My wife and I have been building a rather sprawling craft room -- let's call it a "craft suite" -- for my wife in the basement of our home. So far, this has involved building nine walls of various shapes and sizes and all these walls must be built so that they are perfectly vertical, since they are all rather elaborately interconnected.
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Unfortunately, I had only a cheap old level that had been knocked around over the years and was clearly out of adjustment. I adjusted it some but my wife was highly doubtful about its veracity, so we got a cheap new level: the Stanley 42-480 I-Beam Level.
The Stanley 42-480 level is 48 inches long and made from very lightweight aluminum. I didn't weigh this thing but it must be less than one pound. There are three large leveling vials: one at either end and one in the middle. The level is made from an I-beam shaped aluminum extrusion and the entire thing is attractively anodized in a golden-bronze color.
The Stanley 42-480 has two cutouts in the I-beam where a hand fits, making the tool easy to carry. There are two black plastic end caps to protect the sharp ends of the aluminum I-beam. The center vial has a small rectangular cutout on the narrow edge of the level so that you can look down at what you're checking to see if it is level. The leveling vials are filled with a bright yellow liquid -- except for the bubble, of course -- which has good contrast against the black lines that define the center of the vials. Stanley says that the vials never need adjusting.
For the tool deficient out there, you use a level by placing it either on or against the thing you want to check. If the air bubble falls between the black lines on the vial, the thing is either level or perfectly vertical. The vials at the ends are for checking verticality, while the center vial is for checking level.
Of course, the first thing that I did was check the walls that I had already built to confirm that they were perfectly vertical. According to the Stanley 42-480 they were, which made my wife feel better.
The leveling vials on this Stanley level are big and easy to see, even with my aging baby-boomer eyes that often have me reaching for reading glasses. No glasses are needed for the Stanley 42-480, as these vials are big enough to see up close or from across the room.
The entire level is very lightweight and is clearly of homeowner quality. I would not trust this level to survive for long if it was tossed in the back of a tradesman's van every day, but it is fine for the occasional homeowner project. There are acrylic windows to protect the glass vials, which should make the vials less likely to be broken.
We wanted to get a metal level, as we sometimes use it as a straightedge when cutting something with a knife (sheetrock, for example). The Stanley 42-480 will hold up to a certain amount of this but it's not something that we will do all the time. In fact, other than a project like our craft room, I reach for a level only a couple times a year. So far, this level seems like a good choice for my needs.
At around $11.50 at Home Depot, the Stanley 42-480 is an inexpensive homeowner-quality level that is easy to use and very lightweight. I particularly like the little window that lets me check the center vial from above the level, which makes it simple to check something that is low to the ground or on the floor.
This is not the tool I would buy if I was earning a living at carpentry or if I was a kitchen cabinet installer -- it just isn't beefy enough to hold up to that kind of use. However, it is a fine tool for a homeowner and I recommend the Stanley 42-480 level.
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