Whippletree (mechanism)

A set of whippletrees or leader-bars for the two leaders of a four-horse team.

A whippletree or whiffletree[1] is a mechanism to distribute force evenly through linkages. The mechanism may also be referred to as an equalizer, leader bar or double tree. It consists of a bar pivoted at or near the centre, with force applied from one direction to the pivot, and from the other direction to the tips. Several whippletrees may be used in series to distribute the force further, such as to simulate pressure over an area as when applying loading to test plane wings. Whippletrees may be used either in compression or tension. Whippletrees were also used for subtraction and addition calculations in mechanical computers.


Draught whippletrees

A single horse ploughing – the whippletree is the horizontal wooden bar just in front of the plough.

Whippletrees are used in tension to distribute forces from a point load to the traces of draught animals (the traces are the chains or straps on each side of the harness, on which the animal pulls). For these, the whippletree consists of a loose horizontal bar between the draught animal and its load. The centre of the bar is connected to the load, and the traces attach to its ends. Whippletrees are used especially when pulling a dragged load such as a plough, harrow, log or canal boat or for pulling a vehicle (by the leaders in a team with more than one row of animals).

A swingletree or singletree is a special kind of whippletree used for a horse-drawn vehicle, and the term swingletree is sometimes used for draught whippletrees generally.

A whippletree balances the pull from each side of the animal, preventing the load from tugging alternately on each side. It also keeps a point load from pulling the traces in onto the sides of the animal.

If several animals are used abreast, further whippletrees may be used behind the first. Thus, with two animals, each will have its own whippletree, then a further whippletree will balance the loads from their two whippletrees – this arrangement is sometimes known as a double-tree, or for the leaders in a larger team, leader-bars. With three or more animals abreast, even more whippletrees are needed; some may be made asymmetrical to balance odd numbers of animals. Multiple whippletrees balance the pulls from the different animals, ensuring that each takes an equal share of the work.

A set of whippletrees for a three-animal team.

Other agricultural whippletrees

Whippletrees may also be used in modern agriculture, for example to link several ganged agricultural implements such as harrows, mowers or rollers to a tractor. In this case the effect is to combine several small loads to a single load at the tractor hitch (the reverse of the use for draught animals).

Windshield (windscreen) wipers

A standard automobile windscreen wiper uses whippletrees to distribute the force of the wiper arm evenly across the blade.

A series of whippletrees is used in compression in a standard windshield wiper, to distribute the point force of the sprung wiper arm evenly along the wiper blade.


Some designs for large telescopes use whippletrees,[2] to support the optical elements. The tree provides for distributed mechanical support, thereby reduces localised mechanical deflections, which in turn reduces optical distortion.[3] Unlike the applications described above, which are two dimensional, the whippletrees in telescope mirror support cells are three-dimensional designs[4] since the tree has to use support multiple points over an area.

Mechanical analogue computers

Linkage-type mechanical analog computers use whippletree linkages to add and subtract quantities represented by straight-line motions.[5] The illustration here of whippletrees for a three-animal team is very similar to a group of linkage adders and subtracters: "load" is the equivalent of the output sum/difference of the individual inputs. Inside the computer, cylinders on the knob shafts have thin metal tapes wrapped around them to convert rotary to linear motion.

One widely-used practical application of such linkages was in the IBM Selectric typewriter, where they summed binary mechanical inputs to rotate and tilt the type ball. This type of computer was also used for naval gunnery, such as the MK 56 Gun Fire Control System and sonar fire-control systems.

See also


  1. ^ Whiffletree definition - see regional note
  2. ^ A Short History of Armagh Observatory
  3. ^ see photo of first mirror cell to use whippletree levers
  4. ^ Mechanical design of the 110 cm Cruxis Telescope Mirror and mirror support cell
  5. ^ Svoboda, Antonín, Computing Mechanisms and Linkages, M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory Series, New York, 1948, McGraw-Hill Book Company (also New York, Dover Publications, 1965) Section 2-6, Fig 2-12, p 37.

External links

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