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The Best Levels: Digital, Spirit and Laser

The entire experience of the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, California, is premised on the fact that the flooring and surrounding environment is uneven, creating the feeling of defying gravity and standing at impossible angles. If only they had a level when they built the place. Of course, it won’t be very exciting for tourists anymore. But the very existence of the Mystery Spot and the many similar roadside attractions are a reminder of the importance of having the best level. Why? Because humans have a pretty good perception of symmetry and evenness. Whether you’re putting up a photo or some shelving, even the slightest degree of asymmetry can be a huge eyesore. And of course, if you’re in construction, ensuring level results are important for more than just aesthetics.

What to Consider Before Buying a Level

The purpose of a level is pretty self-explanatory. Levels measure how parallel a surface is relative to the earth. The way this is accomplished varies by tool. A spirit level (also called a bubble level) is what you probably imagine when you think of a level, and it’s the tool that’s most practical for the average homeowner. A spirit level has a liquid with an air bubble in it, and two lines marked on the glass. When the bubble is between the lines, the surface is level. A spirit level is so named because the liquid inside the vial is typically alcohol. However, spirit levels are not the only options. There are also laser levels and digital levels.

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Laser levels shoot out a visible beam that can be helpful if you need to draw a line for your working area. Within this category, there’s a lot of variety, such as more affordable lasers with spirit levels, as well as more expensive self-leveling laser levels that can project horizontal and vertical beams. These automatically level, meaning you don’t need someone to hold it while you work. Finally, digital levels show a numeric value, eliminating human error. These are more expensive, but they’re highly accurate.

How We Chose the Best Levels

Accuracy is probably the most important factor when looking at levels, but accuracy means something different to the renter who’s hanging up a photo than it does to the contractor who’s building the second floor. Digital levels offer great accuracy and convenience, but they can cost hundreds. A good spirit level might only set you back a few bucks, but you won’t get the reliability and legibility of a numeric value. That’s why we picked out a range of options with different features at a variety of price points to meet your needs, whatever they may be. These are the levels to buy.

1. Stabila Aluminum Box Beam Level Set

If you need a top-of-the-line spirit level and you don’t want to compromise, Stabila’s levels are the way to go. This option includes a set of two levels — there’s one 16″ and one 48″ level. The box levels are made from sturdy yet lightweight aluminum, and they have cutouts in the middle to easily grip them. The end caps are removable.

Pros: Sturdy build. Reliably accurate. Set of two.

Cons: May be overkill for the average homeowner.

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2. DEWALT Line Laser, Self-Leveling, Cross Line

If you need a professional quality laser level, this option from DEWALT is a reliable and convenient option that can be used without any assistance, thanks to the integrated magnetic bracket that makes it easy to mount while you work. The self-leveling design means you can quickly attach it and get a perfectly level beam, every time. Plus, it creates horizontal and vertical lines.

Pros: Self-leveling design. Features vertical and horizontal lines. Integrated magnetic mount for easy placement. IP54 dust and water resistance.

Cons: Some options may be more economical.

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3. Skil 12” Compact & Portable Digital Level

This convenient digital level from SKIL is a versatile tool with several features packed in. There’s a straight-edge ruler for drawing and making quick measurements, in addition to two spirit levels (one vertical and one horizontal). There’s also a digital display that provides real-time results with up and down arrows to direct you. Plus, the magnetic edge means it’ll stay in place when in use.

Pros: Includes bubble levels and a digital level, as well as a ruler. Digital level provides real-time guidance with directional arrows.

Cons: The 12″ level is actually a little longer because of the bumpers on the edge.

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4. Kapro Exodus Professional Box Level

This level from Kapro is 24″ in length, which is a good medium length for home or professional settings. There are three different vials, including a 45-degree level. There’s also a ruler, which protrudes from the top of the level. This allows it to more reliably work as a straight edge for drawing lines, without the cutout of the bubble level getting in the way. It has shock-resistant rubber grips on the end, which are removable as needed.

Pros: Three different levels, including one at a 45-degree angle. Includes a straightedge ruler.

Cons: Ruler has inches only, not metric.

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5. CRAFTSMAN Level, 24-Inch

For the average homeowner, this affordable box beam level from Craftsman will be more than accurate enough. It’s calibrated to be accurate within 0.5mm/m, and the level has three vials to conveniently measure at different angles. There’s a convenient cutout in the middle to carry the level. It comes in three different lengths, and this 24″ size is long enough for shelving but short enough to conveniently store.

Pros: Economical option with three vials. Convenient handgrip.

Cons: No ruler. No 45-degree vial.

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6. Klein Tools 935DAG Digital Electronic Level

This angle gauge from Klein can measure angles and relative angles, and you can switch between different ranges. You can measure between 0-180 degrees or 0-90 degrees. That means that it can also be used as a reliable level. The base of the unit has a strong magnet, too. The compact digital level also comes with a handy carrying case.

Pros: Compact and economical. Comes with a carrying case and batteries. Can be used to measure angles or as a level. Easy to read.

Cons: Screen scratches easily.

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