The Best Levels

We help you level the playing field on these accuracy-oriented tools and square away the best levels for any project on your to-do list.

Best Overall

The Best Levels Option: Craftsman CMHT82347 48-Inch Box Beam Level

Craftsman CMHT82347 48-Inch Box Beam Level

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Best Bang For The Buck

The Best Levels Option: Johnson 9-Inch Orange Structo-Cast Torpedo Level

Johnson 9-Inch Orange Structo-Cast Torpedo Level

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Upgrade Pick

The Best Levels Option: Stabila Type 196 Complete Spirit Levels Kit

Stabila Type 196 Complete Spirit Levels Kit

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In almost any home renovation, achieving the best results requires some type of level. Whether you’re trying to hang cabinets or determine how much slope is in a floor, having the best level on hand is key to a successful project.

Some projects won’t work well if they’re out of level or plumb (the vertical term for level). For instance: When hanging a new door in a rough opening, if the door jamb isn’t plumb, the door won’t shut correctly, or at all in some cases. Consider building a DIY workbench—if it’s not level, screws and tools might roll off the sides, which is a real nuisance and hindrance to workflow.

On just about any DIY build or repair—laying a deck, trimming table legs, hanging pictures, or painting stripes on an accent wall—starting with a level reference is the only way to achieve consistent and accurate results. There’s a perfect tool for each of these scenarios, and this guide will help you choose from among the best levels for your next project.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Craftsman CMHT82347 48-Inch Box Beam Level
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Johnson 9-Inch Orange Structo-Cast Torpedo Level
  3. UPGRADE PICK: Stabila Type 196 Complete Spirit Levels Kit
  4. BEST DIGITAL: Klein Tools Digital Angle Gauge and Level
  5. BEST 24-INCH: Irwin Tools 1050 Magnetic 24-Inch I-Beam Level
  6. BEST 72-INCH: Swanson Tool 72-Inch Savage Professional Level
  7. BEST FOR DIY: Goldblatt 3-Piece Torpedo Spirit Level Set
  8. BEST POCKET LEVEL: Craftsman CMHT82390 9-Inch Box Torpedo Level
  9. BEST LASER LEVEL: Bosch GLL55 Self-Leveling Cross-Line Red-Beam Laser
A close-up of a person's finger on the buttons of the best level option
Photo: amazon.com

How We Chose the Best Levels

The huge variety of levels available can be confusing for those new to DIY projects. Names like spirit level, bubble level, or torpedo level don’t make things any easier. In putting together this collated selection, we wanted to both explain the differences (see below) and ensure there were solutions for all needs and budgets.

Accuracy is obviously a key issue, and we also discuss that in detail below. We included a wide variety of sizes to help shoppers choose the best level suitable for all tasks. We have recommended digital and laser levels that offer easy-to-read displays or project a nearly perfect beam for layout purposes. Durability and stability are important, particularly with jobsite tools, so we paid close attention to materials and construction. Magnetic levels can make life easier by offering hands-free use on ferrous surfaces, and that was another feature we looked at.

Our Top Picks

Levels come in a lot of varieties. From small pocket or torpedo levels to 6 footers, there’s a level for your project. Generally speaking, you want to choose the right length of level for a project’s size and needs. With this in mind, here are our top picks for the best levels.

Best Overall

Craftsman CMHT82347 48-Inch Box Beam Level

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When it comes to a level for all-around purposes, it’s tough to beat a 4 footer. This 48-inch level from Craftsman has all of the features needed in a quality level: sturdy construction, easy-to-read vials, and a light weight. The built-in grips are especially handy for hanging on a shop wall or carrying to a project site.

The aluminum construction is sturdy, so there is no need to worry about clamping it to use as a saw guide or straight edge. The plastic end caps help to reduce shock as well should this level ever fall. It’ll serve its purpose well for nearly any project, from hanging doors to framing or finishing work.

Product Specs

  • Type: Box beam
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: No

Pros

  • Affordable all-around level with box-beam design for long-term stability and durability
  • Lightweight aluminum construction with rubber end caps helps absorb shocks if dropped
  • Continuous flat edge allows for full-length marking, or can be clamped as a saw guide

Cons

  • There are very occasional complaints about accuracy, though transit damage is a possibility

Get the Craftsman 48-inch level at Amazon or Lowe’s.

Best Bang For The Buck

Johnson 9-Inch Orange Structo-Cast Torpedo Level

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Home decor DIYers likely will find that the Johnson 9-inch torpedo level is a great choice. Its compact size and low price require little in the way of storage or worry, and it’s ideal for a tool box or kitchen junk drawer. The tool can help level picture frames, hang shelves, or check any other projects for level. It features three vials, so you can check for that show level, plumb, and 45-degree angles without issue. It has a V-groove edge to rest on pipes, but it also can sit on curtain rods.

This level is all about value and convenience. It doesn’t have a magnet, but including a magnet would likely bump the price up slightly. Its bright orange color is easy to spot, no matter how cluttered that junk drawer gets.

Product Specs

  • Type: Torpedo
  • Material: High-impact plastic
  • Magnetic: No

Pros

  • Useful low-cost addition to a DIY tool box or the pocket of overalls or aprons
  • Accuracy of 0.012 inch per foot is more than acceptable for shelf and picture hanging
  • Made of impact-resistant plastic with a V-groove for pipes and conduits

Cons

  • While problems are rare, there are a few reports of misaligned vials

Get the Johnson level at Amazon, Lowe’s, or Walmart.

Upgrade Pick

Stabila Type 196 Complete Spirit Levels Kit

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Don’t let the Stabila kit’s professional appearance (and price tag) intimidate you. These levels are easy to use and offer a ton of value. This kit includes six levels: a 78-inch, 48-inch, 32-inch, 24-inch, and 16-inch, as well as a 10-inch torpedo. This variety offers the precise size of level needed for jobs from decks to doors to picture hanging. These highly engineered levels are incredibly accurate, regardless of orientation (vials up or down). As expected from a high-end set of levels, they have shock-absorbing rubber caps to protect the investment if they should ever drop. The levels come in a handy carrying case for keeping everything together.

Not everyone needs a set like this. It truly is an upgrade situation. If you’re OK with fewer levels or a little less accuracy, you can go with a far less expensive set.

Product Specs

  • Type: Box beam and torpedo
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: 10-inch torpedo only

Pros

  • Comprehensive set of professional-quality tools from one of the industry’s leading brands
  • Highly transparent, hard-wearing acrylic glass vials have special frame to ensure long-term accuracy
  • Features comfortable hand grips, protective rubber end caps, and travel/storage case

Cons

  • Complaints are virtually unknown, but the price could be beyond many DIYers

Get the Stabila level kit at Amazon.

Best Digital

Klein Tools Digital Angle Gauge and Level

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There’s a lot to like about the Klein Tools digital level. It not only gives quick, accurate readings of level and plumb, it also can be used to measure angles and has a zero reset to check relative angles. The tough plastic body is drop tested to a height of 6 feet 6 inches and features dust and water resistance to the independent IP42 standard.

One of the big advantages with most digital levels is a clear, easy-to-read display. The Klein Tools model registers in 0.1-degree increments and auto rotates so it can be read at any angle without straining the neck. Rare earth magnets in the base lock it to ferrous metal surfaces, and there are V-grooves for leveling pipework. It’s also nice to find that the two AAA batteries required are included, as is a soft case.

Product Specs

  • Type: Digital
  • Material: Plastic
  • Magnetic: Yes

Pros

  • High-quality, multifunction digital level can also measure and set angles
  • Tough case is water- and dust-resistant and has a 6-foot 6-inch drop-protection rating
  • Clear LCD display auto rotates for easy viewing at different angles

Cons

  • Customer satisfaction is generally very high but a few have reported screen failures

Get the Klein Tools level at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Acme Tools.

Best 24-Inch

Irwin Tools 1050 Magnetic 24-Inch I-Beam Level

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Sometimes a manufacturer comes up with features that just make sense, and that’s what Irwin Tools has done with this 24-inch level. Two of the vials are preset for level and plumb, while the third rotates to show the user either the angle they are looking for or how a workpiece is out of level. This aluminum level includes a magnet and V-groove for leveling pipes—great for plumbing projects, especially when used with the rotating vial.

This is an I-beam-style level instead of a box, which means its body is I-shaped. The I-beam design is fine for general leveling uses, but it can be challenging to clamp if you’re using it as a straight edge.

Product Specs

  • Type: I-beam
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: Yes

Pros

  • I-beam construction is lightweight, durable, and resistant to distortion
  • Has the usual vials for level and plumb, plus a clever rotating vial for angles
  • Full-length magnet and V-groove provide dependable performance on different surfaces

Cons

  • Faults aren’t common, but there have been problems with center vial accuracy

Get the Irwin Tools level at Amazon or Acme Tools.

Best 72-Inch

Swanson Tool 72-Inch Savage Professional Level

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The most common use for a 72-inch level is plumbing door jambs, both in new construction and renovations. In projects where a finished floor is already in place, it is important to protect it as much as possible. Swanson’s gel end caps do just that by keeping a soft surface between this aluminum level and the finished floor. They also provide excellent shock absorption, maintaining the level’s accuracy for a long time. The level features three vials for quick reference and a V-groove for sitting on pipes or curtain and closet rods. Another nice feature is that this level has 2- and 4-degree markings for tradespeople who need to keep an eye on drainage.

If this level could do with one improvement, it would be a more substantial or magnified center vial. At 72 inches, there’s plenty of room for a little more material around the vial. Otherwise, this is an excellent level.

Product Specs

  • Type: Box beam
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: Yes (nonmagnetic also available)

Pros

  • Pro-grade level with heavy-duty box-beam construction to ensure rigidity
  • Supershock gel end caps protect the level and bumpers eliminate marring on surfaces
  • Has 2- and 4-degree markings for drainage work where a slight slope is necessary

Cons

  • It’s a lot of money, and vial faults are not unknown

Get the Swanson Tool level at Amazon.

Best For DIY

Goldblatt 3-Piece Torpedo Spirit Level Set

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If the Stabila kit includes pro-level variety and investment, this set from Goldblatt covers the average DIYer’s needs without the upgraded price tag. It includes 48-inch and 24-inch levels, plus a 9-inch torpedo level—all featuring aluminum construction. Each has three vials, and the 48-inch and 24-inch box-beam levels both have shock-resistant end caps and hand grips. The torpedo contains a level, plumb, 45-degree window, built-in magnet, and an integrated light that runs on two AAA batteries.

The only problem with this kit is that the 48- and 24-inch levels don’t have 45-degree vials. Not all levels do (the more expensive Stabilas don’t, for example), so it’s not necessarily expected. It might be an improvement, particularly for the 24-inch level.

Product Specs

  • Type: Box beam and torpedo
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: Torpedo only

Pros

  • An affordable set that provides levels for every task around the house and yard
  • Interesting patented design allows you to read vials from the side or front
  • Torpedo level includes useful scale in inches and metric, plus a night light

Cons

  • No 45-degree vials on 24- or 48-inch levels, and a few reports of inaccuracies

Get the Goldblatt level set at Amazon.

Best Pocket Level

Craftsman CMHT82390 9-Inch Box Torpedo Level

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This 9-inch Craftsman torpedo level has the same high-end build quality as the company’s 48-inch model. The aluminum body makes this torpedo stable and robust, while the over-molded end caps absorb shock if dropped, which often happens to torpedo levels. It has three vials for finding level, plumb, and 45-degree angles. Possibly the best feature of all is the magnified center vial, which makes it easier to read. That’s a great bonus on a small level, since they can be difficult to use unless you’re very close.

This level is a little “chunky.” The aluminum construction allows it to be a little larger than most hard plastic pocket levels while still being lightweight, but the bulky size might be an issue for some.

Product Specs

  • Type: Box-beam torpedo
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Magnetic: Yes

Pros

  • Unusual to find high-quality box-beam construction on such a small level
  • Has a magnified center vial and is a convenient size for most tool boxes
  • Over-molded end caps absorb shock and can prevent marring of workpieces

Cons

  • The only negative is that some think the magnet should be stronger

Get the Craftsman 9-inch level at Amazon, Lowe’s, or Walmart.

Best Laser Level

Bosch GLL55 Self-Leveling Cross-Line Red-Beam Laser

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Laser levels like this one from Bosch provide nearly perfect level and plumb lines on interior and exterior surfaces. It has a 50-foot range, and it stays within 0.125-inch of accuracy at 33 feet. It can also project both horizontal and vertical laser beams simultaneously if required. The build is water- and dust-resistant for added durability and includes a pendulum lock to keep the level’s internal mechanisms safe during transport.

For the best results, use this level with a tripod. This kit doesn’t come with one, so its use really requires buying one or finding a relatively level surface to place it on, which isn’t always possible on an outdoor project.

Product Specs

  • Type: Laser
  • Material: Plastic
  • Magnetic: Yes (using detachable bracket)

Pros

  • Comprehensive kit includes the laser level, magnetic bracket, laser target, hard case, and batteries
  • Projects horizontal, vertical, or crossline beams with 0.125-inch accuracy over 33 feet
  • Smart pendulum system self-levels, and VisiMax adjusts beams for maximum brightness without overheating

Cons

  • Although the price is relatively competitive, it’s still a significant investment

Get the Bosch level at Amazon or Acme Tools.

Jump to Our Top Picks

What to Consider When Choosing a Level

While all levels basically do the same job, the differences in the way they do it can affect their suitability for particular tasks. While most are capable of adapting to a variety of jobs, many professionals and keen DIYers will have at least two different models for maximum accuracy in specific situations. In the following section, we look at the types of levels available and their key features.

Types of Levels

The most common type of level is the manual spirit level (it gets its name because the liquid inside is normally mineral spirits, not water). It’s also called a bubble level for obvious reasons. More recent introductions are the digital level and laser level. Not covered in this article are optical levels (generally used for surveying) and water levels that are often homemade devices used when a spirit level isn’t long enough.

Traditional/Manual

The modern manual spirit level has been around for more than 360 years, and in that time it has changed very little. A small air bubble trapped inside a vial filled with mineral spirits indicates level (or plumb) when it is in the middle of the vial. The number of vials on a level can vary between two and four, though most have three. These are for level, plumb, and 45 degrees. A rotating vial for multiple angles is occasionally included.

Box-beam levels are a type of spirit level that is generally rectangular in shape. I-beam levels are similar but lighter, using flanges along the horizontal top and bottom instead of the full-length construction of a box level.

The smallest manual levels are called torpedo levels because of their shape. These can be as little as 6 inches long. Larger models are usually called a carpenter’s or contractor’s level, and these can be anywhere from 24 to 96 inches long.

Digital

A number of manual levels offer digital displays. These may be provided in conjunction with traditional vials, or the vials might be omitted. The main advantage with these devices is that the display is easy to read, particularly in poor light. They can also provide readings for different angles thanks to a built-in inclinometer. Some will deliver an audible alert when a particular angle is reached.

Dedicated digital levels, like the Klein Tools model on this list, are more compact than even torpedo levels and are particularly useful in cramped spaces. They might include several preprogrammed features like common pitch angles, and they may be able to indicate an X and Y axis at the same time. Some have rotating displays for reading easily in different positions. Most we found do not measure distance, so a separate digital tape measure would be necessary if that function is required.

Laser

A laser level differs from other kinds of levels in that it doesn’t measure or indicate a level or plumb state, but instead projects a laser beam to work along. The beam can be horizontal, vertical, or both. As a result, a laser level is best used for initial layout, not for checking work in progress.

In the right conditions, a laser can transmit 50 feet or more. However, using laser levels can prove a struggle in bright sunlight. Special glasses may be provided to improve visibility, and a laser target may also be used. Some also incorporate a stud finder.

Accuracy

Accuracy is obviously a key issue. Many spirit levels are quoted as accurate to 0.0005 inch or 0.029 degrees, which sounds impressive but in real terms, precision depends on how carefully the user checks the position of the bubble within the vial and ensures that the items being checked and the level are steady. Generally speaking, it’s best to use the longest level possible because they register smaller variations. However, this isn’t always practical, and hence the variety of sizes available.

In most situations a traditional spirit level is more than adequate, but when used correctly, digital levels provide a more accurate readout. There’s also little chance of error from the human element. Laser levels can project an almost perfectly level line over dozens of feet when accurate laying out is required, something even the longest bubble level could not match.

Durability

Low-cost torpedo levels are often made of plastic, which is sometimes impact-resistant. Large models tend to be aluminum, which provides a good balance between strength and weight. To maximize rigidity (vital in a spirit level), these either have an I-beam shape (similar to many steel construction girders) or rectangular box sections. The latter is often considered best but is more difficult to manufacture, and so often more expensive. Plastic or rubber end caps are often added to help prevent damage to a level if dropped, though they don’t necessarily prevent bending.

Digital and laser levels have complex electronics inside that can be prone to damage in harsh work environments. High-quality devices are tested to the international ingress protection (IP) standard that gives a rating for dust and water protection. They may also have a drop-test rating that gives the height of a fall the tool should be expected to survive.

Other Features

Magnets are common to all types of level, allowing users to fix them to any ferrous metal object and thus freeing their hands. Ferrous materials contain iron, which is basically any steel but not brass, copper, or aluminum.

A V-groove is also common along one or more edges. This makes it easier to keep the level steady on pipework and conduit.

On some traditional levels, the center bubble has two lines. The middle two indicate level, and the outer ones indicate an in-line level element of 2 or 4 degrees, which is commonly used when laying guttering or drainage pipes.

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Tom Scalisi

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Tom Scalisi is a freelance writer, author, and blogger with a passion for building. Whether it’s a DIY project or an entire website, Tom loves creating something from the ground up, stepping back, and admiring a job well done.

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