A tapered rod mounted at one end (base) and subject to a normal force at the other end (tip) is a fundamental structure of continuum mechanics that occurs widely at all size scales from radio towers to fishing rods to micro-electromechanical sensors. Although the bending of a uniform rod is well studied and gives rise to mathematical shapes described by elliptic integrals, no exact closed form solution to the nonlinear differential equations of static equilibrium is known for the deflection of a tapered rod. We report in this paper a comprehensive numerical analysis and experimental test of the exact theory of bending deformation of a tapered rod. Given the rod geometry and elastic modulus, the theory yields virtually all the geometric and physical features that an analyst, experimenter, or instrument designer might want as a function of impressed load, such as the exact curve of deformation (termed the elastica), maximum tip displacement, maximum tip deflection angle, distribution of curvature, and distribution of bending moment. Applied experimentally, the theory permits rapid estimation of the elastic modulus of a rod, which is not easily obtainable by other means. We have tested the theory by photographing the shapes of a set of flexible rods of different lengths and tapers subject to a range of impressed loads and using digital image analysis to extract the coordinates of the elastica curves. The extent of flexure in these experiments far exceeded the range of applicability of approximations that linearize the equations of equilibrium or neglect tapering of the rod. Agreement between the measured deflection curves and the exact theoretical predictions was excellent in all but several cases. In these exceptional cases, the nature of the anomalies provided important information regarding the deviation of the rods from an ideal Euler-Bernoulli cantilever, which thereby permitted us to model the deformation of the rods more accurately.
World Journal of Mechanics