The Spirit Level is probably the most expensive part of the bricklayers tool kit, because keeping the work level (horizontal) and plumb (vertical) is the core to producing high quality brickwork job. These levels come in different sizes; with the main size for everyday work is nine hundred millimeters (3 feet) or twelve hundred millimeters (4 feet) in length. Two things affect the length of a bricklayers spirit level:
- The longer the level, the greater the accuracy.
- When working in cramped quarters a long level is useless. So it is also useful to have a nine-inch torpedo level in your kit to work in tight spaces.
Bricklayers spirit levels come in several different styles, materials, lengths, features and price ranges. Despite this, levels are not terribly expensive and a good one will last you a lifetime with proper care. However, a bad one will cause you real problems if you are producing work that is not straight, horizontal or vertical, so do not compromise on quality!
So what should you look for when choosing a level? The two most important factors to look for are the design and the material it is made of. The cheaper levels will have simple I-beam designs because they look like an “I” when viewed from the end. Cheaper designs are often made of hard plastic. Better quality levels are made of machined aluminum or hardwood bound with brass. These will have a more stable, box design that is less likely to warp and twist. Another factor to look for is a lifetime warranty on the vials.
Whilst they are similar in design and price to a standard carpenters level, bricklayers levels are designed to be more rugged for continual use around bricks, blocks, and mortar. Also, they are designed for repeated cleaning with a brush and water. Some levels have a reinforced edge that can be tapped with a trowel or hammer while the level is lying on the bricks – this simplifies checking and adjusting the brick courses as the work proceeds.
As well as being solid level, it is important that the bubble vial is accurate. These bubbles should set in clear resin/plastic and be protected by the body of the level. In some high quality levels, the vials are replaceable if they break, or even adjustable if they become inaccurate.
Many traditionalists choose hardwood for spirit levels because they its look and feel. Also some bricklayers appreciate that the continual use of a protective linseed oil seal helps to keep the mortar from sticking to the sides.
Level in a Box
Box-shape levels resist twists and bends better than I-beam shaped levels of the same weight and length. Some levels have a built-in mirror that lets you check the vertical-testing plumb vial by looking through the levels edge rather than having to press the side of your head against a wall.
Why do some levels have more that two lines engraved on the vial bubble?
Many spirit-level vials have two sets of lines engraved on them. When the bubble is centered between the inside pair, it indicates level; but when it touches one of the outer lines, it means the level is sloping at a 2-percent gradient (about ¼ inch per foot of run), Why would this be useful, well this is the minimum slope needed for pipes, and rain gutters to drain properly.
Making sure a Level is level.
A must be accurate level if it is to do its job correctly. To check that a spirit level is accurate, place it on a flat surface and note where the bubble ends up. Then turn the level around, if the tool is accurate, the bubble should fall in exactly the same place. Levels with replaceable vials can be adjusted, but may also slip out of accuracy so they should be tested regularly. If the level is inaccurate and cannot be adjusted, throw it away as it will only cause you to deliver poor brickwork.