DIY woodworking projects for every budget and skill level

History of the Plum Bob (and some FAQ)

???? Discover the chisel’s rich history, uses, and types. Unearth its timeless role in woodworking, sculpting, and shaping our world with precision! ????

Cat wearing orange safety glasses, hart hat and holding a sign that reads "The History of The Plum Bob"

The History of the Plum Bob


old woodworking shop

The plum bob, a tool I only recently learned existed yet it has been used for centuries to ensure accurate vertical alignment in construction, surveying, and various other fields. Its straightforward design and principle make it a reliable instrument for establishing true vertical lines. More importantly, it quickly became my favorite tool to say over and over again. In this blog post, we will delve into the history, types, and applications of the plum bob, along with some popular plum bob-related terminology and historical facts.

The History of the Plum Bob

Plum Bob Origination

The plumb bob, also known as a plumb line, has been a staple tool in construction and surveying for thousands of years. Its simple design—a pointed weight suspended from a string—allows it to indicate a true vertical line.

  • Ancient Egyptians (2700-2200 BCE): The earliest evidence of plumb bobs comes from ancient Egypt, where they were used during the construction of the pyramids. Imhotep, an architect and physician, is believed to have used plumb bobs when designing the step pyramid for Pharaoh Djoser around 2650 BCE.
  • Roman Empire (27 BCE-476 CE): The Romans also used plumb bobs extensively in their engineering projects. Vitruvius, a renowned Roman architect and engineer, wrote about the importance of plumb bobs in his treatise “De Architectura,” which dates back to 15 BCE.
  • Renaissance Europe (1300s-1600s): During the Renaissance, many architects and engineers, such as Filippo Brunelleschi, used plumb bobs while constructing grand structures like the dome of Florence Cathedral in the early 15th century.

Image of two chisels and a wooden object

The History of the Plum Bob

Types of Plum Bobs

Solid Plum Bob (most common): A solid, usually conical or tapered weight with a pointed tip that hangs from a string or line. This is the most traditional and common type of plum bob.

Magnetic Plum Bob: A plum bob with a magnetic tip, which can be used to retrieve metal objects or adhere to metal surfaces for hands-free use.

Adjustable Plum Bob: A plum bob with an adjustable weight, allowing the user to customize the weight and balance for specific applications or conditions.


We used a solid plum bob to plum our secret doorway bookcase.

Hidden Bookcase Door - door removal finished basement leading to unfinished basement, taupe walls with white accents

The History of the Plum Bob

Plumb Bob Terminology

Plumb Line: The vertical line created by a suspended plum bob, representing true vertical alignment.

Plummet: A synonym for a plum bob, derived from the Latin word “plumbum,” meaning lead, which was a common material for early plum bobs.

True Vertical: The accurate vertical orientation of a structure or object, as determined by the force of gravity.

Level: A tool used to determine true horizontal alignment, often used in conjunction with a plum bob for accurate alignment in construction and surveying.

The History of the Plum Bob

Plum Bob Applications

The plum bob is an essential tool for a wide range of applications, including:

  1. Construction: Ensuring vertical alignment of walls, columns, and other structural elements in buildings and other structures.
  2. Surveying: Establishing true vertical reference lines for land surveying and mapping applications.
  3. Masonry: Aligning and leveling bricks, stones, and blocks for precise and sturdy construction.
  4. Carpentry: Verifying vertical alignment of doors, windows, cabinets, and other woodworking projects.
  5. DIY Projects: From hanging shelves to installing curtain rods, the plum bob is a go-to tool for many home improvement tasks that require accurate vertical alignment.

    The History of the Plum Bob

    Modern Plum Bobs

    Modern plumb bobs have evolved to include new features and materials to improve accuracy, ease of use, and durability. Some popular modern plumb bobs and related tools include:

    Empire Brass Plumb Bob: The Empire Brass Plumb Bob is a solid brass plumb bob with a polished lacquer finish for lasting durability and corrosion resistance. Its screw-top design allows for easy string replacement, while its hexagonal shape prevents it from rolling when placed on a surface.

    Tajima PZB-400 Plumb-Rite Plumb Bob Setter: The Tajima PZB-400 is a combination plumb bob and line setter that simplifies the process of hanging a plumb bob. It features a retractable line with a quick-stabilizing cap that reduces the time it takes for the plumb bob to settle. The magnetic base enables secure attachment to metal surfaces, while the rubberized tip helps grip non-magnetic surfaces.

    Stanley FatMax Magnetic Torpedo Level with Plumb Bob: This combination tool from Stanley features a high-quality torpedo level with magnetic edge, making it ideal for leveling pipes and other metal surfaces. The level also includes a built-in plumb bob for establishing vertical lines, combining two essential tools in one.

    Bosch GCL 2-160 Self-Leveling Cross-Line Laser with Plumb Points: As an alternative to traditional plumb bobs, the Bosch GCL 2-160 is a laser level that projects both horizontal and vertical lines, as well as plumb points. This self-leveling tool offers improved accuracy and is easier to set up, making it a popular choice for construction and surveying professionals.

    DEWALT DW0825LG 12V 5 Spot + Cross Line Green Laser: Another modern laser plumb bob alternative, the DEWALT DW0825LG, provides both horizontal and vertical lines, as well as five spot points for accurate leveling and alignment tasks. The green laser beam is highly visible and offers a working range of up to 100 feet, making it ideal for both indoor and outdoor applications.


    Modern Chisels

    The History of the Plum Bob



    The plum bob’s rich history and wide range of applications make it a valuable and enduring tool in the fields of construction, surveying, and craftsmanship. Its simple design and reliable function have stood the test of time, proving that sometimes the simplest solutions can be the most effective.

    Plum Bob FAQ

    1. Question: What is a plumb bob used for?

    Answer: A plumb bob is a simple tool used to establish a true vertical line or plumb line. It is commonly used in construction, surveying, and carpentry to ensure structures are vertically aligned or to transfer points from the ceiling to the floor.

    2. Question: How does a plumb bob work?

    Answer: A plumb bob consists of a pointed weight suspended from a string. Due to gravity, the weight hangs straight down, creating a true vertical line, which can be used as a reference for alignment or transferring points.

    3. Question: What materials are plumb bobs made from?

    Answer: Plumb bobs can be made from various materials, including brass, steel, and lead. Brass and steel plumb bobs are more resistant to corrosion and damage, while lead plumb bobs are heavier and less expensive.

    4. Question: How do you use a plumb bob to find a vertical line?

    Answer: To use a plumb bob, suspend it from a fixed point, allowing the weight to hang freely. Once the plumb bob stops swinging, the line formed by the string will be a true vertical line.

    5. Question: Can a plumb bob be used for leveling?

    Answer: While a plumb bob is primarily used for establishing vertical lines, it can be used in conjunction with a level to ensure a surface is horizontally level. By comparing the plumb line to the level, you can adjust the surface until it is level.

    6. Question: How accurate is a plumb bob?

    Answer: Plumb bobs can be very accurate, with errors typically ranging from 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch (0.8 to 1.6 mm) for a 10-foot (3-meter) drop. Factors such as wind, vibrations, and string quality can affect the accuracy.

    7. Question: Can a plumb bob be used outdoors?

    Answer: Yes, a plumb bob can be used outdoors, but its accuracy may be affected by wind or uneven surfaces. To minimize errors, use a heavier plumb bob or shield it from the wind while taking measurements.


    8. Question: What is a laser plumb bob?

    Answer: A laser plumb bob is a modern tool that uses a laser beam to establish a vertical line. It offers the same functionality as a traditional plumb bob but with greater accuracy and ease of use.

    9. Question: How do I choose the right plumb bob for my project?

    Answer: To choose the right plumb bob, consider factors such as the material, weight, size, and shape. A heavier plumb bob provides greater stability and accuracy, while the material should be resistant to corrosion and damage. The size and shape should allow for easy handling and precision.

    10. Question: How do you maintain a plumb bob?

    Answer: To maintain a plumb bob, store it in a dry place, clean it regularly to remove dirt or debris, and inspect the string for wear or damage. Replace the string if necessary to ensure accurate measurements.

    Did that scratch your knowledge itch?

    If not, let’s keep on going!

    Cat holding a sign that reads "The History of The Screwdriver"

    Turn back time while turning the screwdriver.

    How to Plan and Build a Bar in a Basement

    Let’s Build a Speakeasy together

    TheCraftyCatsman - Speakeasy Arcade

    Plum Bob knowledge have you jazzed up and ready to build? Check out the speakeasy and get started on a project today!

    DALL·E 2022-08-17 09.19.01 - happy bro cat with hat and headphones and Dewalt safety glasses, giving a big thumbs up, cinematic lighting, digital art