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Best Levels

Updated October 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 24 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 154 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best levels

    Last Updated October 2018

    A good level is a basic yet indispensable tool. Whether you're putting up a shelf or framing an entire room, a level is invaluable in helping you get any job horizontal and upright.

    But with prices anywhere from $10 to more than ten times that amount, choosing the right level isn't necessarily easy. 

    The levels in this article win our endorsements for quality and value. If you’d like to know more about levels, please continue reading this brief but comprehensive report.

    If you're buying a long level, check for hanging holes. When a level has holes, it’s easy (and quite convenient) to store it upright on a nail or screw on your garage wall.

    Choosing the right level

    A level allows you to check that something is positioned at the correct angle. Often this is in either a horizontal of vertical position, but not always.

    The mechanism couldn't be simpler.

    • A bubble, captured in a liquid, is held inside a clear plastic or acrylic vial. Usually there are alignment marks.

    • One or more vials is fixed onto, or into, a beam of some kind. The beam rests on the surface to be leveled.

    • You raise or lower one end of the level until the bubble is centered in the vial, and then you make any needed markings. Job done.

    Are all levels are the same? Not quite.

    • Very small “keyring” levels exist, but these are novelty items that shouldn’t be viewed as truly functional.

    • The standard DIY level, often called a torpedo level, can be found in tool boxes all over the world. Usually between five and 12 inches long, they're an excellent multi-purpose tool. A torpedo level might have anywhere from two to four vials, giving you the ability to check horizontal, vertical, 30°, and 45° angles.

    • Carpenter and construction levels are anywhere from 14 to 48 inches in length. Usually with vials for horizontal and vertical, they occasionally have a 45° vial – or one that can be rotated to your chosen angle.

    • Post levels have three vials. The level itself is a right-angle construction that wraps around the corner of a square post. It's self-centering if you have a round post or pipe. This enables you to check for plumb (upright) and level. Some are magnetic, and some have rubber straps to secure them to the post so you can work hands-free.

    • There are levels specifically designed for bending conduit. Some have a single vial, but most have four. They can be fitted to the conduit with a thumb screw; angles of 0°, 30°, 45°, and 90° can easily be seen as the conduit is bent.

    • Circular levels, also known as bullseye levels, are round with a single circle, a series of concentric circles, or even cross-hairs. Sometimes called inclinometers, they measure deflection in any direction. Usually they're permanently fixed to machinery or equipment in situations where maintaining level needs to be regularly monitored.

    EXPERT TIP

    For highest accuracy, always use the longest level possible.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    What are levels made of?

    Small, cheap levels of six to nine inches in length are often made of plastic. Frequently they have a magnetic strip embedded into one edge. Though the cost is low, accuracy can be poor.

    Better levels of six to 12 inches in length are made from aluminum – often cast aluminum – which is still light but also very rigid. It's not necessarily more durable than plastic, but these levels are better-made and thus more accurate.

    Larger levels come in two forms:

    • I-Beam

    As the name suggests, these levels have an I-shaped profile. It's the same idea as construction girders. You can have considerable length and retain rigidity but not have the weight that a solid beam would have. Aluminum keeps the weight down.

    • Box beam

    These levels come in the form of a light, hollow steel or aluminum box. Strength is maintained over several feet of length.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    If you're looking for a magnetic level, rare-earth magnets provide a much stronger grip than ordinary ones.

    Other considerations

    • The liquid in most levels is yellow or green. This gives good bubble clarity in a variety of light conditions. A few levels have blue liquid; we've been unable to identify any discernible difference in performance with this color.

    • Some levels have a rule along one edge. This can be useful for measuring and alignment.

    • Longer construction levels may have hand holes. These are particularly convenient when working above head height.

    • Some levels have vials that can be replaced if they get broken, though these are not common and tend to be premium-priced models.

    • A manufacturer's confidence in its product can often be judged by the warranty offered. Some levels have a lifetime warranty – so the maker must be pretty sure it will last!

    Plastic or rubber end caps help protect your level if it gets dropped.

    FAQ

    Q. Why do levels come in so many different lengths?

    A. The longer the distance you can check, the more accurate the result. Carpenters, builders, and construction engineers use levels up to four feet long to check beams, floors, and so on. Of course, that's not practical in many situations – and a four-foot level won't fit into a toolbox very easily, either. On the market, you’ll find a variety of lengths to suit different trades.

    Q. I’ve seen the terms level, bubble level, and spirit level. Is there any difference between them?

    A. No, they all describe the same thing. The liquid that traps the bubble is usually ethanol – a kind of alcohol – thus giving the name “spirit” level.

    Q. How can I check if my level is accurate?

    A. Put it on a flat surface. It doesn't have to be level, but it shouldn't have bumps or ridges. You need to be able to mark on it with a pencil, so don't choose anything precious.

    Trace the position of both ends using a pencil. Look at the bubble, and remember its position. It may not be in the center, but that's not important. You're checking the accuracy of your level, not the surface.

    Turn the level horizontally through 180°. Align it with the end marks carefully. The bubble should go back to the same position; uphill or downhill isn't important.

    If the bubble is in a different place, your level isn't accurate. Unfortunately, a level can't be repaired. The only option is to replace it.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Ciera
      Ciera
      Production Assistant
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor

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