From the Collection


The terms plumb and level are much misused. In fact, the two are totally separate functions. Level is associated with the horizontal, and plumb with the vertical. They go hand in hand, however, when applying basic construction techniques and they can create a square 90° corner. The use of a plumb bob along with a triangle or fixed marker board was used by the Egyptians.

Edward Preston & Sons was a prominent toolmaker in Birmingham, England, from 1825 to approximately 1925 – 30. Although not as large as some of the Sheffield-based makers of that time, Preston continually produced high-quality items and was known for its innovative designs and superb castings, often embellished with intricate relief work. It is doubtful if this quality of molding and casting could be replicated in today’s manufacturing environment at a reasonable cost. Eventually the company changed hands with Rabone (another rule maker) taking control and reproducing some of Preston’s more popular rules and levels. The metal plane division was bought by C.J. Hampton which manufactured Record tools and then reproduced some of the same designs under its branding.

At the zenith of production, the company produced over 500 rules and at least 250 levels, along with other products such as innovative spokeshave and specialty plane lines. Variations of Preston’s more usable planes are still being produced by modern makers.


The level shown was probably the most decorative model produced and was sold as an “Improved Registered Plumb and Level, Registered Design 269393, Jan. 20, 1896”. A registered design was a method of protecting a concept without having to patent the device. This level was produced in different woods including mahogany, rosewood and ebony and was available in two lengths – 15” and 18”. There were also two different trim levels, the 96 and the 98 shown here with the brass end caps.

This tool has a most pleasing appearance. The addition of the brass work allows the tool to stand out when displayed.

D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.

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