September 2009: Tool Box

September 2009: Tool Box

Finding your level

The most bizarre iPhone app, I think, is the virtual spirit level. Call me “old school,” but I’d rather rely on an actual tool to hang stuff—one that I can drop from a ladder and splatter in paint with impunity.

It might be made of modern plastics these days, but the spirit level has been around for centuries.

The spirit level was invented in the 17th century and is still being used in much the same form by carpenters today. It’s a straight piece of wood or metal with a flat side on the bottom and a glass tube that’s filled with a clear liquid with low viscosity—typically, ethanol. A small air bubble settles precisely in the middle of two marks on the tube when the level is level.

You should use a level for framing projects and to ensure that all doors, windows and artwork you hang are flat on the horizontal and straight on the vertical planes. You could get more high-tech and use a laser level, which projects a beam of light to indicate level and plumb. With more technology, however, comes more instructions and more opportunities for user error (on my laser level’s second use, I broke off the pin that mounts the thing to drywall). If you’re a D.I.Y.-er like me, you just don’t have time for extra nonsense.—Katherine Ludwig