DIY Land Surveying Equipment

Written by emmalise mac
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DIY Land Surveying Equipment
A compass is the most basic surveying instrument. (19th century survey compass image by Robert Young from

Land surveying for the purpose of determining legal boundaries requires expensive equipment and extensive expertise. However, land surveying instruments are often very helpful when selecting a site for a special outdoor building project. Similarly, land surveying instruments provide information essential for a successful landscaping design. Modern surveying equipment and GPS units simply are not warranted for these purposes. However, you can easily create some basic surveying equipment for measuring distance and differences in elevation for your home projects.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 2-inch by 2-inch wooden stakes - 4, 8 feet long
  • Utility knife
  • Paint - black and white
  • Paint brushes
  • Yard-long measuring tapes - 4
  • All-purpose glue (e.g., liquid nails)
  • 1/2-inch diameter clear rubber tubing - 4 yards
  • 100-foot garden hose - non-kinking, 3/4-inch diameter
  • 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch diameter tubing connectors - 2
  • Inline valves for 1/2-inch diameter tubing - 2
  • Heavy-duty nylon twine - 70 feet
  • Plastic flag - bright colour
  • Lensatic compass
  • Lead fishing weight
  • Fishing line
  • Dowel rod - 1 foot
  • Plastic protractor
  • Zip ties
  • Plastic jug
  • Water
  • Food colouring
  • Funnel

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  1. 1

    Sharpen the bottom end of each of two wooden stakes into a point with the utility knife. Paint the stakes with alternating bands of black and white for visibility -- make each band one foot wide. Glue a plastic flag to the top end of one stake. Connect the two stakes with nylon cord so that the maximum distance between the two stakes is 66 feet. This is the length of one chain, a common surveying measure. Make sure that the loops tying the cord to the stakes are loose enough that the cord can be raised or lowered.

  2. 2

    Gouge a hole through each end of the straight edge of the protractor with the utility knife. Tie a 1-foot length of fishing line to the lead sinker. Tie the other end to the centre of the dowel rod. Attach the protractor to the dowel rod with zip ties so that the flat edge rests against the dowel rod and the fishing line falls perpendicular to the rod at the centre of the protractor to create a homemade plumb bob.

  3. 3

    Measure distance and bearing by stretching the nylon cord tight between the two stakes and sighting along the line toward the flag with the compass to determine bearing. Adjust the nylon cord so that it is level, and hold the dowel rod of the plumb bob along the line to verify that it hangs at zero mark on protractor.

  1. 1

    Sharpen the bottom end of each of two wooden stakes into a point with the utility knife. Glue two yard-long measuring tapes end to end down the front side of each stake. Allow the glue to dry thoroughly, according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

  2. 2

    Cut two 4-foot lengths and two 2-foot lengths of clear rubber tubing. Connect each 4-foot length to a 2-foot length with an inline valve. Attach the tubing to one side of the stake with zip ties, so that the 4-foot length of tubing extends a few inches above the top of the stake. Close the inline valves.

  3. 3

    Cut the metal connectors off of the ends of the garden hose and insert a 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch connector in each end. Fill the hose with water from a garden spigot. Attach each end of the garden hose to the lower end of a 2-foot length of tubing attached to a stake. The stakes should be connected by the garden hose.

  4. 4

    Fill a jug with water and add a large quantity of food colouring dye. Cap and shake to mix. Insert the funnel in the open end of the rubber tubing at the top of a stake and pour in coloured water until the water level reaches nearly to the top of each stake. Hold both stakes nearly vertical while filling.

  5. 5

    Plant one stake vertically in the ground at the top of a slope you wish to measure. Plant the other stake at the bottom of the slope. Open both valves and thump the lower stake on the ground to get rid of air bubbles in the line. The water will find its own level. Record the elevation of the slope as the difference between the measurement on the lower and upper stakes.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a highly accurate GPS unit to survey larger property boundaries quickly and accurately. Use hand tools to survey smaller areas within the property such as elevation for landscaping.
  • Never move property boundary markers. Only a licensed surveyor can verify legal boundaries and make changes.

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