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June 2008
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Plumb, Square, and Level Hand Held Levels

In achieving Plumb, Level and Square, Spirit Levels are a must have item for your home tool collection. They allow you to establish Plumb and Level quickly. Beam Levels come in a number of sizes from a few inches to many feet. The most useful for the remodeler are the 12”, 24”, and 48”. If you are hiring out your work, and your contractor or subcontractors do not have these in their tool kits, Run Away! You cannot set doors, windows or cabinets without them.

Metal, Wood, Plastic, and fiberglass, are the predominant offerings. I am a metal guy. You can pay a little or a lot for them. You get what you pay for here as they are a ”precision” tool. This is a hands on tool. I personally recommend that you buy these locally. There is a note at the bottom of this post on testing and buying.

Note about my recommendations. Everything I talk about from procedures to projects, I have done. Tools that I recommend I own. Bought and paid for. I don’t accept products for testing, although some tools in the thousands of dollars range may weaken my resolve. Not likely to happen soon, though:)

Plumb and Level

Here is a photo of a 12” beam level. This is a metal level, with a groove for round things like pipes and a magnetic strip on the bottom for using it with steel. For most folks this is probably the best bang for the buck as you can use it for cabinets to picture frames.
It has a plumb vial, two level vials, and a 45 degree vial. Around 15 bucks.

The Level Vials Side View

This level has two vials. The one on the left is a standard level vial. When you place it on a horizontal surface and the bubble is in the middle between the two lines, you have level.
The vial on the right has a graduated scale for establishing slope.
It also acts as an additional check for level. This is an ‘eye level’ view, which will be useful depending upon your personal flexibility.

The Level Vials Top View

Here is the level view from the top. Here you can see the groove for using on round materials and the cutouts provided by the manufacturer to read the vials from above.

The graduations on the slope bubble on the right are in fractional inch measurements.
These lines are in relationship to the level. In this case moving the vial to the first line, (1/8) establishes an 1/8″ per foot slope.

Slope is important where you need to provide gravity fed drainage. Patios, gutters, etc.

The Plumb vial works for your vertical applications. The 45 degree vial can be used for establishing Square over a small area, but there are better tools for this.
Like any other measuring  tool, do not bang it around, and keep it clean.

Note on Purchase: Before you buy a level, perform this simple test.

Level :Put the level against a wall, establish level, and draw a line. Turn the level end for end, move it to your line, and check that the level reads the same. If it does, you are good to go. If not, try another.

Plumb: Put the level against the wall, establish plumb, draw a line. Flip the level, move it to your line and check it. If it reads the same, you are good to go. If not, try again.

Don’t be embarrassed or forget this. It’s your money, and you are already doing things that are making folks with less grit laugh.

You now have enough information to make your part of the universe Plumb and Level.

Plumb, Square, and Level

The other day I was over at Dogs and Jen’s Blog and saw this posting on the really bad experience she was having getting her cabinets installed. Cabinet Guy needs to find a new career like , “would you like fries with that?” Seriously.

House Bloggers are wonderful folks in terms of not being afraid to get their hands dirty, and wanting to do things themselves.  However a lot of things that go into remodeling do not get explained very well.
Remodeling is where you take something existing and change it to suit yourself. From a coat of paint to complete gut jobs, what you can do is limited only by your grit and knowledge.

The 3 cornerstones of construction and remodeling  are Plumb Square and Level.

Every wall in your house needs plumb. Plumb keeps your house from tipping over and falling down.


Square is important so that the materials that you use and the cabinets you may install fit and work correctly.

Level means not having things rolling around your house or falling off your counters.

Two things to remember:

1. Your house is not square
Get over it. If you are real lucky it was well built and is close. From the foundation to the roof, gravity and the original construction is dictating what has happened over time.

2. Building Materials mostly are.

From bricks to lumber to plywood and drywall, most building materials are square and consistent in dimension. This is done at the manufacturing stage as it is more efficient and therefore cheaper. Manufactured products like plywood, particleboard, drywall are dimensionally stable, and for the purposes of this discussion can be considered so.
Wood framing materials like 2×4”,2×6, and natural lumber are notorious in twisting moving, shrinking and settling.
The biggest problem with any material is the installer. That would be you. Yes this is your house and at the end of the day, you are the where the buck stops. The more you learn the easier the jobs become.
Over the next few postings I will discuss tools. Things you need so that Plumb Square and Level becomes a lifestyle.

Fun with Plywood 2

In building the various shelving units around the casa, I neglected to point out the star of the show, being the brand of plywood.

Both the 9. ply and the 7 ply are Arauco, made in Chile. Amazing that they can build, ship, and offer it for around 35-40 bucks a 3/4” sheet. Below is a closeup photo of the 7 on top and 9 below. These are ACX grade, meaning that they have a clear face and a C grade back, with Exterior glue.


This is far and away superior plywood for making case goods for the home remodeler. There are a couple of notable features with this plywood. One is the clear face. No knots, pitch staining, or discoloration. Two is the consistency of the plys. They are equal and have almost no voids in the sheets. Those that are there are very small.

I had to get mine at Home Depot, despite that Lowes says they carry it locally, but do not. Yes I am a Lowes shopper every time I can.