Skip main navigation

Analysis: Basic model of dry friction

Two Frenchmen constructed our basic model of friction. It's rough and ready but often is useful enough for practical purposes.
9.7
How can we represent friction? Often, we can use the simple model devised by two French researchers– Coulomb and Amontons. In fact, this model of friction is often called Coulomb friction. Here’s how it goes. First, we need an FBD. We’ll use the experiment with the book on the table. The graph plots the friction force F against pushing force P. As we increase force P, it is at first balanced by an increasing force F, the friction force. At first, the friction force balances the push, and the book stays put. It’s in equilibrium. But then there comes a point where F can no longer increase. It has reached its limiting value, and the book moves.
66.3
Once it moves, the friction force often drops to a lower level. Our friction model specifies that this limiting value before it moves is given by the equation P equals mu s N where mu s is the coefficient of the limiting static friction, and N is the normal force. Normal means at right angles to the surface. The coefficient mu s is assumed to be independent of the load and independent of the surface area in contact. These assumptions are often rough and ready, but the results are useful all the same. When the force P exceeds the limiting friction, the book will accelerate, and the friction force will drop to the value known as the kinetic friction force.
122.1
Our model specifies that this value is given by F equals mu k N. mu k is the coefficient of kinetic friction. Again, this is rough and ready, but it is useful. Now let’s look at the book sliding down an incline. Here is the FBD. Notice that the axes are aligned along the incline and perpendicular to the incline. That’s often a help. We can split the weight force into components– one down incline, and one perpendicular to the incline or normal to it. If we now apply equilibrium along the incline and then perpendicular to the incline, we can get expressions for F, N, and, hence, F divided by N.
179
Pause the video and try to find F, N, and F divided by N in terms of mg, the weight, and the angle alpha.
202
Here are the results. Now we will consider the case of impending motion. That is when an object is just on the point of moving. And when the angle is for the special case of impending motion, we substitute a new symbol, phi, for alpha and rearrange to get F divided by N equals 10 phi. Now F divided by N is also mu, the coefficient of friction. So if we know phi, by a test for example, we can find mu. Similarly, if we find the angle when the book will just keep moving when it’s given a push, then we can find the coefficient of kinetic friction. Here’s another useful way of describing friction behaviour.
254.6
phi is called the angle of friction either static or kinetic as appropriate. Now let’s look at the tipping box.

Two Frenchmen constructed our basic model of friction. It’s rough and ready but often is useful enough for practical purposes.

With their ideas we can represent friction on Free-Body Diagrams and find forces as required.

This video introduces “coefficient of friction”. Often this is difficult to obtain accurately, but engineers can make allowances for variability.

Talking points

The basic model has a limiting coefficient of static friction and a coefficient of kinetic friction.

  • Describe the sequence of events as you push increasingly harder on an object sitting on a rough surface.
This article is from the free online

Through Engineers' Eyes: Engineering Mechanics by Experiment, Analysis and Design

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education