Nicholson Plumb Level

  • Advertise with us
Project by Rick M. posted 153 days ago 1248 views 5 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is the project page for version one. Version two and swap items are here:
Click for details

This is a modernized reproduction of the plumb level as drawn in Peter Nicholson’s The Mechanics Companion, 1831. (pic 3)

A very similar version appears in Thomas Martin’s The Circle of Mechanical Arts, 1813, but I chose the Nicholson version because it has better lines. Here is Martin’s version.

And for comparison, Moxon’s carpenter level and bricklayer level.

My version replaces the string with a brass rod, attached to a wood axle press fit into a roller bearing. The frame is cherry, the plumb bob is ebony, the inlay strip is American holly, finish is beeswax and oil. On v.2 (swap item), I used brass screws and no glue so it can be adjusted. There is no advantage to the rod and bearing, I did it simply to modernize the design and be different. I would show a picture of the bearing in place but after pressing in the axle I couldn’t remove it. The brass rod is actually canted back toward the frame and the plumb bob is flat on the back. On a level surface the pointer will be centered on the white strip. Gravity will push the pointer toward the low side. The bearing is a 1/4×3/8×1/8” metal shielded bearing that is press fit into a hole drilled top center. The ebony axle has a small tenon on the back that fits into the bearing. It works like a plumb bob, gravity forces the pointer toward earth and when aligned with the holly strip the base is level.


Plumb levels have been around for at least 4500 years. They were used by Egyptians to build pyramids and the Romans used variations for surveying and construction. Here are a few other types:

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

10 comments so far

View johnstoneb's profile


619 posts in 772 days

#1 posted 153 days ago

Nice job.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View CFrye's profile


2505 posts in 439 days

#2 posted 153 days ago

This is such a cool old tool! Love all the different versions! Is there a way to secure the plumb bob for storage or travel Rick?

-- God bless, Candy

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

3777 posts in 979 days

#3 posted 153 days ago

No, I didn’t really build these for daily use, too easy to knock out of alignment.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

1816 posts in 851 days

#4 posted 153 days ago

Very nice reproduction (and enhancement) of a vintage tool. I had not heard of these before, but using gravity to define vertical, then making a superstructure to frame the right angle makes perfect sense. Excellent work on display, Rick! In looking at the different options you posted above, I like the style you picked best too.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


868 posts in 233 days

#5 posted 153 days ago


-- Jeff NJ

View Don W's profile

Don W

14637 posts in 1167 days

#6 posted 153 days ago

I had never seen one before. A pretty simple theory really. It looks like a great piece.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View LakeLover's profile


274 posts in 539 days

#7 posted 153 days ago

Thanks Rick.

That good pic helps. Now that would be a laugh to pull one out on a job site.

Question On v.2 (swap item), I used brass screws and no glue so it can be adjusted.

??? inquiring minds have to know !!

View oldnovice's profile


3605 posts in 1967 days

#8 posted 153 days ago

Rick, nice job, well done indeed!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

3777 posts in 979 days

#9 posted 152 days ago

@Lakeover, You’d think the angle brackets would help hold the center piece still but in reality it’s just something else to go wrong. On version 2 I didn’t glue the center and used brass screws on the angle brackets so that if it goes out of kilter, you can just loosen or shim and put it back into alignment.

If build one for regular use it’ll probably be Moxonish from a piece of plywood; not as pretty but less likely to shift with humidity.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

View doubleDD's profile


2324 posts in 642 days

#10 posted 152 days ago

This is a cool tool. I see this handy for many jobs. Well done Rick.

-- --Dave, Downers Grove, Il. When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics :: gardening showcase