Although the research on manipulatives reveals positive outcomes as compared to written or 2-D pictorial representations, the relative value of physical manipulatives, specifically, is mixed. In this paper, we hypothesize that computer-based haptic simulations have important advantages that are not available in a purely physical environment. We have performed several experiments in the study of the statics domain, identified the affordances of a physical manipulative setup, and proposed a way to adapt affordances from physical environments to the design of visuo-haptic simulations. Statics instruction is particularly well-suited because, in many cases, the rules of statics cannot be seen, but are readily available in the virtual environment. Our guiding research question was: “To what extent can affordances of physical manipulatives be built into visuo-haptic simulations? We have designed an experiment where students moved objects with different friction on different surfaces. Our study comprised seven students who were prompted with “what-if” scenarios where they first predicted what they thought might happen, and then tested their predictions by using a physical manipulative setup. We characterized students’ interactions using Gaver’s (1991) classification of affordances. Our results suggest a higher level of student engagement and motivation when using the physical manipulative setup. However, they also show greater confusion about: 1) density vs. weight, 2) mass vs. surface area, and 3) softness vs. smoothness. The findings were used to adapt and improve the design of visuo-haptic simulations to teach the concept of friction.