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.
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.
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.
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.
Mini / Pocket Levels – Compact and fits in a pocket. Magnetic and non-magnetic versions available. Image shown with optional holster.
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.
Screeding Levels – Longer and larger body levels specifically designed for large doorways, landscaping projects, along with cement and stone work.
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.
“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 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.
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 Tools is part of the Newell Rubbermaid company. You’ll find a full range of levels for just about every task.
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 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.
“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.”
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 (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 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.”
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.