Pros: Precise, last a life time, magnetic, rubber pads
Cons: Expensive but worth it
Make sure you're not fooled by a cheap imitation from Johnson
Johnson produce a contractor grade level similar in design to the Stabila levels. They feature a similar aluminum frame painted with the same bright yellow color and the same type of vials. I guess Johnson is hoping you'll be eventually in contact with a Stabila level and be very impressed by the performance. Then you'll run at the closest store possibly remembering only the "visual" features of the level and not the brand name and get fooled by their very similar design. BE WARNED - YOU ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. The Johnson levels are IN NO WAY up to the quality of the Stabila levels. The vials on the Johnson level have the same appearance as those found on the Stabila but a close look reveals some serious quality differences. Each vials are "closed" on one end with a plastic green cap as opposed to the Stabila levels which are enterily sealed into an acrylic compound block. It might not change the accuracy a lot but Johnson did cut on the manufacturing process to save some money there. The Johnson levels don't feature the removable wall grip end caps which are extremelly useful when you need to draw a line on a wall. This is what is obvious but what about the problems that will show up after extensive use. Do they offer a lifetime warranty like Stabila does?
I seriously doubt of the overall quality of their products and if they can't come up with their own design from their own R&D department, I don't appreciate this attempt to imitate a high quality product with the obvious intention of fooling the unaware customer. The intention behind this product cannot be more obvious - they try to trick the customer. Shame on you Johnson.
The Johnson website is even sarcastic enough to say the following about their Stabila wanabee: "A top-of-the-line European design box beam level for any level and plumb application. The most durable of all aluminum levels. Highly accurate and sensitive."
Ya right! If this level is as good as their other "contractor grade" levels (which is the highest quality available at Johnson), then it's just good for the garbage can. I had 2 of those and now I use them to cut gypsum board - they aren't good for anything else.
Johnson even pushed the shame to have it manufactured in Austria hoping you can be fooled even more by the fact that Austria is closed to Germany. To make sure they have no copyright infrengement, they made the plastic around the vials black instead of white like on the Stabila's. Gheeez, what a shame!
Now that the rant is over, the review now...
If you're new to the level business, you'll find tons of products on the shelves. How to pick the right one for you? I've personnaly used Johnson levels for many years but I eventually found out they weren't enough accurate. I had error of about 3/4" over 8'-0". What kind of precision is this? Why the hell spending money to get something which is "just about" precise? Maybe it was defective but when you build, you don't want to find out something's wrong when everything is built and finished.
Anyway, I really got fed up and started to do some research on levels. Everywhere I went, everybody I asked, those in the know had only one word in their mouth: Stabila. Their manufacturing process produced the highest quality levels you can get on the market right now. They're more expensive obviously but when you consider that you'll probably buy many low end levels and change them every 2 or 3 years because of accuracy problems, you'll find out quick that a Stabila level will stay with you for a lifetime turning this investment into a few dollars per year only. Not to mention the quality of your work which will dramatically increase.
If you want to read another review I wrote on one of their electronic level, follow this link: http://www.epinions.com/content_90618695300
If you're a precision freak like me, aside from the occasional nightmares where you see crooked walls or flat surfaces not perfectly horizontal, I would suggest a more efficient therapy than consulting a psychatrist. Buy a Stabila level and your nightmares will turn into wonderful dreams where everything is perfectly square, leveled and where everything line up.
I purchased this level to replace a 48" Johnson level that proved to be inaccurate. As mentionned earlier, my researches lead into the Stabila brand and I picked their 48" carpenter level. It's a fine precision tool and it packs up a bunch of very interesting features...
1. Magnetic pads. If you ever have to install steel beams and steel joists, this level will stick to them and remain in place freeing up your hands for other tasks. Very convenient.
2. Rubber pads. Both ends of this level features 2 rubber pads preventing your level to slip on angle surfaces or simply when you draw lines on the wall with your level. It might not be a big thing but how often I had to reposition my all aluminum made level just because I reached for my pencil on my ear. It won't happen with this one because those rubber pads provide a steady position.
3. Great vials. Those vials are clean, easy to read, and precise. More on vials later in the text.
4. The finish. This level has a great feeling in your ends. It's smooth, easy to keep clean and painted a bright yellow. It makes it easy to find it in low light condition or in a pile of construction materials.
The big test
I had to check by myself the so-claimed accuracy. I drafted on a wall 2 lines, one horizontal and one vertical according to the vial readings. I then verified those 2 lines with a framing square to discover what? Both line were forming a perfect square!
I saw also a major improvement of the overall quality of my work. Things now line up perfectly and I can trust the level.
In a word, this level is a definite answer to a builder's wildest dream. If you want accurate readings and a level you can trust a for the rest of your life. There's no other choice.
Be ready though to spend twice if not 3 times more money for the same type of level. But you'll soon find them well worth it.
Strongest Magnets - Work Hands-Free.
Spring steel hairline indicators inside the vials.
Certified Level Accuracy; top read position: 1/32" over 72".
Levels 72" and longer have a bridge over the horizontal vial for uninterrupted scribing.
Patented, epoxy-locked vials never need adjusting.
Removable endcaps for flush measuring in corners.
Patented red pads on endcaps grip walls & flat surfaces.
Level accuracy guaranteed for life; vials will never fog, leak or require adjustment.
There's a quick and effective way to find out if your level is giving you the right readings. Here's the fool proof way to find out!
To check the "level" or "horizontal" vial's accuracy, place the level on any flat surface.
Make a mark on the flat surface at one end of the level.
Read the bubble & remember where it is.
Turn the level 180 degrees (end to end), placing the level right on the line drawn from the original end placement.
Read the level.
If the bubble returns to the same place, the level is accurate. If it does not, it is not accurate.
Do it again, regardless of the reading.
To check the "plumb" or "vertical" vials, place the level against any door frame or wall.
Make a mark on the wall beside the top vial.
Read the bubble & remember where it is.
Flip the level side for side (not end for end!).
Read the level.
If the bubble returns to the same place, the vial is accurate. If it does not, it is not accurate.
Do it again, regardless of the reading.
To check the second "plumb" vial, turn the level end for end.
Repeat all of the steps as done for the first "plumb" vial.
Quoted from the website
All Stabila levels are made in Germany. We have been making high quality levels for over 110 years. We are dedicated to producing precise measuring instruments with complete dedication to excellence expected from top line German manufacturers. Our levels are designed so that they never have to be adjusted, and always can be trusted in all job conditions. This is extremely important as 6.5% of the labor charges on any job are for measuring, and the main reason for rework is a direct result of measuring errors! The best certification we can offer is the commitment and dedication of any Stabila owner to the product. Please talk to one.
Spirit Levels: The vials on all STABILA levels will not fog, leak, or become inaccurate EVER, for as long as you live. If they do, you will be given a brand new level.
Take a Stabila level in your hand and look at the vial color, clarity and crispness. Slightly raise one end of a Stabila level and notice how the bubble moves uninterrupted from one end of the vial barrel to the other. Stabila forms acrylic compound into solid blocks. This material is extremely durable. These blocks are then cut, machined and polished. The surfaces of the vials are not distorted. Stabila vials deliver uniform light refraction and minimum reflections. Stabila makes their hairline indicators out of spring steel, and they are placed into precisely positioned machined grooved. Stabila's vial fluid is a family-owned formula that maximizes bubble versus line contrast, stands up to destructive temperature swings (-5?F to 165?F), and eliminates the "bad read" problems associated with static charge.
Take twenty Stabila levels with the same accuracy tolerance (ex. .029?) and stack them on top of each other. All the bubbles match. How many other levels can do this?
Patented Vial Positioning Technology
Always Trust-Never Adjust. Every Stabila level has been electronically calibrated and inspected and has received a certification of accuracy. The vial system is permanently epoxy-locked in the frame by a patented process. The vial system can be completely trusted and never needs adjustment. However, if a Stabila level should ever become inaccurate, you will not receive a used level that has been "fixed" as a replacement. You will receive a brand new level.
Take a Stabila level in your hand and feel the frame. Take a very close look at the coated surfaces. Observe the fit and finish. Frame strength is delivered through advanced engineering and high strength rib-reinforced aluminum. You can leave a Stabila level out in the weather for a year, and it will not warp or twist. Place a 4-foot Stabila level on the ground and read the horizontal vial. 300-degree viewing eliminates "bad read" problems and expensive re-work. Levels 59" and longer have a bridge over the horizontal vial for uninterrupted scribing and additional frame strength. The surface of all Stabila levels is a high visibility yellow epoxy coating. The coating is electrostatically applied for maximum smoothness. It is durable and is easily cleaned with water and brush.
Patented Wall Grip Technology
Position the level so the red pads on the end of the level come in contact with a wall surface. The soft rubber pads have been designed to grab the wall when scribing lines. The firmly mounted, yet removable, endcaps are made of impact-resistant plastic and are designed to protect the level's measuring surface. If the endcaps break or become lost, they are available as an accessory.
Work Hands-Free! Put one of our heavy-duty magnetic levels on a metal surface and pull it straight off without twisting your wrist. Stabila has the strongest, most reliable and easiest-to-use magnetic levels on the market.
What Makes Stabila So Special?
Stabila is no newcomer to the level business. We have been at it for 109 years, and have developed the reputation of being the number one level in Europe, both in sales and in quality. Not only do we have a ton of experience in manufacturing and design behind us, we also have some patented design features that cannot be duplicated by our competitors. I think that a major evidence of the reputation we have earned is in how many competitors are trying to come as close to our physical appearance as possible. Many competitors copy our color (a superb hard high visibility yellow), our ribbed extrusion appearance, and vial appearance. Stabila really is the absolute standard in leveling.
Stabila levels have stood the test of time, and have the universal acceptance by end users as being the "worlds best level" although this is pretty tough to prove in all circumstances. Our products are priced higher than most on the market. However, we are not talking about astronomically high prices. A tradesman will purchase one of our best 48" levels for about $65.00. This is not very scary for any tradesman especially when it virtually guarantees that the windows and doors he installs will work the way they should. This is relative to many other good tools which the tradesman regularly purchases. We feel that although our prices are higher, Stabila is the worlds best value in levels.
What Type Of Vials Are In Stabila Levels?
Stabila vials are definitely fixed, and definitely not adjustable. We permanently epoxy and weld them in place. We do not use any springs, screws, rivets, nuts, bolts, etc. The vial is assembled into a plastic housing. The housing is epoxied and welded in place. The accuracy of the level is set. Then it is checked about halfway through the curing cycle. Then, after it is cured, the accuracy is certified. Then the level is packaged and sold. There is no need for a prospective buyer to sort through the stack of levels, looking for the most accurate. They are as accurate as the label states.
Stabila levels can be used overhead in a vial down position as well as in the normal vial up position with equal ease. This means that the tradesman doesnt have to climb a ladder to read the vial in overhead measuring situations. There is a 300 degree vial viewing area on our horizontal vials.
As stated above, the strength of a box beam is in the height of the profile. Therefore, every time the frame is cut to enable vial or magnet insertion, the frame necessarily is weakened at the point of metal reduction. Our process of completely filling the space in the frame with the vial assembly and epoxying it in place provides strength reinforcement in these critical locations.
How Are The Vials Made?
Our vials are made from a solid acrylic block. The tops and the sides are at 100% right angles to each other. The tops and the sides are perfectly flat. This is done so that there is no magnification of the bubble, nor is there any light refraction on the reading which produces parallax problems. The tradesman can read our vials from any position in a 300 degree arc, without parallax problems. He does not have to position himself at 90 degrees to the vial and bubble in order to get an accurate reading.
The barrel is CNC machined using a diamond router. It is then polished. There are two grooves milled in the barrel to accept two metal "reading" rings. They are always fixed at the same position. Some Asian manufacturers paint the rings on after the fluid is inserted. Tricky guys.
The fluid is inserted so that the bubble is smaller than the rings at any temperature (-5?F to 105?F). We do not want any minuscule part of the bubble to hide behind one of the reading rings. This gives us a very accurate vial. The eye readily detects differences of one ten thousandth of an inch, so the reading of the difference in proximity to a reading ring from one end of the bubble to another is the least of anyones problem.
Because we cut the fluid barrel into a solid acrylic block there is no dead air space in the measuring area. Therefore, our vials can never fog. And because we are working with a solid block of high impact plastic, the vials will not break unless someone deliberately strikes them with a lot of force. A hammer and nail or P-A-T tool would do damage too.
The bubble is filled with a fade resistant fluid and sealed with epoxy. The vial is static resistant. Desert tradesmen do not have to discharge static charges on our bubble by touching them with a wet finger. This is easy enough to do, but what if you forget? every time? sometimes? once??? Low humidity situations have no effect on our levels.
How Precise Are Stabila Levels?
We print our accuracies on the level both for vial up and vial down readings. Our spirit levels are accurate to .029 degrees. This is plus or minus 1/32" over 60". Our accuracies for laser levels are more exact. We state our accuracies in all of our catalog literature. It is surprising that a lot of level manufacturers sidestep this important piece of information.
How Do You Clean Your Levels?
Our products are not painted, they are dry epoxy coated electrostatically applied. They can be cleaned up with a bucket of water and a brush. Muriatic acid used in brick work cleanup does not affect them. They are completely waterproof. They can be taken swimming, or do all of those oh so many underwater jobs one has with no problems.
We are establishing ourselves strongly with brick and block masons. They like the toughness and accuracy and easy cleanup of the levels, but also like the large hand grips (can be used with a gloved hand), and light weight. The weight factor is somewhat significant as masons usually hold the level from one end while leaning over a wall, and they do this all day long.
Why Are The End Caps Smaller Than The Frame?
The end caps have beveled edges so that rounding of the edges from dropping on the corners will not interfere with the measuring surfaces. They are also designed to be a shock absorber to help prevent frame bending when the level is dropped from greater heights.
What Use Are The Red Rubber Grips?
The end caps have red rubber grips in one side of their face to prevent the level from slipping when drawing pencil lines while holding the level at one end. The grips also stop the level from sliding off slanted surfaces like roofs, and from slipping to the floor when leaned against a wall. All that the latter point does is to save the tradesman the bother of bending over to pick up the level from the floor so often. The fall has no negative effect on the level.
How Can I Make Your Level Butt Against A 90? Corner?
The end caps are removable. This becomes important if flush measurements on opposing walls are required. The tradesman pops the end caps off and draws his line up to the opposing wall where it butts against the primary wall and around the corner using the width of the level. He then positions the level on the opposing wall so that it lines up with the marks on both walls and draws new lines on the unmarked wall. This ensures that cabinets, chair rails, wainscoting and ceiling moldings match and fit.
What Should I Look For In A Magnetic Level?
We probably have the most complete line of magnetic levels available. Our magnets are strong, permanent and embedded below the measuring surfaces so that small metal filings will not accidentally interfere with the measurements. Our magnetics are all "no-hands" type right from 16" through 96".