Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Bunyip, a home-made water level: People who know me will tell you that I have a penchant for books, courses and tools. My old, wise and bald friend David once generously bought me a laser level as a present. It was a spirit level with a built in laser, which came with its own tripod, all neatly packed in a plastic case. Once unwrapped, I set the level on its tripod and, by rotating the level on its tripod, did a tour of the walls of the living room with the red laser line. I made some faint pencil marks and then checked these (oh, how annoyingly anal I can be) to see how accurate it was. A laser might be accurate enough but it was stymied by the quality of the tripod, so the level changed as it revolved. Not being ungrateful, I promise, but it would be fair to say that this laser was in the DIY class of building equipment. The cheap tripod made it worthless. [I got my money back at the shop and converted it into beer: an even better present … cheers, David.]

More recently, I was helping out our neighbours Paul and Christiane with their renovation when Henri, the electrician, turned up with a top of the range, self-levelling, vertical and horizontal red lines laser, with which he was justly proud. It was a deal more accurate than the one I’ve just described and a whole lot more expensive. Even so, within the context of that building work, I couldn’t see anything that the laser could achieve that a Bunyip water level couldn’t and at a fraction of the price.

Water will find its own level and the Bunyip exploits this. You get hold of a transparent length of pipe and almost fill it up with water, so you can see the level of the water a little bit down from the end of the pipe. Wherever the ends of the pipe are, even out of site of each other, once the water level has settled, it’s at exactly the same level, both ends. You need somebody on the other end of the pipe. When you move the pipe, both of you clamp your thumbs over the end, to avoid spillages. When you’re in position, you need a little coordination to get approximately the right level. Release your thumbs—lots of shouting is in order—and if the level races in one direction, thumbs on quickly and one of you adjust up or down accordingly (try it and you’ll see, an error says a thousand words). With a little patience, you will get the hang of it … I did and I have minimal patience! The level wobbles up and down a bit, once it’s settled the level in front of you is at exactly the same level as that of your partner. If their level is on the datum line, then you can mark off where your level is and you’ve accurately, and very cheaply, transferred the level, which is what Gabrielle and I are doing in the photo at top.

And it works around corners … even a top of the range laser can’t do that, hee hee!