Probably the most unsung tool in a carpenter or handymans arsenal is a level. Ensuring that something is plumb is an essential part of any job, large or small, which makes a level an indispensable part of their toolbox. In this article, we’ll take a look at a number of tips on choosing the best level.
The most important part of your level is ensuring that it is as accurate as possible. That being said, levels can be accurate within certain tolerances, which may change depending on use in standard or inverted measuring. You will want to find a level that has a very tight tolerance, which includes .5mm per meter in standard usage and .75mm per meter when inverted. It is only at these tight tolerances that you can be sure of the best accuracy.
Of course, many builders use construction levels in several directions and positions throughout the workday, so it is important to select a level built for inverted measuring. This means that the vial can be on the bottom when the level is flush against the object, which gives you more flexibility when working.
Also as a rule of thumb, you should be suspicious of levels that don’t list their tolerances or that swing too wildly when in standard and inverted positions. A level that is accurate in one direction but not the other will limit your ability to create accurate measurements and won’t be useful.
Last, you’ll want to choose a level that has an anti-static vial. This means that when you are near a static loan, the measurement won’t be affected by static electricity.
As you know, construction sites can put your tools through the ringer. Even with every safety precaution, your level can be dropped and mishandled--leaving your level inaccurate or unusable. Therefore, you should choose a level that’s made of a durable material, like aluminum, with cushioned and capped ends to protect it from accidents. The vial should be fixed and unbreakable, as well as having the ability to perform well in a variety of temperatures. As the temperature drops, the vial’s liquid may become more viscous, slowing down the time it takes to make measurements, so be sure to choose a level that uses ethanol instead of water--which can crack in extreme temperatures.
As obvious as it sounds, the visibility of the vial is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of your level. You should think about all of the different environments that you will regularly use your level in: low light, above your head, a few feet away from you. Unnecessary eye strain for a poorly illuminated vial can affect the quality of your work.
Because of this, you should choose a vial that is green--one of the most visible colors that can be accurately measured at a distance. Look for vials with green liquid and green contrasts, with also a magnified vial--all of which will make for a more accurate read. While you may be tempted to use a LED-powered level, you should know that those designs tend to be more fragile and can be inoperable if batteries die out.