Friction Introduction

Frictional resistance to the relative motion of two solid objects is usually proportional to the force which presses the surfaces together as well as the roughness of the surfaces. Since it is the force perpendicular or “normal” to the surfaces which affects the frictional resistance, this force is typically called the “normal force” and designated by N. The frictional resistance force may then be written:

ffriction = μN

μ = coefficient of friction
μk = coefficient of kinetic friction
μs = coefficient of static friction

The frictional force is also presumed to be proportional to the coefficient of friction. However, the amount of force required to move an object starting from rest is usually greater than the force required to keep it moving at constant velocity once it is started. Therefore two coefficients of friction are sometimes quoted for a given pair of surfaces – a coefficient of static friction and a coefficent of kinetic friction. The force expression above can be called the standard model of surface friction and is dependent upon severalassumptions about friction.

While this general description of friction (which I will refer to as the standard model) has practical utility, it is by no means a precise description of friction. Friction is in fact a very complex phenomenon which cannot be represented by a simple model. Almost every simple statement you make about friction can be countered with specific examples to the contrary. Saying that rougher surfaces experience more friction sounds safe enough – two pieces of coarse sandpaper will obviously be harder to move relative to each other than two pieces of fine sandpaper. But if two pieces of flat metal are made progressively smoother, you will reach a point where the resistance to relative movement increases. If you make them very flat and smooth, and remove all surface contaminants in a vacuum, the smooth flat surfaces will actually adhere to each other, making what is called a “cold weld”.

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