Monday, December 6, 2010

Lightning Round Review: The Stanley 18" ABS Level Works!

The Good: Does what it's supposed to do, Has a convenient ruler on one side, Surprisingly durable
The Bad: Impossible to calibrate, Can be damaged, Not as precise as most.
The Basics: Ideal for home and private use, the Stanley 18” level seems to lose very little precision over years of use!

The more I go through my toolbox, the more I realize that my first marriage was a very Stanley marriage. Or, maybe it works better if I say that my first marriage was brought to me in part by Stanley tools. Either way, I swear my former father-in-law’s big gift to me was a toolbox which was, as it turns out, packed with only Stanley brand tools. Today, I find myself contemplating the 18” level which is in that box.

I have used the Stanley 18” ABS level for over five years now (my, time flies!) and as many of my projects – including hanging artwork for various gallery openings when I was displaying my visual art – require things to be level, the Stanley level has seen a lot of use. And it works. It is hard to get excited about writing about a level, but the truth is in non-industrial settings, working away from metal (which might be magnetized and somehow upset this level), the Stanley 18” level does everything a private home consumer would want it to. After five years of use, mine is still in excellent shape and that is a testament to the durability of the little device.

For those unfamiliar with the principles which guide a level, embedded in the level are sealed tubes. The sealed tubes have fluid within them and a bubble. When the bubble is between the lines on the outside of the transparent tube, the surface one is pressing the device against is flat. In the case of most levels, there are different fields one might consider using different tubes on the level. The Stanley 18” ABS level has three tubes in it one for (for lack of a better series of terms): parallel (to the ground), perpendicular (to the same relative plane) and 45 degrees.

The Stanley 18” level is an inexpensive option for leveling which was a welcome change for me; prior to this arriving in my life, I was using a simple level pen (a pen with a level tube/bubble in it) that my mother had picked up free at a business show (seriously!). This level, though, is an excellent step up for me. Instead of threatening to give me entirely inaccurate data, the Stanley is a slightly bigger, more professional tool. Fortunately, it is rather inexpensive for users as well. The Stanley 18” level is, as its name implies, an eighteen inch long level which is two inches tall and ¾” deep. It is made of surprisingly thick and durable yellow plastic which reminds one more of a mop bucket or a reinforced plastic than a flimsy ruler. The three bubbles that form the actual working portion of the level are located in the center and near either end of the level.

This is not just a bare bones inexpensive level, though, which might surprise some. Instead, this plastic level includes a ruler – measuring in inches – along the top of the level. This is not an exceptional selling point, but it has come in handy when I’ve had to mark holes for nails a set distance away from a currently placed point on the wall. This is the only “bonus feature” of this tool.

To use the level, simply find an object you want to make sure is flat or parallel to the ground. Then, lay the level on top of it. Because the Stanley 18” level is only ¾” thick, even picture frames are likely to allow the level to balance atop them. This is a decent selling point and I found this was great, except when I was dealing with hanging paintings in rooms where I had to hang them within two inches of the ceiling (this makes this level impossible to use for that as there is no wiggle room. When the level is resting at the center of the top of the object you want to check, look at the center bubble. In the center of the Stanley 18” level is a clear plastic tube with a yellow fluid and two black marks on the surface of the tube. If the bubble is centered between the two lines, the object is flat. If the bubble is on one side or the other of the hash lines, the object needs to be raised or lowered on one side (or end). To double check, assuming your object is square, one may flip the Stanley 18” ABS level on its side (rotate it 90 degrees) and press it against the side of the object. The bubble vial perpendicular to the central one on the level should indicate that the object is straight in that plane as well. For me, this came in handy when I was putting up a fence at my house.

The Stanley 18” level is very durable. In addition to being stored in a cold room (the fluid in the vials is not made of water, so I’ve never managed to freeze them!), my Stanley level has been dropped no less than one hundred times. In fact, it has been dropped and flung around in the process of trying to catch the level. It has never broken. Neither the plastic, nor the vials, have ever broken. After years of use, I only have a few scratches on the yellow plastic surface, though I have noticed the writing that helps bring definition to the ruler marks on the top of the level have begun to fade and chip away.

As well, I have discovered that sometimes, the level is not as precise, though user error is always a possibility. At a recent show, I discovered – through using a laser level after using the Stanley level – that what I thought was perfectly level (0 degrees relative to the ground) was actually sitting at about a five degree angle. This is not a huge difference, but I know once upon a time this was perfectly calibrated. Unfortunately, there is no way to recalibrate this inexpensive level. As a result, it might not be appropriate for industrial work where tolerances are exceptionally tight and/or the person using it cannot afford to lose about five degrees worth of precision after six years use!

For the average user, this is a simple, efficient and well-constructed level that will remain a staple tool in the toolbox.

For other Stanley tools, please check out my reviews of:
85-785 12” Adjustable Wrench
Stanley 60-002 Phillips Head Screwdriver
Stanley 66-052 6-piece Precision Screwdriver set


For other tool reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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