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A spring scale or spring balance is a type of weighing scale. It consists of spring fixed at one end with a hook to attach an object at the other. It works by Hooke's Law, which states that the force needed to extend a spring is proportional to the distance that spring is extended from its rest position. Therefore the scale markings on the spring balance are equally spaced. A spring scale can not measure mass, only weight.
A spring balance can be calibrated for the accurate measurement of mass in the location in which they are used, but many spring balances are marked right on their face "Not Legal for Trade" or words of similar import due to the approximate nature of the theory used to mark the scale. Also, the spring in the scale can permanently stretch with repeated use.
A spring scale will only read correctly in a frame of reference where the acceleration in the spring axis is constant (such as on earth, where the acceleration is due to gravity). This can be shown by taking a spring scale into an elevator, where the weight measured will change as the elevator moves up and down at changing velocities.
If two or more spring balances are hung one below the other in series, each of the scales will read approximately the same, the full weight of the body hung on the lower scale. The scale on top would read slightly heavier due to also supporting the weight of the lower scale itself.
Spring balances come in different sizes. Generally, small scales that measure newtons will have a less firm spring (one with a smaller spring constant) than larger ones that measure tens, hundreds or thousands of newtons.
A spring balance may be labeled in both units of force (pounds, liters) and mass (grams, kilograms). Strictly speaking, only the force values are correctly labeled. In order to infer that the labeled mass values are correct, an object must be hung from the spring balance at rest in an inertial reference frame, interacting with no other objects but the scale itself.
Main uses of spring balances are industrial, especially related to weighing heavy loads such as trucks, storage silos, and material carried on a conveyor belt. They are also common in science education as basic accelerators. They are used when the accuracy afforded by other types of scales can be sacrificed for simplicity, cheapness, and robustness.
A spring balance measures the weight of an object by opposing the force of gravity with the force of an extended spring.
The first spring balance in Britain was made around 1770 by Richard Salter of Bilston, near Wolverhampton. He and his nephews John & George founded the firm of George Salter & Co., still notable makers of scales and balances, who in 1838 patented the spring balance. They also applied the same spring balance principle to steam locomotive safety valves, replacing the earlier deadweight valves.
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