What is a Carpenter's Level?

Malcolm Tatum

Considered to be an essential tool in woodworking and building projects of many types, the carpenter’s level is utilized to verify the alignment of various surfaces during the construction process. Sporting a simple design, the typical carpenter’s level fits neatly in the tool kits and belts for many carpenters, and requires no special skills or equipment to operate. Just about every hardware store or tool department in a discount retail store will carry at least one brand of a carpenter’s level.

Carpenter's levels are used to align the various materials used during construction.
Carpenter's levels are used to align the various materials used during construction.

In actual structure, the carpenter’s level is usually composed of a simple rectangular frame. The frame proper can be constructed with metal, plastic, or wood. Included within the structure of the frame will be one or more small vials containing liquid. When the level is placed on a surface, the vials of liquid help to demonstrate if the surface is perfectly level, or if there is a slight incline or decline that needs to be corrected.

Sometimes referred to as a spirit level, owing to the presence of the vials of liquid, the carpenter’s level is simple to read. A series of lines on the surface of the vials allows the level to indicate whether the angle of the level is perfectly balanced, or if there is a slight lean toward the left or right. When the bubble in the vial is centered between the two center marks, that indicates the surface is perfectly level. The same approach can be used to check the angle of the wall and determine if the surface of the wall is plumb or level.

Like many carpenter tools, spirit levels can last for many years. Many models today are constructed to allow for easy replacement of the glass vials if necessary. While the carpenters level is available in several different lengths, the most common types will be between 24 and 36 inches in length. The longer versions tend to run closer to 78 inches in length. Pocket sized carpenter’s levels are also available for quick use around the house for such projects as hanging pictures or checking the status of floor or chair molding.

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