Category Archives: Permaculture Tools & Technology

On The Level

Here’s a little bit of permaculture technology for you.  In truth, this is a very old tool that happens to be very useful in permaculture design.  I am speaking of the A frame level. This very simple device dates back to pre-history and has been used to build everything from the great pyramids, to the Roman aqueducts, to your grandfather’s barn. It consists of a frame made from 3 sticks, in the shape of a capital A.  A plumb line is hung from the apex of the A and is lined up with a mark on the horizontal stick when the feet of the A are at the same elevation.

In the video below, I have shown you how to find out where the level mark should be, or in other words, how to calibrate the tool.  You could simply place the A frame on ground which you know for certain is level, and place a mark at the plumb line.  However, level ground is not always easy to find so I have shown you how to calibrate the tool using un-level ground.  You simply place the feet on the ground and mark where the plumb line falls, then switch the position of the feet and mark again where the plumb line now falls.  The level mark will be half way between these two marks.

Building your own A frame is incredibly easy.  For the one in the video, I have used nuts and bolts to hold the frame together so that I could make the frame fold up for transport, but you could use nails, glue, or even string to hold the frame together.  Just make sure the frame is sturdy so it does not change shape while you are using it.  The frame I have built is relatively small, as I intend to use it to find elevation changes over small distances for my Bike Park Project.  But in general the frame would be about as tall as a person.

In permaculture design, finding level is important because water will only spread out on level ground, and by spreading water out over a large surface we can allow it to soak into the soil.  A designer might use a large A frame to mark out a contour line along a slope, by walking the A frame across the slope and marking where the feet sit when the frame is level.  This contour line, or line of equal elevation, would then be dug into a swale with a perfectly level botom.  When rain falls onto the slope, the water will flow down until it reaches the swale, where it will then spread out along the length of the level bottom.  The swale could be planted with trees and shrubs that would utilize the water that has been spread out and soaked in.