a more or less equal level... something that is more trouble than just supporting part of the load to the destination only about 50 feet away.

But then, if the balloon goes up, I could see where a Chinese wheelbarrow would excel at moving a bunch of .22LR ammunition with more ease.