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Hand Tools

Learn which type of builder level you should be using

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Builder levels buying guide and the history of levels

A level is one of the basic tools a homeowner should own. An economical plastic level with built-in rules can be one of the cheapest and best tools for hanging shelving, pictures, etc. You can get two tools in one without the hassle of using a tape measure and level separately. Plus the polycast material won’t scratch walls.

On the other side of the equation a rugged jobsite can create daily abuse and the extra money can be well spent on a brand like Stabila, who dares you to drop their levels over and over, and still offers a lifetime warranty on the vials.

There is an array of levels on the market to choose from. This article will focus on understanding the principle uses of each type of level, and possibly introduce you to some brands that you may not have known about.

Explanation of Levels

Kapro provides a solid overview of their various levels and uses, while Johnson Level provides an education section that goes a little more in-depth to better understand the variations and uses of levels.

I-beam and Box Levels – These style of levels are the most common and familiar. Both levels share all the same features but vary by their design in construction.

Features can include:

  • Milled edges – eliminates any imperfections for precise flatness. Helps scribing with a true flat edge. But, milled edges can scuff or mar delicate surfaces.
  • Coated / painted edges – safer on delicate surfaces like tiles, walls, or glass. Some brands and models may have both a milled edge on one side and coated on the other.
  • Built-in lighting for better visibility of vials.
  • Can be made from wood, plastic or aluminum.
  • Magnetic models – range from light duty to heavy-duty magnets.
  • Expandable in length – e.g. Stabila Exact Length and Plate Levels.
  • Johnson Level Co. has a write-up on the differences to help provide more key details.

Kapro Box Levels

Electronic Levels – These levels are usually box style levels with an advanced digital readout for precision leveling and angles.

Most likely overkill and too many un-needed features for the average homeowner, but cool in design and available if wanted.

Empire Digital Level

Torpedo Levels – Available in several configurations to best suite specific needs. A torpedo level can be used for hanging pictures, towel bars, etc, yet stores in a small space, like a drawer.

The most basic feature among all models is the ability to level horizontal and vertical.

More advanced models have adjustable vials to level at any angle. A v-groove that contours to pipes. The addition of very strong rare earth magnets, opposed to weaker strip magnets.

Stanley FATMAX magnetic torpedo level with v-groove

Line Levels – Attaches to a taught string to find level. Commonly used with a string pulled between two stakes in the ground to find level ground.

Stanley aluminum line level 42-287

Mini / Pocket Levels – Compact and fits in a pocket. Magnetic and non-magnetic versions available. Image shown with optional holster.

Stabila magnetic pocket level with holster 11901

Post Levels – Corner mount design that reads two sides for quicker and easier leveling of posts. Can be temporarily attached to posts.

May have interior magnets to easily attach to metal posts.

Swanson magnetic post level

Screeding Levels – Longer and larger body levels specifically designed for large doorways, landscaping projects, along with cement and stone work.

Sola Screeding Level

Level Manufacturers

The following list focuses on brands with established names, or have a major role in level manufacturing. There are several other levels on the market from tool manufacturers, like Craftsman, or hardware stores like Ace, that have their own private labels, and can be options to look into as well.

Bahco Box Level

Bahco, part of SNA Europe, makes a wide range of tools, and has this to say about their line of levels.

“The heavy-duty 466-range of Bahco spirit levels is ideal for high demanding construction work. The levels can withstand a guaranteed drop of 2 meters without losing its accuracy of 0.5mm/m. All 466 levels have one or two hand grips for easy handling and better measuring results.

Further the 466-250 is a so-called scaffold wrench. Due to the 30-degree and 45-degree angles on the side, it is an instant measuring tool when placing scaffolding. Also the mini level is equipped with a vertical and horizontal vial and has a magnetic surface on the bottom.

Except for our heavy-duty range, there is a Bahco 426 and 446 range of traditional box levels.”

Crick Tool hand-made wood levels

Crick Tool manufacturers hand-crafted wood levels that are Made in the USA. Find several accessories to maintain your wood level and make each level more convenient and versatile.

Crick allows made to order levels. Design the perfect level for your needs.

Empire box and i-beam levels

The Empire company is a long established business in the construction market. They offer a complete line of levels from economical polycast to advanced construction quality. The TRUE BLUE® line of levels are exceptional. Plumb any project with choices from line levels, post levels, or box levels.

Irwin levels

Irwin Tools is part of the Newell Rubbermaid company. You’ll find a full range of levels for just about every task.

Johnson levels

Johnson Level & Tool Mfg. Co has a long history in the tool business. Johnson offers a specific level for any project imaginable, making homeowners and contractor projects much easier.

Kapro Levels

Kapro Industries makes very unique and stylish levels, but with a purpose. Any tradesman or homeowner is sure to find the right level for their needs with Kapro’s vast product line. VPA certified. Visit their youtube channel for more product information and demonstrations.

Sands and Kraft Tool levels

Sands Level & Tool was established in 1895 and became part of the Kraft Tool Co. in 2005. Find a full line of products: wood levels, aluminum, torpedo, post, line, and surface levels.

“Julius Sand, the inventor of Sands® Levels was a bricklayer and in 1895 invented the Sands type of “Solid Set” vials. He also originated the aluminum type level to offer a lightweight level for the tradesman.”

Smith the original wood level

The Smith Level Company states, “Smith Levels are the Original Hand-Made Level, with the original Smith family still owning and diligently working in all facets of hand making these quality levels. Smith Levels are manufactured from the finest hardwood stock available, such as walnut and purple heart from Africa, mahogany from Honduras and select domestic woods such as maple, cherry and oak, among others.”

Sola levels

Sola (usa) and the head office Sola (austria) brings you high quality and accurate levels geared towards demanding jobsites. You’ll find many great features and models: highly visible vials, large door framing levels, screeding levels, torpedo levels, and many more.

See our review of the Sola Cordinat Level.

Stabila Levels

Stabila is German-made product and arguably one of the best line of levels on the market.

Stabila says, “Through a precision manufacturing technique, we secure each vial in the frame using a patented epoxy locking system. Individually calibrated vials are molded permanently to the frame, reinforcing the strength of every STABILA level. We certify the accuracy of every level and guarantee they will maintain their accuracy for life.”

Swanson Savage levels

Swanson Tool Co. is best known for their speed squares, but they also have a generous line of levels that consists of their premier SAVAGE® products.

Stanley FATMAX Levels

Stanley Black and Decker is the parent company of several brands, including Bostitch, Stanley, and DeWALT. The Stanley brand carries the most extensive line, while the other two brands have a few level options to choose from.

All products listed in this buying guide were chosen by DIY House Help based on independent research and analysis performed by our editors. However, not all products listed in this buying guide have been purchased and independently tested by our staff. When a retailer is listed, this is purely a suggestion for the convenience of our readers, but we are not obligated to endorse specific retailers. However, some of the links we provide throughout the site may earn us an affiliate commission when you decide to purchase.
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Hand Tools

Uses of a pick-up retrieval tool and how they work

Eliminate the frustration and struggle of recovering items in tight spots.

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4-Claw grabber tool buying guide

A pickup retrieval tool may be better known in the automotive world to recover bolts, screws, and washers that have fallen in hard to reach areas, but there are also plenty of uses in the household for these specialty tools.

For any object that has fallen…gotten stuck behind…or under a very confined area, you will be greatly aided with a compact grabber tool for retrieval.

Many times over the years I’ve found these to be great go-to tools in recovering:

  • Laundry that has fallen behind washing machines and dryers, or furniture.
  • Batteries that have rolled under washing machines and dryers, or furniture.
  • Anything that may have fallen down a sink drain.
  • Keys or small toys between car seats.

Flexible Claw Pick-up Tool

OEMTOOLS 4-Claw lighted pick-up tool 25293
OEMTOOLS 4-Claw lighted pick-up tool 25293 Maxcraft 4-claw lighted pick-up tool 60184 Mayhew 4-claw lighted pick-up tool 45046 OEMTOOLS magnetic lighted pick-up tool 25209

The small diameter flexible shaft easily fits in most tight spaces and the 4-claw models are good for non-ferrous items that magnetic models alone cannot attract.

Try one of the claw and magnetic combination pick-up tools for the ultimate in retrieving magnetic and non-magnetic items.

LED models are available to help see in those low lit spaces.

Update: As of 2017, the Tekton tool brand has discontinued both their claw and magnetic retrieval tools, but existing inventory may still be available online.

How To Use 4-Claw Models: Press the top knob while holding the grip with your index and middle finger. The claws will extend out and apart. Release the knob to collapse the claws, and grab hold of the object. Repeat Step 1 to free your object.

Telescoping Magnetic Retrieval Tool

Telescopic magnetic pick-up tool
Telescopic magnetic pick-up tool Tekton LED Telescoping Pick-up Tool 7610 Tekton telescoping pick-up tool 7601 General Tools telescoping pick-up tool 759398

These telescoping magnetic pick-up tools can mimic the look and size of a pen when completely collapsed, but extend in increments of up to 2-feet or more when needed.

This small, yet long, tool is great for retrieving batteries, screws, or any other ferromagnetic object that has rolled under or fallen into tight spaces.

Want a larger grip area and stronger magnet? There are models available to fill those needs too.

How To Use: Extend shaft to needed length for retrieval. Completely collapse shaft for easy storage.

All products listed in this buying guide were chosen by DIY House Help based on independent research and analysis performed by our editors. However, not all products listed in this buying guide have been purchased and independently tested by our staff. When a retailer is listed, this is purely a suggestion for the convenience of our readers, but we are not obligated to endorse specific retailers. However, some of the links we provide throughout the site may earn us an affiliate commission when you decide to purchase.
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Hand Tools

Safely check for voltage with a non-contact voltage detector

A non-contact voltage detector is a simple, safe, and relatively affordable device to detect the presence of voltage.

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Santronics Ultimate AC Voltage Detector

This is one of the easiest tools to use. Simply touch a cord or insert the tip into an outlet. The tip of the detector will light up if power is present, while some models also have an audible alarm as a secondary indicator. These are very safe and useful tools to address any home electrical project.

Replacing or testing a switch or receptacle: I’ve been guilty of using a small appliance or portable fan as my power indicator to confirm that I’ve turned off the appropriate power breaker. Not 100% safe. These voltage detectors have a tip that fits inside the receptacle to properly detect power and are 100% safe.

Open ended wires: If you ever locate or discover open-ended wires, you want to know if power is present before addressing.

Power strip troubleshooting: A power strip may have one or more outlets that are not working. You can test if the power strip itself is receiving power or an individual outlet is not transferring power.

Broken wire: Go along a cord or wire path and see where the power is disrupted. When testing power cords keep in mind that the internal wires are wound together in a spiral. You may have to move the detector around or along the cord to find the live internal wire. Also, non-contact voltage detectors do have sensitivity variations between brands and models.

Spiral Wound Electrical Wires

Terms and Descriptions

Voltage Rating: Depending on the voltage range you want to detect, be sure to choose a detector or possibly multiple detectors that suit your needs. Some voltage detector models come with dual-range, so you can detect low and high voltage.

A typical single household circuit ranges from 110-240 VAC. The difference between a 600 or 1000 VAC detector will most likely not be an issue for homeowners. The high ratings are for professionals that want to read full voltage coming into circuit panels, etc. Again not something typical of a homeowner that is not experienced, trained, or properly licensed to work with.

Low voltage wires, e.g. thermostat or doorbell, are typically rated for 24 VAC and lower.

Automotive electrical systems range from 12-16 VDC.

CAT III: Refers to measurements on hard-wired equipment in fixed installations, distribution boards, and circuit breakers. Other examples are wiring, including cables, bus bars, junction boxes, switches, and socket outlets in the fixed installation.

CAT IV: Rated test instruments are designed for testing on the primary supply source, which also includes 120V or 240V overhead or underground lines that power detached buildings or underground lines that power well pumps. The CAT IV rating covers the highest and most dangerous level of transient over-voltage.

WARNING: Electrical Hazard. US household outlets range from 120-240VAC and can cause serious injury or death. Turn off power at the breaker panel when working. Contact a certified Electrician or HVAC tech if unsure of your DIY capabilities.

Comparison Guide

All non-contact voltage detectors have an LED indicator light and replaceable batteries.

Some models come equipped with an audible alarm as well, which may have a silence option.

Product availability and specs may change. Please check a manufacturers website for the latest information.
Manufacturer
& Model
Voltage
Range
CAT
Rating
Audible
Indicator
Work
Light
Power
Switch
Battery
Type
Extech DV40 + IR Thermometer 50 – 1000VAC CAT III – 1000V 3 x LR44
Extech 40130 100 – 600VAC CAT III – 600V 2 x AAA
Extech DV20 100 – 600VAC CAT III – 600V 2 x AAA
Extech DV24 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Extech DV25 Dual-Range 24 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Extech DV26 100 – 1000VAC CAT III – 1000VAC,
CAT IV – 600VAC
2 x AAA
Extech DV30 Adjustable Sensitivity 12 – 600VAC CAT III – 600V 4 x LR44
Extech DVA30 + Current 12 – 600VAC,
200mA to 1000A
CAT III – 600V 4 x LR44
Fluke 2AC VoltAlert™ 90 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Fluke 1AC-II A1 VoltAlert™ 90 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Fluke 1AC II A2 VoltAlert™ 90 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Fluke 1LAC II A VoltAlertT™ 20 – 90VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Fluke 1AC II E1 VoltAlertT™ 200 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Fluke LVD2 Volt Light – Dual Sensitivity 90 – 600VAC CAT IV – 600V 1 x AAA
GreenLee GT-12A 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
GreenLee TR-12A 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
GreenLee GT-16 Adjustable 5 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 1 x AAA
Klein NCVT-1 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Klein NCVT-2 12 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Klein NCVT-3 w/ LED Bar Graph 12 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Milwaukee 2202-20 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Milwaukee 2200-20 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Milwaukee 2203-20 Dual-Range 10 – 49VAC,
50 – 1000VAC
CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Santronics Ultimate AC 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Santronics AC 50 – 1000VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Santronics Low AC 24 – 90VAC CAT IV – 1000V 2 x AAA
Santronics DC 6 – 50VDC N/A
Sperry VD6504 50 – 1000VAC CAT III – 1000V,
CAT IV – 600V
1 x AAA
Sperry VD6505 – Adjustable 12 – 1000VAC CAT III – 1000V,
CAT IV – 600V
1 x AAA
Manufacturer
& Model
Voltage
Range
CAT
Rating
Audible
Indicator
Work
Light
Power
Switch
Battery
type

Final Thoughts

Please view all the brands and models we put together in the buying guide to learn the features and what may work best for your needs. We personally tested and compared a few brands, including: Milwaukee, Klein, Santronics, Fluke, and there were notable differences.

  • Each varied on the audible sound levels. I would like to see manufacturers list this in their specs as it is important to some) and frequency of the beep, which could get annoying or welcomed, depending on the person.
  • Some models have no work light, while the Milwaukee units have a very bright light.
  • Static electricity is read by all the units, however will only causes flashes of light and single chirps instead of steady light and steady audible alarms for true voltage. The Santronics is the only brand without an audible off switch, but doesn’t create an audible sound for static electricity, which is a nice feature.
  • We found brands like Milwaukee, Klein, and Fluke are very sensitive. The Santronics had to be much closer, if not touching a wire that was open or has sheathing, before the indicators would activate. Though all brands and models tested had to make contact with the exterior of a cord before detecting voltage.

Note: A response from the Santronic said, “Our voltage testers are manufactured, printed, and packaged in the US.”

All products listed in this buying guide were chosen by DIY House Help based on independent research and analysis performed by our editors. However, not all products listed in this buying guide have been purchased and independently tested by our staff. When a retailer is listed, this is purely a suggestion for the convenience of our readers, but we are not obligated to endorse specific retailers. However, some of the links we provide throughout the site may earn us an affiliate commission when you decide to purchase.
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Hand Tools

Review: The Channellock ratcheting 13 ‘N 1 is an outstanding all-in-one screwdriver

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Channellock 13n1 ratcheting screwdriver

I came across the CHANNELLOCK® 13 ‘N 1 ratcheting all-in-one screwdriver in a local tool house and thought, “this is the first brilliant multi-bit driver worth buying”. And my initial instincts were right.

Of course a solid screwdriver shaft always comes in handy for those random prying needs, but that’s the only disadvantage any interchangeable bit screwdriver has in my opinion.

An interesting, yet welcomed fact when doing research for this article, I came to realize that MEGAPRO makes the driver for CHANNELLOCK. After viewing the MEGAPRO site, I wish I knew about all their great drivers years ago. I no longer need to grab and carry a handful of drivers. All the popular bits are in one unit.

What makes this a great ratcheting screwdriver?

Fit the CHANNELLOCK 13n1 Ratcheting Screwdriver in a tool bag or drawer and you’ll always have a very capable tool when you need to remove or insert a screw. The provided bit types address the most common fastener heads.

Channellock 13n1 Ratcheting Screwdriver

Dimensions: Overall Length = 8.75″ / Handle Length (minus locking collar) = 4.75″

  • Well Built: Solid construction and feel.
  • Comfortable: Rubberized and textured grip.
  • 3-Position Head: Locked | Ratchet forward | Ratchet reverse.
  • Handles Tough Fasteners: 225 lbs. torque allows even the most difficult fasteners to be removed and inserted.
  • 360-degree Bit Carousel: The pull out carousel holds 6 double-sided bits and freely spins 360-degrees when pulled out. The snap shut feature (think cabinet hinge action) of the carousel ensures the carousel stays securely closed when pushed in.
Square Tip Screw HeadSquare Tip Phillips #2 Screw HeadPhillips Tip Slot Tip Screw HeadSlot Tip Torx Head Screw TipTorx Tip
#1 #0 #4 #10
#2 #1 #6 #15
#2 #20
#3 #25
CHANNELLOCK 13n1 360-degree spinning carousel

6 double-sided tips and the 1/4″ hex shaft make up the standard 13 ‘N 1 drive options

The ratcheting action makes quick work and requires less effort compared to a standard screwdriver.

CHANNELLOCK 13n1 drive settings

3 drive options: 2 ratcheting + locked

Bit Type and Replacements

Channellock 13n1 Replacement Bits

The screwdriver comes with ¼-inch bits with a pressure fitted ball for securing the bit, and should always be used to ensure best use.

The pressure fitted bits are the only negative I can think of. Like most bits of this design, the bit is not completely locked in the driver and can remain in a screw head at times.

All products listed in this buying guide were chosen by DIY House Help based on independent research and analysis performed by our editors. Products were purchased at retail locations and not provided by manufacturers as sponsorship. When a retailer is listed, this is purely a suggestion for the convenience of our readers, but we are not obligated to endorse specific retailers. However, some of the links we provide throughout the site may earn us an affiliate commission when you decide to purchase.
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