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What Is a Walking Beam?

A walking beam is a mechanical lever system that rocks back and forth, transferring energy to pump oil from wells or power engines. Its seesaw motion is pivotal in industries, ensuring steady operation with minimal wear. Curious about how this simple yet ingenious device revolutionized machinery? Discover the walking beam's impact on technology by delving deeper into its mechanics and applications.
Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

A walking beam is the movable arm used most commonly in oil drilling to create the necessary power to bring underground oil to the surface of a derrick. This technological innovation has been used for centuries. Its simplicity and ability to regulate power has allowed the beam to be used in many other industries.

The actual date that the walking beam was invented is difficult to pin down, but it is believed that this power source was first used in the early 1800s, invented specifically to aid oil companies. As technology changed, the walking beam mostly stayed the same, but it converted from wood construction to metal in the 1900s. Oil derricks continued using thesebeams up until the 1950s, when more reliable and less expensive technologies became available.


A walking beam is constructed of metal or wood and, in the case of oil derricks, usually is about 26 feet (7.9 m) long, 12 inches (30.4 cm) wide and 26 inches (66 cm) thick. The center of the beam is met by a samson post, a support beam that acts as a fulcrum, allowing the beam to sway back and forth like a scale's arm. One end is attached to a motor that moves the beam up and down and is known as the walking beam engine. The other end of the beam is over the oil well and acts as the beam pump, a long shaft that extends into the ground and culls up the oil.

The beam was designed to aid in oil production and is best known in this capacity, but its usefulness has been adapted to many other industries. Rock and mineral drilling organizations were among the first to also use it. More recently, manufacturing industries, especially those needing a conveyor belt, have discovered the beam's benefit.

Drilling industries often utilize walking beams in place of building a mine shaft, which can be costly and dangerous for miners. By using the beam to press down a drill bit instead of pressing down a pump for oil, companies are able to dig very deeply in a short amount of time. The drilling allows for the excavation of minerals with little intrusion.

A walking beam conveyor utilizes the up-and-down motion to turn a conveyor wheel at a standardized speed. This turning wheel powers the movement of a conveyor belt. This is a good option for many companies because of its ease of operation and stable propulsion.

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Discussion Comments


When I saw the title to this article, I thought a walking beam was going to either be something that an acrobat tip-toed across or a walkway for construction workers between high rise buildings. Boy, was I wrong!

It is confusing that a walking beam is not something that you actually walk on. I suppose it must have gotten its name from the fact that it moves around constantly. I would think a better name for it would have been “rocking beam,” though.

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