Simple Crane

A counterweight is an equivalent counterbalancing weight that balances a load.[1]



A counterweight is often used in traction lifts (elevators), cranes and funfair rides. In these applications, the expected load multiplied by the distance that load will be spaced from the central support (called the "tipping point") must be equal to the counterweight's mass times its distance from the tipping point in order to prevent over-balancing either side. This distance times mass is called the load moment.[2]

Counterweights in action

Space elevator

Trebuchet: There are five major components of a trebuchet: beam, counterweight, frame, guide chute, and sling. After the counterweight drops from a platform on the frame, gravity pulls the counterweight and pivots the beam. Without the counterweight, the beam could not complete the arc that allows the sling to accurately release the projectile.[3][4]

Crankshaft: A counterweight is also used in many rotating systems to reduce vibrations due to imbalances in the rotating assembly. A typical example is counterweights on crankshafts in piston engines.[5]

Desk lamp: Some balanced arm lamps work with a counterweight to keep the arm and lamp in the desired position.

Counterweights in architecture

César Pelli's Ratner Athletic Center uses cables, masts and underground counterweights as a load-bearing support structure.
Leaning Tower of Pisa has used external counterweights to stabilize the once gradually falling structure.

Elevator: In traction (non-hydraulic) elevators, a heavy counterweight counterbalances the load of the elevator car, so the motor lifts much less of the car's weight (specifically, the counterweight is the weight of the car plus 40-50% of its rated capacity). The counterweight also increases the ascending acceleration force and decreases the descending acceleration force to reduce the amount of power needed by the motor. The elevator car and the counterweights both have guide rollers attached to them to prevent irregular movement and provide a smoother ride for the passengers.[6]

Space elevator: A space elevator is a proposed structure designed to transport material from a celestial body's surface into space. Many variants have been proposed, but the concept most often refers to an elevator that reaches from the surface of the Earth to geostationary outer space, with a counterweight attached at its outer end.

By attaching a counterweight at the end, inertia ensures that the cable remains stretched taut, countering the gravitational pull on the lower sections and thereby allowing the elevator to remain in geostationary orbit.

The counterweight itself could assume one of several forms:

  1. a heavy, captured asteroid (as shown in the diagram);
  2. a space dock, space station or spaceport positioned past geostationary orbit; or
  3. an extension of the cable itself far beyond geostationary orbit.
Concrete counterweights on a tower crane
Bascule bridge with concrete counterweight

Metronome: A wind-up mechanical metronome has an adjustable weight and spring mechanism that allows the speed to be adjusted by placement of the weight on the spindle. The tempo speed is decreased by moving the weight to a higher spindle marking or increased by moving it to a lower marking.[7]

Crane (machine): The tower crane (see picture) is a modern form of balance crane that is fixed to the ground. A horizontal boom is balanced asymmetrically across the top of the tower. The long arm carries the lifting gear.[8] The short arm is called the machinery arm; this holds the motors and electronics to operate the crane, as well as the concrete counterweights.[9]


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
  2. ^ "Basic Crane Design principles". E-Crane International. 2002. 
  3. ^ "How a Trebuchet Catapult Works". Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  4. ^ "How does a catapult work?". 2000-04-01. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  5. ^ Wan, Mark (2000). "AutoZine Technical School: Engine Smoothness". Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  6. ^ Bellis, Mary. "The History of the Elevator". Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  7. ^ Metronome. Wikipedia. Accessed 7 April 2007.
  8. ^ Crane (machine). Wikipedia. Accessed 7 April 2007.
  9. ^ Brain, Marshall. "How Tower Cranes Work". Retrieved 2007-04-07. 

External links

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  • counterweight — n. a counterweight to * * * [ kaʊntəweɪt] a counterweight to …   Combinatory dictionary

  • counterweight — UK [ˈkaʊntə(r)ˌweɪt] / US [ˈkaʊntərˌweɪt] noun [countable] Word forms counterweight : singular counterweight plural counterweights 1) a weight that is equal to another weight and creates a balance 2) a counterbalance …   English dictionary

  • counterweight — noun Date: 1693 an equivalent weight or force ; counterbalance • counterweight transitive verb …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • counterweight — /kown teuhr wayt /, n. 1. a weight used as a counterbalance. v.t. 2. to balance or equip with a counterweight. [1685 95; COUNTER + WEIGHT] * * * …   Universalium

  • counterweight — 1. noun A heavy mass of often iron or concrete, mechanically linked in opposition to a load which is to be raised and lowered, with the intent of reducing the amount of work which must be done to effect the raising and lowering. Counterweights… …   Wiktionary

  • counterweight — coun•ter•weight [[t]ˈkaʊn tərˌweɪt[/t]] n. 1) a weight used as a counterbalance 2) to balance or equip with a counterweight • Etymology: 1685–95 …   From formal English to slang

  • counterweight — atsvaras statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. balancing weight; counterpoise; counterweight vok. Gegengewicht, n rus. контргруз, m; противовес, m pranc. contre balance, f; contrepoids, m …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

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