Carpenters Level Using Only Fast Food Straws - Straw Builder Project #2



About: Hi. I am a Dad, software product manager and avid runner. I enjoy building projects with my kids which generally means approaching design using inexpensive materials. Simplicity in design and build proces...

Straw Builder Project #2: Carpenters Level using only fast food straws

Hey!  Let's build something simple today.  A Carpenters Level is a fast and simple tool build.  You will even find this tool handy when we build our all straw Trebuchet Catapult next week.  So this is a nice breather before we tackle that advanced project.  Calm before the storm.

This is a very simple and easy project.  This is an ideal project for kids and parents or as a classroom project since the time and material requirements are small.  You should be able to build this fifteen minutes or less.  If not assisted by an adult, I would suggest a starting age of 10 years old since the force needed to use the paper punch is too much for younger kids.

Parts Needed:
1 Large Opaque Straw
1 Large Clear Straw

Tools Needed:
Paper Punch
Permanent Marker

That's it.  The elegance of this design is that it is basically free and the assembly is pretty simple. 

For this project, I elected to use Carl's Jr. straws instead of McDonalds straws.  Carl's Jr has a three straw dimensions and the smallest is presumably their coffee stirrer.  This project used the long but smaller diameter Clear Straw and the shorter but larger diameter Red Straw.

The magic of this project is that it uses no glue, welding, staples or securing other than by creative use of the source building material.  Straws are incredible building materials.  They come in a wide variety of dimensions but share inherent strength, flexibility, and availability attributes.

Step 1: Materials

You only need two straws to complete this project.  I don't recommend washing and reusing straws.  Aside from the need to sanitize them, they have lost a bit of strength just from normal use.

Step 2: Tools

You will need a hand held paper punch, pair of scissors, ruler and sharpie.  This project does require a tiny bit of measuring.

Step 3: Locate Level Window

The Opaque (red) Straw is the outer body for our level tool.  We need to cut a window into this straw so that we can see the Clear Straw air bubble.  Begin by locating the dead-center of the Opaque (red) Straw and marking it with your permanent marker (Sharpie).  From center, make marks at 1 centimeter (cm) intervals on either side of center.

Step 4: Open Level Window

Carefully punch a half circle hole on either end of the Level Window.  By punching the straw in this manner, you will avoid punching a corresponding hole on the opposite side of the straw.  Remember, we are making window on only one side of the straw.  If you marked them in centimeters, the two punch holes will be six centimeters apart.  Use your scissors to open the remainder of the window.  This may take a few attempts to shave away all of the material.  Your straw Level Window should look similar to the pictures.  If you make the window too large, the straw will flex and twist too much.

Step 5: Crimp Cuffs

Cut the Clear Straw to approximately the length of the Opaque (red) Straw.  Cut the scrap Clear Straw to create Crimp Cuffs.  We will be using these to prevent water from leaking out of the Straw Level.

Step 6: Crimp Cuff, Water and Air Bubble

Bend a small portion of one side of the Clear Straw.  Now, carefully fold this bend on it's horizontal axis.  This secondary bend will allow the straw to fit into it's Crimp Cuff.  Slide the Crimp Cuff and make sure the crimp is completely covered.  Check the portion of the straw entering the Crimp Cuff to make sure it isn't bending.  You make need to use your finger nail to ensure a clean fit into the Crimp Cuff.  Take this part of the project to a sink and turn the water onto a very slow trickle.  Fill the Clear Straw with water to about 90% full.  Tap the sides of the Clear Straw with your finger nail to knock air bubbles loose.  This will require a bit of trial-and-error to get just the right amount of water and air in the Clear Straw.  Repeat the Crimp Cuff process for the opposite side of the Clear Straw.  Observe the air bubble is able to move left to right as you change the Clear Straw angle.  Again, this will require a bit of trial-and-error.  You may need to empty or add water till it looks good.  Our example has an air bubble that is a bit large.

Step 7: Assemble

Slide the Clear Straw into the Opaque (red) Straw.  OK, that was easy.  Test your Carpenters Level using a standard level you may have available.  Is it roughly accurate?  If not, check your straw to see if it is warped or bent.  Talk with your kids or students about the principles of how a level works.  Would another liquid work better?  Ask them why level is important in building?  Have fun!



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