Nicholson Plumb Level

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Project by Woodknack posted 02-23-2014 01:49 PM 2722 views 6 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:

-- Rick M,

10 comments so far

View johnstoneb's profile


3131 posts in 2741 days

#1 posted 02-23-2014 02:34 PM

Nice job.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View CFrye's profile


10793 posts in 2408 days

#2 posted 02-23-2014 02:54 PM

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 Woodknack's profile


12950 posts in 2948 days

#3 posted 02-23-2014 03:34 PM

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

-- Rick M,

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3833 posts in 2819 days

#4 posted 02-23-2014 03:44 PM

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


1357 posts in 2202 days

#5 posted 02-23-2014 03:44 PM


-- Jeff NJ

View Don W's profile

Don W

19387 posts in 3135 days

#6 posted 02-23-2014 04:33 PM

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

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View LakeLover's profile


283 posts in 2507 days

#7 posted 02-23-2014 06:11 PM

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


7511 posts in 3936 days

#8 posted 02-23-2014 06:26 PM

Rick, nice job, well done indeed!

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

View Woodknack's profile


12950 posts in 2948 days

#9 posted 02-23-2014 07:53 PM

@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.

-- Rick M,

View doubleDD's profile


8827 posts in 2611 days

#10 posted 02-24-2014 01:32 AM

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.

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