Taking Inventory: Lever

Flippin' marvellous!

It’s been a while since we handled anything redstone-related in this column, but this week we’ve got an item that’s integral to many redstone contraptions. An item that offers not only astounding power, but perfect control. 

Levers were an early addition to Minecraft, making their way into Alpha version 1.0.1 alongside doors, pressure plates and redstone dust. The texture got an update in version 1.7 and 1.14, and in version 1.13 they got a sparkly particle effect, but otherwise they’re relatively unchanged.

Making one is easy. A stick and a block of cobblestone will do the trick (you don’t even need a full 3x3 crafting grid). You can also find them in jungle temples and woodland mansions, if the above recipe sounds like too much effort. 

Once you’ve got one, you can attach it to most surfaces with the action button (right-click on PC). It’ll go on the top, side, or bottom of any opaque block. It’ll orient itself in-line with the player.

Placed one? Great! Use the action button to flip it on, and again to flip it off. When active, it’ll power any adjacent redstone dust, any redstone comparator or repeater facing away from the lever, activate any adjacent components (like pistons or lamps) and also power the block it’s attached to.

In the real world, the lever was invented around 5000BC in what is now the Middle East. It consists of a rigid beam balanced at a central point, known as the “fulcrum”, and can amplify a force by providing “leverage”. The longer the lever, the more leverage it gives you. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world,” promised ancient Greek smartypants Archimedes. No-one took him up on the offer.

What Minecraft calls a lever, though, is more like a real-world “switch” — an electrical component that turns a circuit on or off. It can interrupt the current in the circuit, or perhaps divert it from one place to another. You use them many times a day. To turn on a light, most commonly, or perhaps to activate a kettle or to put your phone in silent mode. You did put your phone on silent mode before reading so you could enjoy my article uninterrupted, right? You didn’t? Unbelievable.

But humans aren’t the only ones using switches. These days, most machines do their own switching in response to timers or sensors. These electrically-operated switches are called “relays”, and modern life relies on hundreds if not millions of them quietly doing their thing in the background. Which is nice, because otherwise we’d have to do it ourselves and we’d never get anything else done.

So, in recognition of the hard work they do to allow us to eat, drink, play Minecraft, and accomplish all the other essentials of human life with minimal effort, I’d like to extend immense gratitude to switches on behalf of the entire human race. Thanks switches!

Written by
Duncan Geere