HOME IMPROVEMENT : Keep Your Tool Kit on the Level

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Even the most basic tool kit for any house or apartment dweller should include at least one level. Over the years, you’ll probably find a need for several more and add them to your tool collection.

This simple, easy-to-use tool is a necessity for checking work in a true horizontal plane (called level ) and a true vertical plane (called plumb ). It is also indispensable for adjusting things such as record players, pendulum clocks and washing machines or refrigerators that must be plumb or level to operate properly.

Levels come in a variety of types and range in length from a few inches to several feet. The carpenter’s torpedo and line levels are the most commonly used types by homeowners.

Carpenter’s levels range in length from 18 to 48 inches. Specialized masons’ levels are even longer. But for most home use, a 24-incher is probably the best, combining convenience with enough length for almost all requirements.


Most levels come with three vials: a lengthwise center vial with two bubble tubes for checking horizontal surfaces. These tubes are marked and aligned so that the lower tube works with the bottom surface and the top tube with the upper surface.

This feature makes a level more convenient--you do not have to turn the level over to make a quick check--but not necessarily more accurate.

Still, it’s a feature to look for to indicate a quality level. One or two end vials aligned perpendicular to the edges of the level check plumb and a 45-degree vial checks that angle accurately.

The torpedo level is much shorter, usually no more than 9 inches long and is handy for working in tight spots where a long carpenter’s level will not fit. It has flat surfaces top and bottom with canoe-shaped sides and pointed ends for reaching into corners when checking walls or cabinets.


Newer models of torpedo levels have three vials, like carpenter’s levels, and some have a magnetic edge that sticks it in place while checking steel shelving or appliances, freeing both hands.

Of course, these don’t hold position on wooden surfaces, but they can also be used like ordinary levels.

The line level is shorter still, usually about 3 inches long. It has two hooks on top so that you can hang the instrument from a string stretched tightly across a wide span. It’s a good tool for masons doing foundation and grading work or for house builders and construction carpentry.

You can also get a bull’s-eye level, which shows plumb in all directions at the same time. This is a disk with a flat bottom and radial guide lines.


Place it on a flat surface like a table top or a post end and it will show whether the surface is true or tilted.

Bull’s-eye levels are particularly handy when permanently mounted in a recreational vehicle or trailer. After leveling the vehicle on a paved surface, permanently mount the bubble bull’s-eye level where the driver can see it.

Then, when pulling into a campsite, the driver has only to maneuver the vehicle until the bubble shows that it is level. Then nobody will fall out of bed.