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Simple machines
_2xx Macchine da guerra
Simple machines are the basis necessary, indeed indispensable, to be able to correctly interpret the far more complex machines da Vinci invented.
Pulley/hoist ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 71r

    Hoists, both simple and complex, have been used from time immemorial. They are usually used to lift weights. The hoist is used to direct the pull exerted on a rope into a different direction from the force of traction. Several hoists working together can proportionally increase the force of traction.

Inclined plane ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 64v


      The inclined plane makes use of the weight of an object that slides or rolls over it in order to move it in a direction other than the perpendicular. Leonardo studies its theory and all its possible applications until he succeeds in formulating the correct thesis: that a screw is really an inclined plane coiled around an axle.

Lever ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 23r


  The outstanding mechanical tool when it comes to lifting a weight is the simple lever. It consists of a rigid beam resting on a pivot. The force or weight applied at one end is transmitted to the other end in proportion to the distance from the point where the beam meets the pivot (fulcrum). A scale is a lever with the fulcrum in the exact center of the system. The crowbar, on the other hand, is a lever which transmits enormous pressure on the end very close to the fulcrum.

Toothed gears ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 5r


  On page 5r of the Codex Madrid Leonardo deals scientifically with the idea of transmission by means of toothed gears. He studies the interaction of the teeth between two wheels of different sizes and deduces several rules of geometry. This study is the basis for all the gears in every mechanical machine ever made, past or present. On other pages of the codex, Leonardo also drew conical gears, bent-toothed gears and ring gears.

Joints ~ Codice Madrid I, f. 62r


      Joints are used to bring two ends together mechanically. Leonardo drew many kinds of joints and suggested a number of designs, as well as wax and oil treatments to make a perfect wooden joint that would not be able slip out once it had been fitted into place. The V-shapes are used to open and close the joint.

Lantern gear~ Codex Madrid I, f. 13r


      The lantern or cage gear is the opposite of the toothed gear, with which it is always used. Two discs hold many cylindrical pegs tightly around the pivot and the pegs engage with the teeth of a gear. The empty space between the pegs catches the teeth. This type of gear is used frequently because it is easy to make and it can travel vertically whilst it is working. A ring gear is like a big lantern gear without one of the two discs often used alongside the lantern gear.

Connecting rod/crank ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 28v




The connecting rod and crank system is used to transform rotary motion into direct reciprocating motion. A crank fixed to a connecting rod at one end is applied to a wheel. The connecting rod is a system composed of two poles joined by pivots. The last pole of the connecting rod is fixed so that it can turn in only one direction and, when it is pulled and pushed by the attached crank, it moves as a result.

Wedge ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 47r


The wedge is a pyramid-shaped object that is placed in groove or between two surfaces to separate them. The energy derived from a blow applied to the head of a wedge is distributed toward the surfaces. It is used to distribute energy in different directions. The basic idea of the wedge is the inclined plane.

Axle ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 13r




Every type of gear depends on the idea of the axle and the wheel. An axle that rests on or passes through a circular hole will stay in place but will still turn. Leonardo also studied the effects of wear and tear on axles when different materials are used.

Stops (Pawl) ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 117r



To apply a brake to a gear mechanism, Leonardo often uses a lever that interlocks with teeth cut out of a wheel so that the wheel is blocked. However, by doing it this way the wheel is still free to rotate in the opposite direction; a small spring can be added to the stop lever (pawl) to return it to its position. This kind of stop is often used for blocking system and for loading leaf springs.

Flywheel ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 114r



The flywheel accumulates kinetic energy; Leonardo calls it “auxiliary motion”. At first, a large amount of energy is required to start turning the wheel or the weight attached to it, but once it is in motion the weight itself creates its own energy and it is difficult to slow down the system. The flywheel was to prove fundamental to Watt’s steam engine and to feedback systems.

Articulated Joints ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 100v



The various kinds of articulated mechanical joints are essential for building robots and automata. Codex Madrid I shows several types. The basis of these joints is the use of the pivot or axle: each pivot has a degree of free rotation. The surprise lies in the innovative notion of using the ball and socket joint, which imitates the joints in the human skeleton and allows for considerable freedom of movement.

Cams ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 6v



A cam is a device created with a wheel which has an irregular rim or with pegs that will make the desired shape. The rim of the irregular wheel pushes or moves a lever and makes it perform a movement that follows its shape. In this case, the wheel rim moves a lever, raising the hammer, which is then made to drop with a bang at each turn of the cam.

Chains ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 10r



Leonardo drew many types of chains. The chain is an assembly of metal elements connected to each other by pins. Compared to a pulley, the chain can be grasped between the teeth of a gear and is in any case much stronger. It is a mistake to think that here we have proof that Leonardo had thought of a bicycle with pedals and a chain because in fact he only drew vertical chain systems for the purpose of lifting weights or containers.

Bearings~ Codex Madrid I, f. 20v



First of all, Leonardo makes a serious study of the use of bearings to reduce wear and tear. If balls or cylindrical objects are placed between two rotating surfaces they greatlyy reduce the effects of wear and tear that would tend to slow the mechanism. Leonardo studied various shapes and materials for different uses.

Screw ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 86v



Leonardo analyses the screw in terms of mathematics and geometry, describing it as an inclined plane coiled around an axis. In these terms, the “nut” slides and moves upwards on the screw’s plane; when the nut’s progress is blocked the “plane” moves. Part of the screw can be used to engage a toothed wheel and it is then known as an “endless screw”.

Spring ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 84r



A spring is a long piece of flexible metal, coiled several times in a spiral around an axle. If the axle is rotated, the metal band behaves like an accumulator for “flexible” energy which, when released, returns the axle to its starting position. The principle characteristic of the spring is that the accumulated flexible energy is greatest at the first moment of release and very weak at the end. Spiral springs release rotary energy; springs of a different shape release energy in the opposite direction from that in which it was accumulated.

Pendulum ~ Codex Madrid I, f. 61v



The main property of a pendulum is that (in simplified terms) the time of oscillation is proportional to the length of the cord and independent of the weight and amplitude of the swing. Leonardo studied the effects of the pendulum and used it to provide power in a large number of gadgets, not just those for measuring time, but also in mills and mechanisms.

_Leonardo's machines
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- Page of miscellaneous machines
- Page of geometrical studies

- Page of machines designed by other Renaissance engineers

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