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Fine Home Building
Product Reports
November 1984

Extendable plumb stick
Get any two carpenters talking shop after the power cords have been rolled up at the end of the day, and you'll invariably be treated to a tool critique. Another beer later, one of them is likely to be sketching a tool on a 2x6 scrap that “somebody ought to come out with.”


Paul Semler, a 34-year old Tucson carpenter, is one tradesman who didn't stop puzzling about the need for a tool that would plumb walls of any height once that Friday afternoon discussion broke up. It took him two years of weekends to design, refine and patent his invention, but what he came up with is a level that can be extended from 4 ft. in height to over 10 ft. 6 in. No way, right? Most tools that attempt to do several things or expand in size either don't do any single task very well or lose accuracy as they get bigger. This one seems to be an exception. Designed primarily as a plumb-and-line tool, it weighs about 10 lb. and will fit easily behind the seat in a pickup.
What Semler has done is to take a good-quality, 4-ft. Aluminum carpenters level and add webbed aluminum extrusions to each side. These extensions have a channel on one side that rides up and down on the I-beam flange of the level. They are outfitted at opposite ends with a reinforced horizontal bar that is welded on. When the extensions are raised, these bars act as the bottom or top points of reference that form a straight line with the extension on the opposite side.
The cleverest part of the tool is the mechanisms that keep the extensions at whatever height you want. These are not positive stops, which would limit the number of height settings for the tool, but a set of aluminum fingers held in tension by stainless-steel springs. These dogs press against the edge of the extension channel, forcing it against the I-beam flange of the level.Each extension is secured by two dogs— one on each side of the level—that are connected by a single quick-release lever located in one of the web openings. One dog points up and the other one down for each extension. The friction that this sets up between the aluminum rails removes any play or slop that would cause the level extensions to give an inconsistent reading. Semler has gone to a glass-beaded matt finish where the dogs rest on the surface of the extension channel. This means that you should almost be able to hang off the extension at any height without any risk of telescoping it.


Mother necessity—Semler learned the trade as a tract piece-worker in his native Southern California. But when he moved to the Tucson area, he began to do more custom framing, including a lot of shed roofs. That meant plumbing and lining walls of every height—not just the 8-ft. walls typical of the tracts. For every height wall, he would have to find a straight stud, cut it off at the right height, fit it with plywood shims to offset the possibility of a bowed stud, and then nail his level to it.
Semler's “better way” is well thought out. One extension is offset at the bottom 7/8 in. to allow for the bowed-stud problem. The horizontal member welded to the top of the other extension is offset by the same amount. But the flip-side extension doesn't have this offset so that you've got 4 ft. of solid metal to use as a straightedge when you're setting and shimming out door jambs. That's not like using a good 78-in, level for setting standard jambs, but then Semler's level will adjust to a small attic door cut with the pitch of the roof or a 9-ft. door in a dramatic entry way.
The trademarked name for this new tool is the Plumb-It Level, and Semler finished securing the full patents on it just this year. Semler makes them himself. He contracted with a local window company for the die that makes the extrusions; he gets the dog springs from another source. Semler currently cuts the webbing voids with a router, but soon will be punching them out with a press and then rounding them over with a router. Once he has completed a batch of extensions (typically 20 to 50 of them) he gets them anodized blue. The extrusions are first rate, and the mechanics are simple and solid. But at a cost of $129 (plus shipping), it has got to fill a need in your work routine, not just satisfy your craving for collecting interesting tools.
Until recently this level was made of magnesium, but it is now anodized aluminum. The vials look as though they are adjustable, but are actually fixed. But they are replaceable…a nice feature.

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