W. & S. Butcher


Shop Fun with Scott Grandstaff


My Level

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People who are only interested in original factory made tools, in new condition, are welcome to skip this story entirely.

There will be nothing for you here and you will probably hate the final product, so save yourself the heartburn.

Some months back I got some old levels.  One day a young guy I know, just walked in and dumped them on me. He was the latest recipient and didn't want them. I didn't argue. 

There were originally 5 of them.  Only one was so bad it had to be stripped for parts.  All were well used.

This is understatement.  All were used in masonry work until rendered unusable, and then repaired a few times (by hasty means) and then used some more until finally retired.  For some reason the "old guy" didn't throw them away!

Mangy, beat up old levels kept for at least 2 more generations, and probably 3.  I suspect the original mason went on and on about how much he'd paid for them new, and it just stuck.

The first thing I did, even though he never asked me, was fix one up and make a bracket shelf to hold it on the wall.  Then I delivered it back to him.  When he saw it, he decided a grandpa keepsake was probably acceptable after all.  I am pretty positive he didn't have any idea what was underneath the guck, and would never think it could ever look like that, compared to what he dropped off.

The others got some care and are lounging around.  Some still needing more repair to even be functional.

But there was one level. It was different.  A bit thinner in section so easier to carry, yet the same overall length and capacity.  Not only full featured but an extra feature I'd never seen before.  Unfortunately the last repair before I go it, had chopped up some of the wood and installed a vial plopped into a piece of copper tubing in a 1/2 cup of plaster.  Functional but ghastly ugly.  Also a large ugly hang hole was drilled.  Not a polite 1/4" hang hole or something.  A roomy 1/2 incher, done with a dull raggedy bit.

But I still liked it.  It was still a level I really wanted.  So the first thing I did was scrape off a 1/4 pound of crud with a putty knife.  I didn't think to take a picture.  I was still on the fence whether it was a project I wanted to take on, or even had a chance of success.  Sorry about that.

When I got the first layer off and got the old vial chopped back out, and decided I was going to save it regardless.  This is when I took the first picture.

Yes that's right.  Its a Stratton Bros. fully brass bound level.  Just a little the worse for wear.  It had been very well loved.

I needed a vial and had one of course.  I wouldn't pass a broken level with one good vial left for anything.  Long as it under a dollar, that is.  I didn't want to have to set it into a cup of plaster though.  I had a vial carrier from an old Stanley.  Cast iron and adjustable when mounted.  It was too big for the Stratton Bro, but I would figure something.

One of the best things Stratton ever did, was use a piece of brass with a bead on it to mark the center. Nothing else works anywhere near so well as that.  You can see and read it plain, in almost any light at all.

I needed one of these, so I took of thin brass rod (.032) and cut a piece of tubing for the bead.  I knew I couldn't work the tiny bead when it was already cut, so I tapered the end of the tubing first, and also taper ground a divot. Cutting the bead free was the last step.  Then I soldered it on.

I cleaned the vial holder, mixed some plaster and put it together, adding my beaded wire.

Stanly had originally used a spring affair to mount their adjustable vial holder.  I used rubber.  It cushions the holder well, and I think it will hold the adjustment.  I had to excavate a bit more wood to fit.


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