All About Levels, Plumb Bobs and Guide Lines

Levels are essential to many DIY jobs because they ensure that guide lines or marks are precisely horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb). You can also use them to set accurate angled guides.
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Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Carpenter's Level

This contains three vials and is the most versatile level. The vial in the middle is used to determine the horizontal level, while some carpenter's levels have a vertical end vial that can determine plumb. Carpenter's levels are available in several sizes ranging from 24 inches to 6 feet.

Pocket Level (Torpedo Level)

This small level is designed to be used when a carpenter's level is too long. One face of a pocket level is often magnetic, so that it can be stuck to a metal surface such as a refrigerator door or a range hood.

Checking a Level's Accuracy

It is wise to check the accuracy of a level from time to time. Hold the level against a wall and draw a line that it indicates is horizontal. Turn the level around 180 degrees and draw a second horizontal line parallel to the first. Measure the gap between the two lines at several points. If the gap is uneven, the level is no longer accurate and should be discarded. Use the same principle to test the vertical accuracy of the level by measuring the gap between two lines that the level considers vertical.

Post Level

A post level is used for accurately positioning upright posts. The level's plastic casing fits around the corner of the post and is strapped into place, leaving both hands free to adjust the post's position until it is plumb. A post level has three vials, each positioned at right angles to the others.

Laser Level Equipment

Laser levels combine the principles of the basic level with laser technology. It uses a beam to provide an accurate guide line. A laser level can also work in the same way as a string line, helping to position fence posts. A laser level is used on a tripod (bottom), and the tripod adapter (middle, left) has its own leveling vial and an angle-adjusting mechanism so that its level can be adjusted without moving the tripod. Special goggles are worn to help see the laser's beam.

Laser Gradient Level

There are several vials along the length of a laser gradient level. One will be set to give a horizontal guide; the others are set to four different gradients. The laser projects a line showing your chosen gradient over several yards. This can be useful when installing gutters or laying out a patio. In both cases a slight gradient is required, and this level can provide that measurement with great accuracy.

Water Level

Although rarely used now, you can use a water level to calculate levels and gradients over long distances or around obstacles. Run water into a tube until it is nearly full. Fasten one end in place so that the water level is at the required height, and take the other end to where you need to mark a guide line at the same level. The water levels at each end of the tube will always be at exactly the same height.

Plumb Bob

A plumb line consists of a symmetrically shaped weight, or bob, suspended from a piece of string. Gravity ensures that the string will always fall in a direct, vertical line and therefore provide an accurate guide.

Chalk Line

A chalk line will enable you to mark a straight guide line on any surface. A manufactured chalk line has a chalk reservoir in its body, so that the line is chalked whenever it is extended or wound back in. A plumb line consists of a symmetrically shaped weight, or bob, suspended from a piece of string. Gravity ensures that the string will always fall in a direct, vertical line.

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