Keep things straight with a good level

There's an old saying: measure twice, cut once. It's good advice, and there are few measuring tools that can help you be a more efficient handyman or professional carpenter than the level. Levels are useful for all kinds of different projects, from hanging a picture on the living room wall to putting up a load-bearing beam in a new house. Levels have come a long way, too: in the past, it was the traditional bubble level, or carpenter's level, that helped confirm something was straight and even. But today new laser levels offer hands-free ways to get the job done. Here's a look at several different types of level to help you determine which one is right for your project.

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Carpenter's Level

The old carpenter's level, or spirit level, employs a bubble vial with three designated areas. When you can get the bubble into the middle section, you've found a perfectly flat surface. It's a simple idea and a simple tool: most bubble levels are made of either hardwood or metal (typically aluminum) and range in length from 2 feet to as long as 6 feet.

Recent models have added new electronic functions to the traditional bubble vial, including meters that can calculate roof pitch, staircase slope, etc. Of course, the more features available, the higher the price. In some cases, a clamp can be useful in helping to keep your bubble level in position.

Laser Level

The laser line level is a cheap, handy and efficiently helpful tool in the completion of home projects. Many come with a suction cup attachment, magnetic mounts or other adhesives that allow the device to grip a wall, meaning it can guide your determination of the perfectly level line or edge, and maintain that position without having to be continually readjusted. Newer models have all kinds of features, including preset angles and self-leveling functions. Most laser levels are roughly the same price as bubble levels.

Dumpy Level

The dumpy level has been used for generations to help surveyors plot a section of land for future development. It most often rests on a tripod and has 360-degree rotation. This optical instrument is critical during the first stages of a construction project.