Make a simple & handy pencil level in a few steps.
Things you'll need:
- Wooden carpenter Pencils
- Level vials (either buy in bulk from Ebay or take apart a line level)
- Calipers or Ruler
- Notebook or paper
- Adobe Illustrator
- Access to a laser cutter
- Gel based super glue (Loctite works well)
- Small wood Planar
- Make it without the laser cutter
Step 1: Measure Twice, Laser Cut Once.
First off, you need to take measurements of your level vial and your carpenter pencil. You only need length and height. I'll give you my dimensions, but keep in mind that they will vary based on brand of pencil and level.
Vial : 1 9/16" x 3/8"
Carpenter Pencil : 6 15/16" x 17/32"
Step 2: Illustrator Template & First Cut
Now it's time to take those measurements and build a cardboard template to cut the pencils.
First make sure your cardboard has a clean right angle (put this corner in the top left of the laser cutter) to justify the vertical and diagonal cuts of the laser cutter. Above is a screenshot of the way I set mine up (off to one side in the center of the pencil), but feel free to move the vial around anywhere you wish inside the pencil rectangle.
Now that you have your template made, take your cardboard and cut the pattern/patterns to achieve the correct cut outs for the pencils. It should look something like the second image above. I made several slots so I could cut more then one pencil at a time (not necessary).
Step 3: Cut the Pencils
For this step, you need to remove the pencil rectangles from the cardboard and replace them with the carpenter pencils. They will now be lined up correctly for the important cut.
1st *USE ONLY THE RECTANGLES YOU MADE FOR THE VIALS* for the laser cut. This means delete or hide all other lines in the template. I used the settings for 1/4" plywood but some experimentation may be required.
Once you have finished the first pass, you need to flip the pencil to cut the rest of the wood under the graphite which will not be cut by the laser no matter how many passes you make. This is where a template comes in handy because you already know where they need to go.
Step 4: Cutting Out the Inner
The graphite that will be left is relatively easy to cut through with an X Acto knife, though it does take a little working at. If you chose the vial placement I did, only cut the side furthest from the end and the other side will pop out when you try and remove the piece from the newly formed hole (if not cut both sides). Your end result should look something like the top image.
Step 5: Adding the Vial
The vial should fit with a little interference from the pencil (This may take more then one laser cut to get the vial hole size right). Now super glue the top and bottom of the vial. If you want, you can glue along the side as well.
If you're vial placement is the same as mine, I've found filling the hollow point at the end of the pencil with super glue holds the vial in place very well (see image above).
Step 6: Almost Done
The final step is so the level feature works with the pencil. For this step you'll need the planar, the pencil and a vice (if you have one...I did not). Place the pencil in the vice thin edge facing up (or hold it very carefully). Use the planar and run it along the edge once or twice until you have a clean edge that the pencil will rest on.