Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tips for Buying a Spirit Level

By Mark J. Donovan

One of the most useful tools for a carpenter or any DIY homeowner is a spirit level. They are used in the process of constructing a home to hanging pictures on a wall. A spirit level is a tool that enables a carpenter or DIY homeowner to determine if a surface is either level (perfectly horizontal) or plumb (perfectly vertical).
When buying a level there are a number of features to look for. Levels come in different lengths and sizes, and are typically constructed out of plastic, aluminum or wood. Relatively speaking they are inexpensive, when compared to other carpenters tools.

When selecting a level you will want to focus on making sure you buy a quality one. One of the key features to look for when selecting a level is to see how accurate the vials are for determining if a surface is either level or plumb. Look for a level that has bubbles such that when the bubbles are centered their ends just touch the inside edges of the line markers on the vial. Cheaper levels have bubbles that are either smaller or larger than the space between the line markers on the vial. This leads to guessing when reading the level. Also look for levels that have glass covers over the level to protect the vials from breaking. Finally look for levels that have bubbles that shift quickly with even the slightest adjustment.

Another area to consider when buying a level is the construction of it. Make sure the edges are perfectly smooth. I have used some levels where the ends have a cap. These caps can sometimes create an ever-so-slight ridge at the point where the cap connects to the main part of the level. This little ridge can play havoc in getting an accurate measurement. Typically the best levels are made out of hardwoods or aluminum, and have lifetime warranties.

The spirit level, (a.k.a. carpenter’s level, box level, or framing level) is the most popular level and comes in a variety of lengths. More popular lengths include 18, 24, and 48 inches. For smaller projects around the home a 24” level, such as the Black and Decker BDSL30 24-Inch 3-in-1 Gecko Grip Level, is probably all you need. If, however, you have framing projects planned then you should probably use a 48” one, such as the Carpentry & Construction Box Beam Level 48".

Electronic levels are the latest in home construction technology. Electronic levels provide vials for manual readings along with digital displays for more accurate measurements. They also provide other information such as percentage and degrees of slope which is helpful when installing drainage pipes or any surface that is angled.

Whether it is a traditional spirit level or one of the newer electronic levels, no homeowner should be without one. Spirit levels are inexpensive and have a million-and-one uses. Just make sure you buy one that meets your specific needs and has the quality to ensure a lifetime of accurate measurements.


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