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Fact Checked

What is a Footswitch?

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

As the name suggests, a footswitch is any of a number of different types of switches operated by the feet. It can either work in a simple binary manner, with only an on and off setting, or it can work on an increasing scale. The one that most adults are familiar with is the gas pedal of a car.

In any operation in which both hands need to be used, a footswitch is a perfect way to add greater control. While driving a car, your hands are used to steer, shift gears, operate the radio, and if you're bad like most of us, use your cell phone and drink your coffee. Having a foot pedal to control the acceleration and breaking allows you to use your hands for other tasks.

The gas pedal of a car is a common example of a footswitch.
The gas pedal of a car is a common example of a footswitch.

Freedom to use both hands on a project is useful or vital in many artistic and manufacturing processes. Many types of cutting and shaping tools use a footswitch as a clutch or speed control. Since both hands are needed for the safety of the operator, especially when dealing with heavy machinery, a this allows for maximum control.

In industrial settings, a footswitch can also act as a failsafe. In this case, it is also a "dead man's switch", meaning that if the operator is away from the controls for any reason, the machine stops. This helps prevent accidents that might be caused by a distracted or drowsy operator. A footswitch will also stop a machine if the person operating it is pulled away from their post by being caught up in the machinery.

Electrical sewing machines use a footswitch to control the speed of the needle.
Electrical sewing machines use a footswitch to control the speed of the needle.

Artistic activities often include the use of both hands, so a footswitch can often come in handy here as well. Guitar and bass players use can use a single one or an entire board of them to change the sound of their instrument, or to control their gear. Pianos and organs use pedals, which are also types of footswitches.

Potters who use a wheel can control its speed with a footswitch, leaving both hands free to shape the clay. Electrical sewing machines use one to control the speed of the needle, but even older manual models use a version that the operator powers by pushing. From industrial machines to musical instruments, whether for safety, control, or ease of use, footswitches are found in unexpected places throughout our day to day lives. If you look around, you'll be surprised at how many different things have such a switch attached.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a AboutMechanics contributor.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a AboutMechanics contributor.

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Discussion Comments

anon10971

Also footswitches are used by people who are disabled and do not have the use of their hands.

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    • The gas pedal of a car is a common example of a footswitch.
      By: april_89
      The gas pedal of a car is a common example of a footswitch.
    • Electrical sewing machines use a footswitch to control the speed of the needle.
      By: Oleg Zhukov
      Electrical sewing machines use a footswitch to control the speed of the needle.
    • When playing live, guitar players often turn on or off amplifier effects by using a footswitch.
      By: matt&stustock
      When playing live, guitar players often turn on or off amplifier effects by using a footswitch.