Make Sure the Next Level You Buy is ‘On the Level’

(ARA) – Levels, those hand tools with bubbles encased in blue or yellow fluid that move when you tilt them, make up a fraction of the 4.7 billion dollars do-it-yourselfers and professionals spend on tools each year, but these handy precision instruments can mean the difference between a job done well and a job done over.

Few things can be more frustrating than a finished job that isn’t level. But knowing a few simple details about levels, how they are made and how they are used, can ensure that the next level you buy helps get your projects right for years to come.


The first thing to look for in a level is accuracy and all levels aren’t created equal. Some manufacturing companies have higher accuracy standards than others and often the difference comes down to a term most people don’t even associate with levels – sensitivity.

“Sensitivity relates to the shape of the inside of the bubble vial,” says Bob Hickey, a research engineer with Empire Level Manufacturing Company in Mukwonago, Wis., a company that holds more than 40 level patents. “Most vials in levels today range from 38 to 52 arc-minutes.” The lower number means the inside of the vial is flatter and the level is more sensitive; the greater the sensitivity, the more easily the user can see an out-of-level position.

“A 38-arc-minute vial will be accurate to five ten-thousands (.0005) of an inch, or about one-half the width of a dime, over a six-foot length,” says Hickey. “Having a more accurate level is worth the marginal increased cost.”


Over the past 18 months, some level manufacturing companies have begun to experiment with the color of the fluid encased in the level vial. Traditionally the fluid has universally been yellowish-green, about the color of antifreeze. In fact, the original fluid was a form of antifreeze to prevent the vial from freezing, rendering the lever useless. Blue fluids however, along with bolder blue marks engraved on vials, have enhanced visibility making the tips of the bubble easier to read more consistently in a wider spectrum of light, from bright, almost blinding sunlight, to dim, almost dark, night.


Whether at home on a ladder, or at a job site on scaffolding, eventually levels will be dropped, or at least, banged around a truck bed or thrown in the car trunk. Levels that can’t withstand this normal treatment and stay accurate don’t last long on a job site. Ultimately the quality of a project is sacrificed when level frames are twisted, dented or bent, because the level is no longer accurate.

To extend the life of a level, look for soft or co-molded end caps that absorb shock and protect the level frame. One new series of levels, True Blue, actually uses dual-density shock absorbing end caps to protect a frame that is made from aircraft grade aluminum to maintain tool integrity. It is also important to look for shock absorbing material surrounding the ‘plumb’ vials and hand grips.


Though rare, there are levels and other hand tools that come with lifetime limited warranties that will replace the tool if it fails to deliver promised performance. The e70 box level, made by Empire, a leading company that has produced levels for almost 100 years, is warranted for the lifetime of the buyer.

Whether you’re looking for a torpedo level, a box level, an I-beam level, or a combination square, the keys to purchasing a dependable tool are accuracy, visibility, durability and a good warranty. Keeping these four things in mind will assure that your projects are always ‘on the level.’

Courtesy of ARA Content