Ready the Trebupults!

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Over the past few weeks, our exhibits team has been hard at work in their shop, sawing, drilling and assembling a full-size trebuchet for this weekend’s Austin Mini Maker Faire. “We decided to build a trebuchet because it is incredibly cool,” explains Associate Director of Education Adam Nye, “and people are drawn to it because of its size and power.” If you’re unfamiliar with trebuchets (pronounced “treb-YOO-shay”), or confuse them with catapults, here’s a quick primer.

A Mangonel Catapult Diagram. By Rpanjwani3 [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Trebuchets and catapults are not interchangeable; while all trebuchets are a form of catapult, not all catapults are trebuchets. When you read the word “catapult”, you probably think of a Mangonel catapult, which launches a projectile (the “payload”) from a bucket at the end of a long arm affixed to a base. Potential energy builds up as the arm is pulled down and then, upon releasing the tension stored
A Trebuchet Test Run
Our Trebuchet’s First Test Run
in the arm and ropes, kinetic energy flings the arm in a 90-degree arc to hurl the payload. Think of bending a plastic spoon back to fling a pea.

A trebuchet is a form of catapult that gained popularity in medieval warfare due its superior range and payload capacity. Rather than using tension, trebuchets take advantage of gravity by dropping a heavy counterweight at one end of a lever arm to swing a payload from the other end. Think of a see-saw with an elephant at one end and a mouse at the other.

Basketballs and water balloons will be our payloads at the Austin Mini Maker Faire. It’s not quite “Lord of the Rings,” but it’s pretty darn close!

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