Making And Using An Accurate Level

Why spend big bucks on a professional level when the laws of physics work for free?

Water always seeks its own level. If you buy milk or water in gallon jugs, you've no doubt noticed that the surface of the liquid in the hollow handle will sit no higher or lower than the surface of the liquid in the main container. In this manner, the surface of a continuous body of water will always be constant, whether the container is a pail, a pond, or a tube.

You can take advantage of this quirk of physics to save money on your next home improvement project. Instead of spending fifty dollars or more on a professional level, you can make one that's just as accurate and a lot cheaper out of about twenty feet of 3/8" interior diameter tubing.

Method 1: Direct Leveling

For this first method, all you need is the tubing, some water, and a friend. Let's say you have three paintings to hang along a wall, the top edges of which you want aligned. You need to mark the wall in three places of exactly the same height. Decide where one of those marks will be and pencil it in.

Now, fill your tube with water so that the filled section of tubing is longer than the distance from the first mark to the farthest of the other two marks you want to draw. Hold onto one end of the tube and give the other end, along with a pencil, to your friend.

Stand by the first mark and have your friend stand by the area of the wall where you want the second mark. The two of you need to hold the tube against the wall such that the level of the water at your end is smack against the mark you've made. Have your friend mark the wall wherever the water level is at her end of the tube. The mark she makes will be exactly as high as the first mark.

Now just repeat the process for the third mark, and you'll be ready to hang up your paintings.

Method 2: The Datum Line

If you'd rather work alone, and you're confident in your ability to measure vertical distances, you might like to try this second method. In addition to your tubing, you'll need a pail, bucket, or even a large leftover coffee can to use as a reservoir.

Make a hole about fifty millimeters up from the bottom of the reservoir. An electric drill is handy, but if you don't have one, a hammer and a nail should do the trick. You want your hole to be slightly smaller than the outside diameter of your tubing. Slice about an inch lengthwise into one end of the tube, giving it a forked appearance. This end will now compress enough that you can thread the tubing into the hole. Pull the tubing through until the join is nice and snug.

Fill up the reservoir and place it on a table near the wall on which you want to hang your paintings. Now, hold the tube up against the wall and mark it where the water line is. Move a few feet down and mark the wall again. As long as the reservoir doesn't move or spill, both marks will be at the same height.

Connect the dots to form a line. This line, the datum line, will not be the height you want, but you can use it as a reference to find your target height. If the mark you made to represent the top edge of the first painting is four feet above the datum line, then you'll measure four feet up from it at two other points to find where the top edges of the other two paintings should be.

You can always take the tubing out of the reservoir and use it for Method 1 again, or put it back in to go back to Method 2. Not counting the electric drill (which was optional) you won't have spent more than ten or fifteen dollars.