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Types of Levels
Written by Elizabeth Wood
Editor In Chief, United Home Improvement


A level is a device, containing a sealed glass or plastic tube, which is partly filled with a clear liquid. The liquid is usually water, alcohol, chloroform, or some other clear liquid. The device is used for leveling because an air bubble is left in the exact center of the tube when the instrument is on an even horizontal plane.

The tube containing the liquid and air bubble is often referred to as the vial and it can be mounted differently. Some are fixed permanently in place at the time of manufacture, others are adjustable or replaceable. The most common kinds of levels include carpenter's levels, masons levels, torpedo levels, line levels, and water levels.

Carpenter's Levels:
• Two-foot levels consisting of a wooden body and one or more bubble tubes.
• Typically they are about three inches high and an inch or so deep.
• Usually have three bubble vials, one at each end mounted crosswise for establishing true vertical, and one mounted at the center along the length of level for horizontal leveling.
• Generally made from made from woods like rosewood, ebony, and mahogany.
• Vials are replaceable in many new models.
• Some have a vial set at a forty-five degree angle to the length of the tool.

Mason's Level:
• Four feet levels, sometimes longer.
• Usually have three bubble vials, one at each end mounted crosswise for establishing true vertical, and one mounted at the center along the length of level for horizontal leveling.
• Greater accuracy than carpenter's levels due to extended length.
• Most commonly used on cabinet installation.
• Vials are replaceable in many new models.
• Some have a vial set at a forty-five degree angle to the length of the tool.

Torpedo Level:
• Short level. Typically nine inches long and tapered at the ends.
• Often used in deck building to set posts plumb.
• Also referred to as a canoe or boat-shaped level.
• The body of the level contains two or three spirit tubes.
• Commonly used when working in tight spaces because it's small.

Line Level:
• Small device designed to be hung from a taut string and stretched between two points to be leveled with one another. Accuracy depends on the tautness of the string.
• Should not be used where precision is important.
• Often used when framing a new floor or ceiling, or in squaring off an old ceiling. Other tasks include lining up concrete piers or fence posts and checking the pitch of a driveway or gutter.
Water Level:
• A hose or tube filled with water. The water usually contains a few drops of food coloring to make the water levels easier to read.
• Commonly used in deck construction to transfer elevations from one post to another. Also used to locate a dropped ceiling.
• Allows objects that are separated by some obstacle, such as a tree, to be leveled.
• It can be of virtually any size, allowing one to level objects that are many feet apart.
• The surface of the water at both ends of the hose must come to rest at the same height, allowing transfer of elevations.
• A properly made water level should be accurate to approximately one-sixteenth on an inch.

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