Make long, level lines with a short level
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Mark the wall at both
ends of the level.
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Snap a line
Stretch a chalk line across
the marks and pull it tight.
Snap it when it's perfectly
aligned with both marks.
Wainscoting, wallpaper borders and suspended ceilings
all require a level line before you can start installing them.
Here's a tip I learned from a suspended-ceiling installer
(before low-priced laser levels became available). It's simple.
Carefully adjust your level at the correct height until
the bubble is perfectly centered and mark the wall at both
ends of the level. You must have an accurate level, because
any error will be multiplied by the length of the line. Then
stretch a chalk line across the marks to extend the line.
Use the longest level you own. It's best to have a helper
who can hold the other end of the line and stretch it tight
while you align it with both marks. Then snap the chalk
line and double-check to make sure it's exactly aligned
with the marks. If you're careful, you can expect the line
to be accurate within 1/4 in. over 12 ft.
Lasers work great for long-distance leveling
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One type of laser level
Thread a screw into the bottom of the level as a pivot to make leveling easier (see next photo).
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Shim the level
Adjust the torpedo with shims to level it. Mark the
wall at the point of light. Swivel the level on the pivot
and adjust it with shims again. Mark the wall at the
There are many types of laser levels that simplify long distance
leveling. The inexpensive version we're showing is a small
“torpedo” level with a built-in laser light. Turn on the
laser light and adjust the level until the bubble is centered
between the lines. The point of visible laser light will be
level with a reference mark on the body of the level. More
expensive laser levels have self-leveling mechanisms that
eliminate the need to adjust the bubble.
You can mount laser levels on a tripod, but if you don't
own a tripod, thread a 1/4-in. No. 20 machine screw into the
hole on the bottom of the level, letting it protrude about
1/4 in. to serve as a pivot point. Set the level onto the
pivot and use shims to center the bubble (photo
below). Mark the wall at the dot of light
and measure up or down to the
desired height. Then swivel
the laser on the pivot,
level it, mark the
wall again, and
measure up or
down the same
distance. Snap a
Build walls plumb with a plumb bob
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Match ceiling and floor points
Drop the plumb bob from the ceiling and suspend it about
1/2 in. above your floor.
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Align the plumb bob
Ask a helper to
steady the plumb
bob and tell you
which way to
move the string to
center it over the
point on the floor.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to plumb up or down
from any given point is with a plumb bob (sold at hardware stores and home centers). We're using the plumb bob to transfer
layout marks from the floor to the ceiling. Suspend the
plumb bob about 1/2 in. above the floor and center the
point exactly over the intersecting lines. Then mark the
location on the ceiling. The key to accuracy is to wait for
the bob to stop swinging. To speed things up, ask a helper
to steady the plumb bob while you adjust the position of
the string. Plumb
bobs have one
They don't work in
Slope pipes with a shim
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Pipe leveling trick
Tape a shim to one end of your level and use it to set the slope of
The next time you need to put a consistent
slope on pipes, concrete formwork or landscaping
projects, try this hint. Tape a shim
to one end of your level to establish the
desired slope—say, 1/4 in. per foot for a
drain. Center the bubble and your project
will be perfectly sloped. Calculate the
thickness of the shim by multiplying the
length of your level in feet by the desired
slope (inches per foot). We wanted 1/4-in.
per foot slope on this drainpipe, so for our
2-ft. level we needed a 1/2-in.-thick shim.
If it's more convenient to set the level on
top of your project, tape the shim to the
Check the accuracy of your level
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Level one side
Shim the end of your level with playing cards
until the bubble is centered. (If the bubble is
already centered, you won't need any cards.)
We've marked one end of the level with blue
tape to distinguish it from the opposite end.
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Flip the level around
Rotate the level 180 degrees (end for end)
and rest it on the same stack of cards. If
the bubble is in the center, your level is
accurate. If not, have it repaired or get a
I've never understood how it happens, but it seems like every level
eventually gets a little “off.” In some cases, this small inaccuracy won't
matter. But if you're doing finicky work like setting kitchen cabinets or
installing doors and windows, you'll want an accurate level. The photos
show how to check your level. Expensive levels may be worth repairing.
Call the manufacturer to find out if yours is repairable. When you're
buying a new level, use
the same technique to
check it for accuracy
before leaving the store
Follow the same
procedure to check the
level's accuracy in the
“plumb,” or vertical,
position. You'll have to
hold the playing cards
in place while you check
Block a straightedge for crooked walls
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Spacer block tip
Plumb walls using a
straight board with
spacer blocks of
nailed to each end.
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Close-up of spacer block
The two spacer blocks are set at the points that need leveling, spanning the curvy stud.
You could plumb a wall by simply
setting your level against the stud,
but it wouldn't give you an accurate
reading unless the stud was
perfectly straight and smooth. The
method shown spans irregularities
in the stud and allows you to align
the top and bottom plates exactly
plumb with each other. Make sure
the spacer blocks are the same
thickness and that the board they're
attached to is perfectly straight.
Check to make sure your setup is
accurate by flipping it end for end.
You should get the same reading on
the level. If not, the straightedge
may be crooked.