Sometimes knobs have a certain mechanism built in (like a detent) that gives them a bit of resistance by design - so that they are more difficult to twist to varying degrees. I'm looking for a word or technical phrase to describe this type of action. Something that means "difficult to twist" but not necessarily "sticky" because it is by design, not due to lack of lubricant or corrosion.

  • Can you add an example sentence showing how you would use the word?
    – 1006a
    Jun 28, 2017 at 22:16
  • Due to the {mechanical resistance / torsional resistance / stiffness} in the mechanism, it was difficult to twist. Jun 28, 2017 at 22:53
  • Answer to that sentence is, detents. Trying to search for a knob to buy that's hard to turn, the best I've got is, weighted dial. It depends on why it's hard to turn. friction ? Being that it's an electrical device, if you're going to use resistance, be sure to preface it with frictional.
    – Mazura
    Jun 29, 2017 at 0:20
  • The tactile properties of controls are called haptic properties. These include both the engineered passive feel of the knob, as well as active controls such as vibration, stops, and scrolling control.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:15
  • Are you talking about a stepped knob, that can only be moved to a number of discrete positions, like the volume knob on old radios?
    – user221615
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:25

8 Answers 8


"Torsional resistance" or a "high torque" setting would probably fit. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/torsional)

  • 3
    seems like torque would refer more to the twister and less the twistee but torsional resistance is interesting Jun 28, 2017 at 20:04
  • The knob has a built-in centering force in the area of each detent.
    – Jim
    Jun 28, 2017 at 22:40
  • "2. Machinery. the measured ability of a rotating element, as of a gear or shaft, to overcome turning resistance." It should actually be low torque (I think?), but people would probably be confused; that it has a similar meaning to low viscosity.
    – Mazura
    Jun 28, 2017 at 23:55

I think you could call it stiff:

1c : impeded in movement —used of a mechanism
from m-w.com

Examples from the web refer to a vehicle's "stiff suspension", a piano's "stiff action", and so forth, indicating that it takes greater force or effort than normal to make the tires bounce or the keys to play a note.

  • 1
    That's not bad Hellion but let me try to clarify. Do you know what a detent is? When you twist a knob and it has little "bumps" in the action? As an engineer I could build a bit of stiffness into the action of a knob - but a detent is another kind of resistance that is not described by "stiff". I think the problem with "stiff" is a lot like "sticky", it does describe resistance but only of a specific type. I can build resistance into the action of a knob but it's not necessarily "stiff"... but it might be. Jun 28, 2017 at 21:18
  • 4
    Guys, if you're going to write about stiff knobs, Brits are going to snigger.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:32
  • 3
    @billynoah - As a fellow engineer, I would disagree that an indented mechanism could not be described as "stiff". Sure, the material itself (e.g. steel) may have the same stiffness, but globally the mechanism is more stiff (steeper load-displacement curve at the point of torqueing).
    – thomj1332
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:34
  • @thomj1332 - thanks for the input. can i ask, is it possible to have a detented knob that is not stiff? The detent provides resistance but (to my anyway) sometimes it has a stiff action and sometimes not. this is why I don't think stiff works... but I'm open to ideas on this Jun 28, 2017 at 21:58
  • I see your quandary better now...maybe tight would work? See my answer for more detail. (Sorry to co-opt your comment section Mr. Hellion!).
    – thomj1332
    Jun 28, 2017 at 22:05

The (very rare) noun torsibility actually means just about what you want. From Merriam-Webster:

resistance to torsion; also : tendency (as of a twisted rope) to untwist

Since "torsion" is twisting, this is essentially a word for "difficulty of twisting". It was originally used for describing materials rather than mechanisms (it's a measure for wire, like tensile strength), but I think it could be easily extended to other things that are twisted. So you could say

Due to the (high) torsibility of the mechanism, it was difficult to twist.

Except...it might possibly mean exactly the opposite of what you want. From Collins Dictionary (emphasis added):

  1. the ability to be twisted
  2. the degree of resistance to or the capacity of recovering from being twisted

And their "American" definition (on the same page):

ability to undergo, or resistance to[!], torsion

These definitions appear to me to be in direct conflict with themselves, and half in conflict with the M-W definition. If you're using the "ability to twist" meaning you would need to say

Due to the low torsibility of the mechanism, it was difficult to twist.

which is essentially the exact opposite of the first suggested sentence. Now, with that particular sentence, I think either formulation would be understood purely from context. But a harder case would be if you said something like

A detent is added to a mechanism to increase/decrease torsibility.

If your audience already knows what a detent does, either formulation would be understood. But if you want to define detent for an audience that isn't already familiar with it, this would probably be confusing.

Bottom line, the word is probably rare enough that your audience would just roll with the word however you use it, so long as you're consistent (but there's a very slim possibility that you will run into someone who has heard it before, in a way that's not consistent with however you choose to use it).

I'm not sure this helps you at all, but torsibility is so very close to suiting your needs (and also the most self-contradictory definition I've ever seen) that I had to post it.

  • Interesting word. I wonder are there other words that can mean one thing and the exact opposite depending on context?
    – thomj1332
    Jun 29, 2017 at 13:05
  • @thomj1332 There are some; they're called contronyms. Some you might already be aware of are sanction (punish OR condone), cleave (cut apart OR stick together), and dust (add a powdery substance to something, like sugar on a cake, OR take a powdery substance off of something, like house dust on knick-knacks). Typically the different definitions each get their own entry in dictionaries. In this case, my sense is that the word was always rare enough that the meaning just was never firmly set.
    – 1006a
    Jun 29, 2017 at 13:56

High torsional stiffness combines the best of BenL and Hellion's answers. It is both technical and specific. Or, torsionally stiff (per AlanT's comment).


Pass me my wrench -- this bolt has a high torsional stiffness.

Also, you might consider tight as a less technical alternative. I think it could be a useful description if enough context is given.

  1. ...hard to move, undo, or open. "she twisted her handkerchief into a tight knot" Google def.
  • 1
    When I worked as a mechanic, we never used 'high torsional stiffness'. It was usually 'kin' seized again...
    – Tim
    Jun 29, 2017 at 12:08
  • I'd reduce it from three words to two by using "torsionally stiff", but I know of no better technical term.
    – AndyT
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:02

The concept I suspect you want to embrace is that the knob does not turn by itself or accidentally. The knob is re-positioned by intent, not serendipity.

So including difficult is ultimately misleading.

I think of it as positive knob setting or positioning.

This high end stereo amplifier has a volume control using positive knob setting for the ultimate in mechanical feedback and fine control.


A detent is a device used to mechanically resist or arrest the rotation of a wheel, axle, or spindle. Such a device can be anything ranging from a simple metal pin to a machine. The term is also used for the method involved.

Detents are for example used to simply arrest rotation in one direction or to intentionally divide a rotation into discrete increments. –Wiki

I'm talking about a stepped knob and a toggle knob (similar but only 2 positions)

Rotary switches typically employ detents to keep the control shaft properly aligned with the appropriate contact.

as well as a timer knob that resists being twisted back to 0 because of the timer

Any spring-powered wind-up toy employs one, in order to disallow unwinding of the spring.

Those are three different knobs with different purposes but all having a common property - resistance to twist by design.

To resist movement (or when creating incremental steps), methods are employed which include a spring-loaded ball bearing that locates in small incremental depressions, or a piece of spring steel that snaps into position on flat surfaces or shallow notches milled into the shaft or wheel.

And here's a fourth.

To arrest movement, the method commonly employs a small gravity or spring-actuated lever paired with a notched wheel. The lever is mounted on a pivot point in proximity to the wheel.

  • Most timers don't use detents, they use stops. You can push past a detent, but pushing past a stop breaks things. Some knobs have both.
    – hildred
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:09

Apparently notchy is a word.


(of a manual gear-changing mechanism) difficult to use because the lever has to be moved accurately (as if into a narrow notch)

‘the gear-change action is rather notchy’

  • And what does this have to do with "twist or turn"?
    – AndyT
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:01

Fixed [fikst] /adjective

  1. fastened, attached, or placed so as to be firm and not readily movable; firmly implanted; stationary; rigid.

Source: Dictionary.com

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