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Tension and Compression

by Jim Blume
tension compression

A Balance of Tension and Compression

There are two types of forces involved in building, tension and compression. To have a great structure, which we call, “strong bones”, there must be a balance of both tension and compression. Anticipating an inspection, we cut out these holes to reveal the rebar inside. Once the inspector validates the block wall is properly constructed, we will pour concrete into the top of the blocks to solidify and thus strengthen the walls of this two-story home.

Tension and compression


The beauty of being a builder is the daily reflection we get working with our hands or with the hum of equipment. Today, I reflect on strength. Rebar is in every foundation. It is bound together while concrete is poured inside the floor or walls to share the space.

A strange metaphor emerges, as I realize that the concrete material and steel material work together symbiotically. This unity is difficult, beautiful, organic, and unavoidable in order to be a strong structure. It is the order of things. The steel is stronger when you pull it, which translates to a type of tension. Conversely, concrete is strongest when it squeezes together; meaning it is in compression.


To continue this thought process, I begin to smile thinking of my marriage. It is full of balancing acts with little  “gives” and “takes”. Sometimes, I’m pulled too far and the “tension” is uncomfortable. Other times, it’s confining and stifling with too much “compression”. But as time moves forward, this friction creates something beautiful. I’m grateful for experiences that strengthen my bond. If there is too much tension, I will “crack” or become frustrated. Likewise, if there is too much compression I will also “crack”.

It’s stretching to be a builder. Building a good home or a good business requires a good foundation. Every material has the capability to handle a specific amount of “pull” or tension. And each material also has an ability to handle a certain amount of “squeezing together” called compression.

Tension and Compression arrows

Together, this symbiotic tension and compression creates a very good structure that will outlast the storms we face in life.

We keep on building and appreciate the privilege. I hope that when life gets tough, I remember the value and strengthening of the process, even though it is an unwelcome refinement. A little give and take or “tension and compression” is a good thing. It just means we are still living and moving forward.

January 29, 2020