For many people, a plumb bob might not be exciting to look at compared to other modern construction equipment. However, it is still one of the most useful tools to have as part of your building equipment.
Plumb bobs are simple but effective. For those that might be new to using plumb bobs, then this is the guide for you. We will look at what it means, how to use it, and many other aspects about it.
If that sounds like something interesting, then keep reading the guide.
Table of Contents:
- What Is a Plumb Bob?
- The History of the Plumb Bob
- Parts of a Plumb Bob
- Types of Plumb Bobs
- Common Plumb Bob Sizes
- Types of Plumb Bobs Based on Shape
- What Is a Plumb Bob Used For?
- Plumb Bob Materials
- Should I Use Brass or Steel Plumb Bobs?
- How to Make a Homemade Plumb Bob – 3 Simple Steps
- How to Use a Plumb Bob
- How to Spot a High-Quality Plumb Bob
- How to Care for Your Plumb Bob
- Plumb Bob Alternative (Line Laser Level)
- 8 Tools for Measuring And Leveling
- Final Remarks
What Is a Plumb Bob?
You are likely to come across other sources calling the plumb bob as a plumb line too.
A plumb bob consists of a string attached to a pointed weight important for checking the surfaces’ vertical alignment during construction. The plumb bob works based on gravity to show the user the vertical or plumb alignment.
The plumb bobs are common in any construction project. They are ideal for checking the vertical alignment over a long distance.
Let us say you want to check the alignment of an entire wall. It is best to consider using a plumb bob rather than your naked eye.
The History of the Plumb Bob
Even by today’s standards, plumb bobs are simple tools that people still find useful. What most people do not know is that plumb bobs have been around since early civilization.
Records show that the Babylonians used the early versions of plumb bobs to make different types of buildings. The same applies to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
Other than using the plumb bobs for construction, the same was used in marking accurate points of planets and stars.
As you can imagine, the first plumb bobs were mostly made of stone material. These plumb bobs were good for various applications and were mostly made of readily available material.
With the evolution of technology, we could see that some civilizations using dense hardwoods to make plumb bobs rather than stone. This included wood, such as oak, ebony, and ash.
People switched to wood because it was easier to shape compared to stone that was being used before. This helped in achieving a better symmetry, thus better performance.
As technology advanced, plumb bobs were later made of heavy metals.
When plumb bobs were cast from Lead, that is how we ended up with the name “plumb” bob. This is because the Latin name for Lead is “Plumbum.”
For centuries, plumb bobs were also made from copper-tin alloy or bronze materials in addition to using Lead. Some less frequently used materials include bone and ivory. Most of the time, such plumb bobs are used as decorative items.
The rise of the spirit level almost led to the demise of the plumb bob. More people found it a lot easier to choose the spirit level as it was good for determining both the vertical and horizontal levels.
Well, even with the emergence of new construction technologies, it seems like plumb bobs are here to stay. You will still find them common in different types of construction projects.
Parts of a Plumb Bob
Plumb bobs have several parts that are carefully put together to have a working construction tool. We will look at each of the parts to see their importance and how to use them correctly.
- The weight
The weight of a plumb bob is what will be suspended on a string. The weight is designed to be symmetrical so that you can achieve the perfect balance. In most cases, it will be pointed to help in accurate alignment.
- The pointed end
Most plumb bobs you will encounter will have a pointed end so that it is easier to align the tip of the weight to the ground. If the weight has a fine pointed end, it becomes easier to improve the accuracy and alignment reading.
Some models will have a removable cap for protecting the tip when not using the tool.
The string is essential for holding the plumb bob weight. You will have to attach it to a stationary object or the constructed wall to check the alignment. The laws of gravity will show you if the string is vertical or perpendicular to the level ground.
There will be a hole in the plumb bob meant for feeding the line through the weight. There can be some fancy hole types, but simple holes will just do the work right.
- Threaded caps
You are also likely to get some models with threaded caps. The threaded caps are where you attach the string and then screw the cap into the weight. This setup is seen as a good choice if you want to attain better balance and accuracy.
A reel is essential to ensure that you get to wind up the string once you are done using the plumb bob. There is a wide range of reels available. The most common include traditional reels, built-in reels, and box reels.
Types of Plumb Bobs
When you are in the market for a plumb bob, you might want to consider learning more about the various types available first. The most common options include the traditional plumb bobs and flat plumb bobs.
- Traditional plumb bobs
These types of plumb bobs have maintained a simple and effective structure over the years. Just as the name suggests, the plumb bob will have a long string tied to a weight with a pointed weight for accurate marking.
Also, using it will generally be easy for most people who are even new to using the plumb bob.
- Flat plumb bobs
To help improve the performance and accuracy of the traditional plumb bob, enter the flat plumb bob.
The traditional plumb bobs have a rounded design. This will make it harder sometimes to get the right accuracy you want. The flat plumb bob is designed to overcome the shortcomings of the traditional plumb bob.
The flat face makes the bob hang closer to the surface better than the traditional plumb bob. Also, it comes with a central vertical slot for precision marking of different points.
Common Plumb Bob Sizes
Plumb bobs are likely to come in different sizes and shapes; however, most of them would be categorized based on their weight.
Ounces seem to be the preferred measurement unit when looking at the different plumb bobs in the market.
You can get some plumb bobs being quite lightweight. Some weigh only an ounce, which is around 28g or even less. Such lightweight plumb bobs would be great for delicate applications.
The lightweight plumb bobs are also good for those who want to use them as novelties. This can be when you want watch fobs or necklaces designed to look like a plumb bob.
Do not get mistaken as there will be heavy plumb bobs too. These are heavyweight plumb bobs that would be used mostly by bridge builders. In most cases, such plumb bobs can weigh up to 200 pounds.
For domestic applications or when working on a construction project, such models would weigh around 4 ounces to a pound.
So, how do you get the right type of plumb bob? We recommend that the longer the string gets, the heavier the plumb bob is supposed to be. In most cases, you would get to understand which is the best plumb bob for the job after trying out several models.
Types of Plumb Bobs Based on Shape
Plumb bobs can come in different shapes depending on how they are likely to be used. If you are going to get a plumb bob for decorative purposes, then it is expected that some of the things will not be functional.
The most common shapes you will get on the market include;
- Natural shapes
This must be the most common shapes you will get in the market when looking for decorative plumb bobs. These shapes are mostly fruits and vegetables. Such include turnip, apple, acorn, egg, pear, carrot, and oval.
- Geometrical shapes
At this point, you might be looking for professional plumb bobs to use for various construction applications. These shapes include a cone, cylinder, tapered cylinder, sphere, pencil, bullet, and ice cream cone.
If you have seen several plumb bobs before, the chances are they will have one of the shapes we have mentioned above.
- Formal shapes
The most common formal shapes of plumb bobs include barrel, door knocker, chalice, or cup. They are not so common as the other shapes we have mentioned above.
So, which shape should you choose?
As much as the plumb bobs might have different shapes, most of them are similar in performance. However, some will be better suited for some applications compared to the others.
Other things that would affect how you choose them would be the material, symmetry, and how the plumb bob is balanced.
For those who want to achieve precision marking, it is best to go for models with a fine tip. This will include a pencil, cone, and carrot shapes.
What Is a Plumb Bob Used For?
Plumb bobs are quite versatile tools you can find at a construction site. Here are some of its uses;
1. Transferring of points from the ceiling to the floor or worktop
Anyone who has tried to match points on a ceiling to those on the floor will tell you it is quite a tough job.
Some people might try to rely on a common point but still end up messing it up. It is why you need to use a plumb bob to transfer such points from the ceiling to the worktop or floor.
A good real-life example is when you want the downlight to be centered above your kitchen island before you can start drilling. A plumb bob will help with aligning it even better.
2. Maintaining the best vertical alignment of the walls during a construction process
This is probably the most common application of using the plumb bob at a construction site.
You will simply have to hang it beside the brick wall to see if it is correctly aligned. The bricklayer would use it more often to ensure that the bricks are correctly aligned before moving onto the next level.
3. Keeping your wallpaper aligned correctly while hanging
You might get some houses not being entirely plumb. As such, you would have a hard time hanging your wallpaper or pictures on the wall.
When you have a hanging plumb bob, then you should have an easy time hanging your wallpaper.
You can always watch a few videos on YouTube to see how people use plumb bobs in setting up their wallpapers straight.
4. Keeping the door vertical when hanging it
Many people will often consider using a spirit level for this job. However, in the place of a spirit level, you can still use a plumb bob.
It will be good at hanging your door vertically to prevent it from rubbing on the floor. The same method is good at avoiding uneven gaps when setting up the door. It also helps to make sure that the door can latch.
Plumb Bob Materials
The plumb bob tool has been around for a long time, so it is natural if it had to be made of different materials. Over the years, we have seen plumb bobs being made of stone, bronze, hardened steel, and more.
The traditional plumb bobs were made of stone, hardwood, bronze, or lead. The models meant for decorative purposes would be made of materials such as ivory or bone.
When you find a model made of such materials, you would rarely have to use it for anything practical.
The advancement in technology has forced people to consider making plumb bobs using reliable materials to avoid phasing them out.
The modern plumbs would be made of brass, steel, or a combination of both sometimes.
Other than the two metals mentioned above, some manufacturers use nickel and zinc plated steel to make the plumb bobs. The use of zinc or nickel coating is encouraged to ensure that the plumb bob can resist corrosion.
What about the string material? Yes, we also have to consider the materials used to make the string. The string would mostly be made of the following;
Cotton threads can be twisted or braided to form a strong string. The best part about cotton is that it would also be flexible. However, we must point out that it may be susceptible to snapping or stretching if you put the string under a lot of weight.
Moisture, mildew, and dryness can easily weaken the cotton thread. So, you need to take good care of the plumb bob to ensure you can keep using the string for longer.
The nylon cord, on the other hand, would be strong and flexible. The material is not easy to stretch compared to the cotton thread mentioned above. It is also rot and waterproof.
You are also likely to get strings made of polyethylene plastic material, which is flexible and very strong. Such a material is also moisture and heat resistant. You can use such strings in different weather conditions without worrying about it rotting easily.
Should I Use Brass or Steel Plumb Bobs?
Considering that plumb bobs can be made of brass or steel materials, sometimes users can be confused about choosing their applications.
We will look at each material to help you understand them better to make an informed decision.
Brass is a copper and zinc alloy with some interesting properties that made it a common choice for making plumb bobs.
When more people could work on metals, it became clear that it was cheaper to produce brass than bronze. It must be why many more people were willing to opt for such material for plumb bobs.
Brass is also dense and relatively malleable. We find that the material can resist corrosion better and looks more appealing compared to bronze.
Steel has been used to make plumb bobs since the late 19th century. Being steel, we expect it to stand out in terms of durability. More people would consider steel because they know it is strong, durable, and will remain resistant to corrosion for years to come.
- Brass and steel
Another common choice would be the use of brass and steel. Manufacturers have been experimenting with these materials to see how good they can be together.
In most cases, the body would be made of brass, and the tip is steel. The steel tip increases the accuracy and longevity of the tool.
So, which one should you choose? If you decide to choose between these materials, you have to keep in mind that brass is a softer metal than steel. It is why it would easily deform when dropped or knocked around when working at a busy job site. It is then advisable to opt for steel, which can handle regular dropping.
We recommend that you look at where you will be using the plumb bob before making up your mind. If it is a busy work environment, then consider something strong such as steel. The brass plumb bob is for DIYers and other small work sites.
How to Make a Homemade Plumb Bob – 3 Simple Steps
Do you need a plumb bob right away?
If the answer is yes, then know that it is possible to make a plumb bob at home using some simple supplies.
There are times you might not be able to go out and buy the best plumb bob when it is a simple job that you need to accomplish.
If this sounds like a great idea you are willing to attempt, we look at how you can make a good plumb bob below.
What you will need
- One screwdriver
- A long string
- One drink can ring pull
1. Cut your string to the required length
The first thing you have to do is cut the string to the desired length. You might have to first measure the height of where you will use the plumb bob before cutting the string.
Now that you have the length in mind, you should add an extra five inches on the string to cover what will be tied around the screwdriver.
It is always nice to have a bit of an allowance when working with different tools.
2. Tie the string to the ring pull and screwdriver
One end of the string should be tied to the screwdriver while the other one is tied to the ring pull.
When tying the string to the screwdriver, make sure to give it a bit of slack. If the string is overly tightened, then it will affect the screwdriver alignment when it is hanging.
We also recommend that you get a screwdriver with a hole in the handle so that tying the string becomes easier. Also, this will not affect the alignment compared to when you would tie the string around the handle.
3. Hang the plumb bob where you want
Now that your plumb bob is ready for use, it is time to try it out and see how it works.
You can use a screw or nail driven into the wall to help hold it into position. Proceed to hang the plumb bob to see how good it is at its job.
Sometimes you will notice that the screwdriver keeps swinging around. Give it some time until it settles before taking your readings or marking the points.
Just like that, you now have a functional plumb bob you can use to handle various simple applications in your home.
How to Use a Plumb Bob
If you have not used one before, then it might be a learning curve for you. Well, do not worry too much as a plumb bob is not the hardest tool to use.
Here are some tips on how to use your plumb bob
1. Transferring points from a worktop/floor to a worktop
The first step would be to mark the position on the worktop or floor of where you want to transfer the points.
A good example is when you want to fit a downlight in your kitchen island. Let us say that the light has to be at the center of the kitchen island. Proceed to mark the center of the island to act as your referral point.
Using a ladder, take the end of the plumb bob and hang it over the marked point. Extend the plumb line until it touches the ceiling of where you want to install the downlight.
Make sure that the plumb bob is sitting correctly, and it does not swing around. Once you have verified the point, mark the position.
2. Checking the vertical alignment of doors and walls
You will start by hammering a nail or inserting a screw into the surface perpendicular to the wall or door you want to check.
Tie the plumb line to the nail or screw, making sure that the plumb bob is clear of the floor by a few inches.
Wait until the plumb bob is no longer swinging to measure the distances between the plumb line and the wall. Do it at several points to see if they are similar.
Compare these figures and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the wall or door is correctly aligned.
How to Spot a High-Quality Plumb Bob
Maybe you find that the plumb bob is something you need for your job site. However, how do you find the right one for the job? We will look at some tips below to help you spot a high-quality plumb bob.
- The balance and symmetry
When buying the right plumb bob, the first thing to look at is if the tool is balanced and symmetrical. These two will often determine the accuracy and ease of use of the plumb bob.
A perfectly balanced plum-bob will be good at producing accurate readings, especially when you transfer the points from one level to another.
Sometimes you can check it using your eyes to see if it is balanced and symmetrical. Some go ahead to include a line of symmetry so that you know if the plumb bob is symmetrical or not.
If the plumb bob is symmetrical, the chances are it is also balanced.
- The string line
The string line will determine its overall durability and use too. We recommend that you go for the nylon and polyethylene braided string line. Such lines are made not to easily stretch, remain waterproof, resist mildew, and remain rot-proof.
The braided lines are also good since they do not spin as compared to the twisted lines. As such, you will always end up with accurate transfer points and readings.
- Screw caps
Screw caps are also a good consideration for those who want the best plumb bob with more accuracy.
The screw caps will make it possible to keep the string line perfectly centered. When the string is perfectly centered, it becomes easier to get better accuracy and balance from the plumb bob.
- Fine point
Always look at the pointed edge to see if it is good or not. For most applications, consider a model with an ultra-fine point. Such a fine point is good for ensuring that you end up with pin-point precision when marking the transfer points.
Reading reviews about the plumb bobs can be nice to do as it helps you understand if the plumb bob is good for your applications or not. It is why we recommend that you take the time to check out the various reviews about a plumb bob. If there are many negative reviews, then it might be best to stay away from such a plumb bob.
How to Care for Your Plumb Bob
Let us say that you have bought yourself a nice plumb bob, how would you take good care of it? This is a common question for those who might be new to using plumb bobs.
We will discuss a few things to help you learn about taking good care of your plumb bob.
1. Always keep the plumb bob clean
Considering where you will be using the plumb bob mostly would be a construction site, consider cleaning it as soon as you are done with the job for the day.
When the plumb bob remains dirty for a long time, the chances are it will end up being unbalanced, thus becoming inaccurate for various applications.
Cleaning a plumb bob is not hard, so you should not have any excuses why yours is dirty and unbalanced. You can wash it in water and wipe with a cloth before storage.
2. Always handle with care
Plumb bobs are often made of strong materials; however, they can also get dents depending on how they handle them.
We recommend that you always handle the plumb bobs with care. The last thing you want is to end up with too many dents into the plumb bob.
Having too many dents also makes it unbalanced, making it inaccurate.
3. Plumb bob correct storage
The storage of your plumb bob is just as important as the use of the plumb bob. There is a need to do it correctly if you want it to last longer.
Newer plumb bobs are likely to come with special protective cases. This means that you would have a protective case to keep the plumb bob and avoid it from being knocked around.
We must point out that the traditional plumb bobs do not have protective cases. It is up to the worker to make one for it.
Even if you do not get a protective case for the plumb bob, make sure you store it in a way that will not lead to dents and breakages.
Plumb Bob Alternative (Line Laser Level)
If you are looking for a plumb bob alternative, then a line laser level would be a great choice.
A line laser level works by projecting a beam of light at 180 degrees both vertically and horizontally. This allows the user to establish the vertical and horizontal planes.
Some line laser levels can project their beam of light up to 360 degrees.
The line laser level is often used in horizontal leveling in a room or vertical leveling when working from floor to ceiling. Its applications are just like that of a plumb bob but with more precision and versatility.
The line laser level projects a red light. Such a color should be easy to see even during the daytime. Depending on the model you choose, you will likely find some models being bright enough even for outdoor use without a problem.
Also, consider looking at the accuracy you get with the line laser level. It should have better accuracy if you hope to use it for a wide range of applications.
8 Tools for Measuring And Leveling
Regardless of the project, you might be working on, using measuring and leveling tools is essential. They will help you in setting up the project correctly.
Maybe you only know of a plumb bob, but there are many other options in the market. Below are some of the measuring and leveling tools you should consider checking out.
1. Spirit or Bubble Level
The spirit or bubble levels have been around for decades now. More people are inclined to using them as they know such tools make their work a lot easier.
These levels use a liquid containing a bubble important in telling the level of a surface. When the bubble is at the center of the marked grid lines, then it indicates that the surface is level.
Because it is easy to use, you should get a lot more people going for such a tool.
2. Laser Level
With the advancement in construction technology, we ended up with the laser levels. These are the most high-tech levels you can buy today.
These devices are sophisticated in the sense that they use lasers to help you establish the levels of different planes.
Because of their functionality, they are liked a lot. Many people find them a great choice since they will work in different environments and remain effective and accurate.
3. Optical Level
Builders working on large-scale construction sites will opt for the optical levels.
They are good for checking the plane over a long distance. Let us say you want to understand the level of an entire building. In such a case, you will have to go further back to get the plane just right.
They are not the best for DIY projects at home since they will not be as good as the other options mentioned above at short distances. They can also be bulky for most home improvement applications.
The optical level has a vial with a bubble and a lens overlay for checking the plane.
4. Laser Distance Measure
The laser level is seen as a highly accurate tool to own today. As the name suggests, their work is to measure the distance between different points.
You can take it as a manual tape measure only that it is more high tech.
Because of its functionality, such a device will make your job a lot easier. This is because it can easily cover long distances, and deploying is easier.
Deploying a manual tape measure takes some time. You still have to deal with rewinding it to store the tape. That takes up valuable time.
It is why more people now opt for a laser distance measure tool.
You might have met the protractor while in math class, but the protractors are also essential tools when it comes to construction sites.
The tool is essential in measuring angles.
You will find it is a top choice for those who want to handle home improvement projects.
A ruler for a long time has been a simple tool, but quite a versatile one. Anyone who prides himself as a DIYer must have a ruler.
Every person knows the concept of a ruler and how it works. It is one tool you have probably used for years ever since you were young.
Many people find a ruler being an essential tool for measuring small items and checking straight lines.
Depending on the project scope, you should always get the right ruler length.
7. Square tool
This is another crucial tool to use in different home improvement projects. Just as the name suggests, it is good for framing and finding angles. It can come in handy when cutting lumber for various projects.
For those who have not seen it before, it has a triangular shape or when two perpendicular rulers meet to form an L-shape.
8. Electronic Angle Gauge
Angle gauges are essential for measuring the angles correctly.
Other than measuring the angles, the same is good for ensuring the planes are level.
The good news about owning an angle gauge is that it is an affordable tool, and it remains versatile. It is why more people who work on construction sites will have an angle gauge.
We hope you now have enough information to understand what a plumb bob is about and its applications. Many people find it is a useful tool for various projects, as we had mentioned above.
A plumb bob is a cheap tool. Even if you are new to working on home improvement projects, then you should consider getting it. When used correctly, the plumb bob will make your work easier and help in aligning various planes.
We have also talked about the other alternatives you can get in the market. If it seems like the alternative is better for you, then go for them. We also recommend that you take your time to learn more about the quality of the plumb bob before buying. The last thing you need is a poor-quality plumb bob.