Hand Tools

Level Descriptions and Complete Buying Guide

There are an array of levels on the market, so we put together this buying guide to better understand the uses of each type of level and introduce you to some brands that you may not have known about.

For under $10, an economical plastic level with built-in rules can be one of the best tools for hanging basic shelves and pictures in various configurations. You can get two tools in one without the hassle of using a tape measure and level separately.

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 that dares you to drop their levels over and over, and still offers a lifetime warranty on the vials.

The explanation of levels and their background…

Some of the manufacturers like Kapro and Johnson provide an education section to help understand the variations and uses of levels that may help as a guide.

Choose the right builder level:

  • Mini / Pocket Levels – Self explanatory. Compact and fit in a pocket.
  • Line Levels – Attaches to a string
  • Torpedo Levels (i) 90° vertical and horizontal (ii) 45° (iii) 0-90° adjustable magnetic & non-magnetic (iv) strip magnet (very weak) & high strength magnets (v)  v-groove that contours to pipes
  • Post Levels – Corner mount design that reads two sides for quicker and easier leveling.
  • Screeding Levels – Longer and larger body levels specifically designed for large doorways, landscaping projects, along with cement and stone work.
  • Electronic Levels – Digital readout for precision leveling and angles
  • I-beam / Masonry / Box Levels(i) Magnetic & non-magnetic (ranges from light duty to heavy-duty) (ii) Expandable (iii) Milled or coated edges (Milled edges help eliminate any imperfections for precision flatness – Helps scribing with a true flat edge – Can scuff or mar delicate surfaces) (iv) Coated / painted edges are 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). (v) Lighted (vi) Made from wood, plastic or aluminum. Some models are slim and lightweight, which usually matches the cheaper levels. Not the case with European brands like Stabila or Sola where they design a sleeker more lightweight level across the entire range.

Plenty of builders level brands to choose from:

The following list we comprised primarily focuses on brands that have established names or have a major role in level manufacturing. There are plenty of 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.

Top Brand Levels
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Bahco – “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.

Bostitch and Stanley – Both are owned by the Stanley Black and Decker company, so you’re going to find a similar range and designs of levels.

Crick Tool – Hand crafted wood levels that are Made in the USA.

Empire – A complete line of levels from economical multi-purpose, to advanced construction quality. Plumb any project with choices from line levels, post levels, or box levels. Easy to find at many home improvement, or tool specific stores.

Irwin – Part of the Newell Rubbermaid company, Irwin offers a full line of levels.

Johnson – With a long history in the tool business, Johnson offers a specific level for any project imaginable, to make homeowners, or contractors job easier.

Kapro – 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.

Keson – A very limited product line. No notable products that stand out.

Sands Level & Tool – American made levels that offer a full line of products (wood levels, aluminum, torpedo, post, line, and surface levels).

Smith Level Company – “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) / Sola (austria)  – Producing high quality and accurate levels. Highly visible vials, large door framing levels, screeding levels, and many more. See our review of the Sola Cordinat.

Stabila – German-made products. Arguably one of the best line of levels on the market. “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 – Known for their squares, Swanson also provides a line of levels that consist of box, torpedo, and post.

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