Instructables

Ancient Egyptian Combination Square and Level

Picture of Ancient Egyptian Combination Square and Level
The photo shows a combination square and level from the time of Pharaoh Ramses (about 2,000 years B.C.).  I could not get to the exhibit, so I bought a glossy photo book, and this page was in the book.  The level is a plumb line with a mark on the crossmember of the square.  I always wanted to build one of these. 

Step 1: Rip three pieces

Picture of Rip three pieces
Wood always moves with changes in humidity.  Egypt is a very dry climate, so precision instruments from wood might work there.  I made my Egyptian square and level from 1/2 inch plywood because it will not shift with changes in humidity.  

I ripped three pieces 2 1/4 inches wide.  I made the legs of my square 20 inches long each.  The original in the museum exhibit has legs about 14 1/2 inches long.  

Step 2: Rough layout of the pieces

Picture of Rough layout of the pieces
It would be possible to build this without the use of a modern square, but I will use one in this step to speed things along.   The crossmember will need to be cut to length.  Pieces will need to be marked for dado operations to prepare for making lap joints that will be strong after gluing.  The crossmember is 2 1/4 inches above the bottom ends of the square's legs.  The ends of the square legs need to be cut at 45 degrees so they rest flat on the work surface.  If I were to do it again, I would change the crossmember to be more like 4 inches above the work surface along the lines of the original from the museum exhibition.  See the photo in the Introduction.

Step 3: Fit the pieces for gluing

Picture of Fit the pieces for gluing
Fitting the pieces after cutting them to length and making dado cuts for lap joints should be straightforward, but there can be fitting problems.  Make whatever corrections are necessary for a good fit.  Glue the pieces at the lap joints. 
 
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finton1 year ago
Good Instructable as usual Phil. I heard about this from a Pacific Islands development project, but I can well imagine that the Egyptians thought of it first - pretty smart individuals back then!

I built a larger version of this back in the 1990's to set up the levels for a concrete block garden shed. Worked great! I got the centre mark for the plumb bob by dividing the length of the cross member by 2. I also left the ends of the legs square so that only one corner of each leg was touching the ground.
Phil B (author)  finton1 year ago
Thank you. We often ask questions like, "Who invented the wheel?" I strongly believe several people in different places probably invented the wheel as they had a need and someone had an idea about the same time. Had there been an Internet at the time, the first person could have shared the idea and the rest could have copied it. But, several probably had to invent it for themselves in their place and time. Congratulations on your version of what the Egyptians did.
finton Phil B1 year ago
I imaging a lot of skills were learned during the building of the Tower of Babel then taken by different groups to other locations as they fanned out after the confusing of their language. Of course "necessity is the mother of invention" wherever you are in the world, so ideas could easily have been generated at the same time by different people - consider the invention of powered flight by Brian Pearce in New Zealand followed closely and independently by the Wright Brothers (who patented the idea).
Apolo81 year ago
Great instructable!!!
Phil B (author)  Apolo81 year ago
Thank you. It is humbling to realize people 4,000 years ago had figured out all of this stuff.
Great design!!
Phil B (author)  softenersreviews1 year ago
Thank you for your comment. Credit for the original design will have to go to some unnamed Egyptian craftsman from about 5,000 years ago. Thank you for looking.
5STARGBLOOD3 years ago
could u use a fishing weight like spaceman spiff did in his?????? http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-tool-to-measure-angles/step2/Create-the-Plumb-Bob/
Phil B (author)  5STARGBLOOD3 years ago
Sure. I did not have a fishing weight (We called them sinkers.), but I did have a form stake with a pointed end that was of no other use to me, so that made my decision for me. The pointed end is helpful, in case you need it to point like a plumb bob.
5STARGBLOOD3 years ago
heres the link
Rune Cutter4 years ago
This is great.  There are four other tools that are incorporated in this that you didn't describe.
    The first is the gauge or ruler.
    The second is the plumb line which is used to erect verticals
    The third is the caliper which assures uniformity
    The fourth is the compass which allows arcs to be laid out.
If you put a locking pivot in the level mark you would have a variable tool.
I'm so going to make one of these and give you full credit in a masonic class.  I've never seen this specific example, simple elegance.

Well done!
Phil B (author)  Rune Cutter4 years ago
The book from which I learned about this square/level mentioned only those two functions.  It may well have been that a clever Egyptian craftsman managed to employ it for the other functions you mentioned, just as it is possible to use the shank of a drill bit as a precisions thickness gauge.  Do not give me credit on anything.  I got the idea from this book: "The Great Pharaoh Ramses and His Time" published by the Canadian Exim Group, of Montreal (1985), p. 37. (ISBN 2980041602)
People who take the time to try to reconstruct history from a hands on perspective get special respect from me.

I'll be doing a verticle loom next month, I've built two but this will be the first I carefully document, my only evidence is a pile of rocks and some sticks with string, sometimes the original extant tool is different from how it is later reconstructed by archeologists who rarely are "shoppees"
Phil B (author)  Rune Cutter4 years ago
My wife will be interested in your vertical loom.  She loves fabric of all kinds.  I had to explain a Jacquard loom to her when we visited the Smithsonian. 

You might also be interested in an Instructable I did on boring concentric holes with a radial arm saw.  The basic feature of the procedure uses something I saw on Appalachian gunsmithing as practiced during the last couple of centuries.
sharlston4 years ago
ive bee wanting to biuld one of these for ages 5 stars
Phil B (author)  sharlston4 years ago
Me too.  Finally, I just did it and it probably took longer than I thought it would, but it was not bad.  Thank you.
ive seen a simmilarer method used in ww1 in underground bunker to make sure they dig straight down ive seen it on the tv show time team a few times
Phil B (author)  sharlston4 years ago
Although the description in my glossy photo book did not mention it, I expect this square and level combination could also serve  as a plum line, but they are usually quite a bit longer than the short plumb line that establishes level on this tool.
rimar20004 years ago
Evidently the ancient Egyptians could be anything but stupid ...
Phil B (author)  rimar20004 years ago
You are correct.  Too often we confuse education and intelligence, as if you cannot have the 2nd without the 1st.  Someone once said all engineering developed through trial and error.  There was no one to teach these things.  Someone had to use what he knew to develop an idea he tested by experience, and that led to new knowledge about what works or does not work.
SWV17874 years ago
I like the look and it would make a nice addition to any woodworkers, wooden tools... nice instructable
Phil B (author)  SWV17874 years ago
Thank you.  I used plywood leftover from a shipping crate.  If a person glued up strips of hardwood, the opposing grain in neighboring strips would counteract movement due to changes in humidity and it would make a nice piece to display.