Don’t ya love it when you’re learning about something
and things, just, click?
Like a light switch!
Clicky switches are pretty fun.
But why do switches make noise?
What’s the point of all that clacking?
Well, it has to do with the fact that you’ve been lied to.
Uhh,but let’s not get too conspiratorial just yet,
first let’s look at some of the switches that don’t click
because there are some.
This electronically controlled dimming module
turns the lights on completely silently.
No clicking there.
Then again, this other one that’s not a dimmer
makes a pronounced clicking sound.
And I didn’t even touch it!
Well, the dimming module is using a solid-state device
known as a triac, to actually turn the lights on and off,
so it’s not quite what I mean by a switch.
This standard thing goes on or off module
does in fact use a type of real switch to do its work,
so you hear a click.
Same with this toggle light switch.
This rocker switch.
This rotary switch.
This lamp cord switch.
This power button.
The rocker switches on this studio light.
Oh, and the big one,too.
The mode selector on this space heater,
even its thermostat makes a distinct click.
Why be so clicky clacky all the time?
To start to answer this question,
we first need to answer a simpler question –
what is a switch?
Well, a Switch is a handheld game
A switch is a mechanism used to divert rail cars
A switch is the simplest mechanism
that can control the flow of electricity.
Say you have a simple table lamp
and want to connect it up with the power grid.
Well, we simply take its bare wires
and carefully touch them to these live wires,
Let there be light.
Now to turn the light off,
all we need to do is carefully pull those wires apart,
and hope the live ones don’t –
[electric arc and explosion]
But this is pretty dangerous.
Even Edison knew that.
So we designed electrical sockets
which contained live wires behind an insulating barrier.
And we designed plugs that would,
depending on your country,
somewhere between somewhat safely and completely safely
allow you to make and break electrical connections.
But this isn’t the most convenient way to turn something on or off.
And most importantly,
using them that way isn’t good for your plug or your receptacle.
See, if I take this lamps and plug it into this outlet,
it lights up, no problem!
And if I simply unplug it, it goes out,
also without a problem.
But watch what happens if I take this space heater
and unplug it while it’s running.
Ooh, that was quite a spark!
Let’s do it again!
Let’s do it again.
Let’s do that again!
Let’s do… let’s do that again!
[VOICEOVER]: While this specimen continues to be amused by the sparks,
we’ll move on to the next jump cut.
When the heater is running,
a lot of electricity is flowing into it through this cord.
1,500 watts, in fact.
To stop that flow of current,
all we need to do is
put an insulator between the contacts of the receptacle
and the pins of the plug.
Which of course we can do simply by unplugging it.
But when we unplug it,
it doesn’t just stop the current flow right away.
There’s a brief moment where
that current manages to jump out from the outlet,
and the result is a spark.
The same thing happens if you plug in the heater with it turned on,
right before the pins of the plug and the receptacle first make contact,
but the spark usually isn’t
as large as when an active connection is broken.
And this is where you’ve been lied to.
See, when you were little,
you were probably taught about electrical conductors,
like the wires in this cord,
and electrical insulators,
like the plastic insulation surrounding that wire.
If you had a really nerdy teacher
you might have learned about semiconductors,
but lots of us were sorting things into the two categories of
insulators, and conductors.
The lie is that,
just like most things in the real world
the electrical conductivity of any given substance exists on a spectrum.
Everything conducts electricity
when you try hard enough.
Now we rely on the resistance of air all the time!
Electrical transmission lines are typically bare aluminum
and are held up in the air by stacks of insulating discs.
The higher the voltage of the line
the more of these discs you need
because even they aren’t perfect insulators.
Nothing’s a perfect insulator!
And that’s the problem.
Air’s pretty good,
and when you unplug something from an electrical outlet,
you do disconnect it from the power grid
and stop the flow of electricity to it,
precisely because there’s air now between the pins of the plug
and the conductors in the receptacle.
But,when you pull that plug out of the wall,
there will be a brief moment when there’s
only a tiny bit of air between the plug and the socket,
and this is not good.
When those contacts are close but not quite touching,
the air gap is so small that the breakdown voltage,
that’s the voltage at which an insulator fails to stay an insulator,
is lower than the voltage of the electrical supply.
This means that the current will actually jump the gap,
and this creates an arc discharge.
That’s the spark you see here.
Now on its own this isn’t particularly bad.
Thanks to the fact that we use AC power,
the voltage crosses the zero point 100 or 120 times per second
so that arc will usually go out nearly immediately,
though it should be noted that arcs can be sustained on AC power.
the breakdown voltage of any insulator, including air
is a function of how thick it is,
so once the contacts are just a millimeter apart,
that arc will generally be unsustainable.
But here’s the problem.
That arc is hot. Very, very hot.
So hot, in fact,
that it can burn the ends of the plug and the socket.
So we don’t want to rely on pulling the plug
out of the socket to stop current flow.
What do we do instead?
We use a switch.
All the switch does is create a break in a circuit.
There are many different types of switches
but they all do fundamentally the same thing.
There are two electrical contacts,
and they’re either touching, or they’re not.
If they touch, current can flow.
And if they don’t touch, current can’t.
But then, switches do the same thing as unplugging it!
Don’t they have to worry about arcing?
Yes, in fact even more so.
Electrical arcs damage electrical contacts in various ways,
but among the most significant ones
is that the contacts eventually… melt away.
See, each time there’s an arc,
that plasma is so hot
that the surface of the contact briefly melts,
and that material can sputter off of it.
Additionally, the high temperature can cause corrosion of the contacts,
and you get lovely issues like carbon buildup
which increases the electrical resistance of the contacts,
and that’s not good.
Even better, if the arcing is bad enough,
and the surface of the contacts get hot enough,
they can weld together and get stuck closed!
I guess that light’s on forever now…
Since the contacts in a switch are generally pretty small,
we want to minimize the arcing that can happen because,
well, an arc will warm them up quickly
and cause all those problems I was just going on about.
And how do we do that?
Why, with speed!
Remember that household voltages are low enough that
an arc generally can’t be sustained
once the contacts are just a millimeter apart.
So, if you get them apart quite quickly,
any arc formation that does occur will be very brief,
and unlikely to cause significant damage.
And that is why switches click.
Switches are designed with mechanisms
to ensure the contacts open and close very quickly,
quickly enough to prevent an arc from lasting more
than maybe a millisecond or so.
Effectively, the contacts are meant to slam together
and then get yanked apart,
and that makes an audible click.
The mechanisms that accomplish this are often ingeniously simple.
it’s just a spring cleverly integrated into a pivot.
Let’s take a look at a simple household rocker switch.
This switch is nice and clicky.
[repetitive rapid clicking]
Who needs a fidget clicker when you can just
run to the hardware store and get one of these?
This design is almost devilishly simple.
Below the faceplate are three pieces of brass,
two of which are the same ones you attach wires to on the outside.
The smaller one holds an electrical contact,
and the larger one serves as a pivot point
for a small swinging piece that holds the other contact.
If there’s a torque applied to the swinging piece in this direction
the contact does not touch the other one,
and no current can flow through the switch.
But apply a torque in the other direction,
and now the contacts touch.
Current flows into the switch through this terminal,
through the basket thing,
into the swinging thing, through the two contacts,
and out the other terminal.
All it takes to ensure the swinging contact moves quickly is a spring.
See the rocker paddle that you touch is
in fact the same thing moving the contact.
These grooves hold onto the edge with a little play,
and when the rocker rocks back and forth,
so does the contact below.
But thanks to the spring,
the rocker, and more importantly the contact
wants to stay in either position.
The spring gets increasingly compressed
as the rocker meets the apex,
and once it passes it…
the spring expands
and pushes the contact in the other direction.
The result is a swift action in both directions,
this switch design isn’t perfect.
In fact, many, if not most,
switches on sale today aren’t.
See, you can actually move the contact a bit
before the spring takes over.
If you carefully apply pressure on the switch,
you’ll see that the light goes out
before it clicks into the off position.
Listen carefully and you can actually hear arcing going on inside the switch.
[faint arcing sound]
This… isn’t really great,
especially if you have a lot of lights on the circuit you’re controlling.
In fact you can see on these contacts
that they have been slightly damaged,
and this isn’t a very old switch.
I know because I installed it myself.
Granted, most people don’t turn the lights on and off like this.
If you do it like a normal person,
then the contacts are swiftly moved and arcing is minimal.
Still, it annoys me
that it’s even possible to damage the switch at all.
Many switch designs, like these lamp cord switches,
are simply impossible to hold in
a half-on, half-off state.
Sure, they’re not designed to carry
the current of a normal light switch,
but I bet these guys rarely ever fail from bad contacts.
And normal switches can be made impossible to abuse.
The house I grew up in was quite old,
and a few rooms had toggle light switches that
you could actually move nearly completely into the opposite position
before the internal mechanism opened or closed the contacts
with a very loud clack.
[a very loud clack]
Those switches were in service for 50 or 60 years
and likely still are.
Granted, they were only controlling a single light
in all but one case, if memory serves
so they weren’t ever under much electrical stress,
and they required much more force
to use than modern switches,
which is probably why that style went out of favor.
But, this paddle-style dimmer switch has a mechanism that
prevents partial making and breaking of the contacts
without requiring significant force.
You can see that even if I use my two thumbs
on both sides of the switch and very,
very slowly move the paddle,
the lights only go on and off
with the click of the internal mechanism.
This design here is what I’d call ideal,
and it proves that easy-to-use switches can
still be made with a fast, clicky, abuse-proof mechanism.
反应快 声音清脆 且避免不当使用
So if you’re shopping for a light switch at a hardware store
tactile feel of the switch does actually matter when it comes to switch longevity.
A nice, solid snap makes me more confident
than a smooth, quiet movement.
This cheap toggle switch is what I’d consider awful.
The toggle moves smoothly without much resistance at all,
and the contact is actually broken
when the switch has barely moved out of its resting position.
It actually requires conscious effort to ensure
the contacts are quickly moved apart, and
I doubt this switch would last more than a decade
on a circuit with more than a few lights.
In fact, it’s not even fair to say
that this switch actually clicks.
It more or less thuds.
Any switch that’s designed to interrupt even a modest current flow should,
in my opinion,
have a nice audible click.
That plug-in thing-goes-on module?
It got a relay in it.
Relays are electromechanical devices
that control large currents with small currents.
Essentially they’re a switch with some sort of external control.
In this case, the small computer inside here
will turn on the relay when it’s been asked to,
and click, the light goes on.
The contacts in a relay are closed via an electromagnet,
and are held open with a spring.
And, as luck would have it,
this simple arrangement means the switch opens and closes quickly.
And so, it clicks.
When we need to automatically control very high current loads,
we use what are essentially large relays
but we call them contactors.
Contactors often just use air to break the circuit like any other switch.
But when we get into high voltage applications,
the contactor might be contained in a vacuum,
and in really high voltage applications
like in power grid substations,
you might find switches and circuit breakers
inside a volume of sulfur hexafluoride,
which is an incredibly good insulator and
and this is in fact the primary commercial use of SF6.
Now, not all switches need to click.
Switches that don’t carry a lot of current,
like the clicky buttons on your mouse,
don’t need to click at all
because there’s not gonna be any arcing going on in there.
They click mainly because that style of switch
is designed to provide a lot of tactile feedback.
And actually, a very clicky switch can be a disadvantage
in digital devices,
because now you might need to implement some sort of debouncing.
But that’s beyond the scope of this video.
So, now you know why switches click.
They’re really just prolonging their life.
And if you want to prolong the life of the switches in your life even more,
be sure you always give them a good flick. Or, poke.
Since many modern designs kinda make you a part
of the contact closing and opening action,
you can and should click to your heart’s content.
Thanks for watching!
And thank you to the fine folks supporting this channel through Patreon.
I really do appreciate your support.
If you’re interested in joining these people
in supporting the channel,
you can check out the link at the end screen, or in the description.
Thanks for your consideration, and I’ll see you next time!
♫ illuminatingly smooth jazz ♫
I messed up.
I thought this would go quickly, it’s not going quickly.
So if you get them apart quickly…
That was going well, but then it wasn’t.
No no no, that’s the wrong way!
[more struggling sounds]
[also the tripod is creaking, that’s fun]
Now… no I don’t like how I did that eith…
well, ugh. Cra.. that might have been, erm, nevermind.
嗯 啊 刚刚……唔 算了
Don’t ya love it when you’re learning about something