Tips for Buying a Carpenter’s Level

A Carpenter’s Level should be in every Homeowner’s Tool Box

By Mark J. Donovan

A key tool that should be found in every DIY homeowner’s tool box, or at least near it, is a carpenter’s level. A carpenter’s level, also known as a bubble level, box level, framing level and spirit level, is used for many applications by carpenters and homeowners alike.

A carpenter’s level is used for ensuring a surface area is either horizontally level or vertically plumb. Carpenters and other home contractors use them for tasks such as framing, pluming, tiling, and masonry work. 

Homeowners can use them for the same, but for also such simple tasks as hanging a painting on a wall.

When buying a carpenters level there are several key features to evaluate. First, carpenter levels come in several standard lengths and sizes, and are typically constructed out of plastic, aluminum or wood.

The aluminum and plastic ones frequently are I-Beam constructed, whereas the wooden ones are usually constructed out of one solid piece of hard wood. Prices vary on carpenter levels from around $10 to $150 depending on the quality and size you buy.

When buying a carpenter’s level focus on buying a quality one. A poorly constructed level will cause endless grief both during and after the completion of the home improvement project.

One of the key features to evaluate, when selecting a carpenter’s level, is the construction of the vials on the level that house the bubble.

When buying a carpenter’s level, look for ones that have bubbles such that when the bubbles are centered between the markers on the vial that their ends just touch the inside edges of the markers. Lower quality levels have bubbles that are either larger or smaller than the space between the line markers on the vial.

Tips on buying a carpenters level

Bubbles that are too small or large, relative to the vial markers, lead to inaccurate measurements. Also, look for levels that have bubbles that move quickly with even the slightest tilt.

Levels that have fast reacting bubble movement will provide more precise measurements. Finally, look for carpenter’s levels that have glass covers over the bubble vials to protect them from breakage. The higher quality levels always use a glass cover over the vials.

Another area to consider when buying a level is the actual material used in the construction of it. Carpenter levels that are made out of machined aluminum or hardwood will usually outperform other materials. They are also stronger and sturdier and will more likely withstand the occasional drop.

Also, make sure when selecting a level that the edges are free from burrs and other imperfections that could cause accurate measurements. Their sides should be perfectly smooth. Stay clear of levels that have caps on the ends such that there is a seam on the business sides of the level. These seams can sometimes have ridges on them, or grow ridges due to the susceptibility of catching material in them. Even the slightest ridge can cause inaccurate measurements.

Carpenter’s levels come in a variety of lengths, such as 16 inches, 18 inches, 24 inches, 48 inches, 72 inches and even 96 inches. 

Room Addition Bid Sheet

Use this room addition checklist to save time, money and hassles on your construction project.

The size of the level you buy depends upon its expected use. However, keep in mind that the longer the level the greater the accuracy. For most do it yourself applications a 24 inch level, such as the Johnson Level B10241 24-Inch -InchBig Johnson-Inch Wood Level, is sufficient. For bigger projects, such as framing a home addition, a larger 48 inch level, such as the M-D Building Products 63388 48-Inch Carpentry and Construction Aluminum Level, should be used.

There are several other types of levels besides the standard carpenter’s level. Other levels include:

Line Level

This is a very light weigh level that is designed to hang on a string.

Torpedo Level

The torpedo level, such as the Stanley 43-512 Lighted Shockresistant Torpedo Level is 6-9 inches in length, and is typically used in tight spots. It is also used frequently for installing deck posts.

Water level

This is a length of clear, flexible tubing that has markers on it. The water level works on the principal that water at both ends of the tubing will come to rest at the same height. 

This allows for the transferring of heights around a room or deck area. A water level is frequently used in hanging dropped ceilings and for installing footings on decks.

Electronic levels

Electronic levels have spirit vials for manual readings as well as digital displays for more accurate measurements, such as the M-D Building Products 92379 24-Inch SmartTool with Module And Case. They also provide degrees and percentage of slopes information which is helpful in the installation of drain pipes or any surface that is angled.

Whether you are looking to buy a carpenter’s level or one of the other types, every homeowner should have a level in his toolbox. Carpenter levels are relatively inexpensive and have many uses. To prevent inaccurate measurements and frustrations always look for higher quality ones. Finally, make sure you do not short change yourself on length, as the longer length levels provide more accurate measurements.

For more help on building a home addition, see’s Home Addition Bid Sheets. Our Home Addition Bid Sheets provide you with the knowledge and information on how to plan a home building project, and what to look for when hiring contractors. They also include detailed cost breakdown tables and spreadsheets for estimating your own new home construction building costs.

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