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Level Descriptions and Complete Buying Guide

Builder levels buying guide and the history of levels

Hand Tools

Level Descriptions and Complete Buying Guide

Level Descriptions and Complete Buying Guide

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.

**Check local home improvement stores for availability.

Irwin levels

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

**Check your local Ace Hardware or other home improvement stores for availability.

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 created The Measuring Stick and Professional Grade For Homeowners, for the homeowner.

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.

**Check local home improvement stores for availability.

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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