Levels – is it a Choice between Good value or Accuracy?
Just about every tool supplier has a level or two on its stocksheets, and predictably they can be cheap and nasty or more expensive and good. In my experience buying as good a level as you can afford does pay off. The one I bought from a well-known builders’ superstore was so bad that, years on, it still raises my hackles despite the fact that it was dumped soon after purchase.
Having done masses of end user research for a major tool company on spirit levels a few years ago, I found out that end users generally want rugged, accurate, easy to read and easy to maintain tools. But making these tools to a demandingly high specification and at a market-beating price is pretty well impossible. Hence the dominance of the bright yellow German brand of levels, despite the high price tag attached. They have reached the level of trust in quality and accuracy where the brand reputation alone is enough to ensure sales. But as ever, there is always room for competition, and since end users are as various as fish in the sea, good quality, value and accuracy can always be judged in different ways for different needs.
Some of the Draper Line-up
Exclusive to Draper Tools and available in increments up to 2000mm, Draper’s Expert range of OPTIVISION™ spirit levels is not only well priced, but ticks all of the main consumer demands mentioned above.
Just a quick examination of the alloy extrusion and finish will tell you that they are well made and protected against the rigours of the worksite by a baked-on highly visible white finish. Opinions seemed to vary on the colour – the chippies liked it better than the brickies!
Unlike some levels, it has a wide levelling surface that is 35mm wide and milled to a fine, easily cleanable finish. On the magnetic version 600mm and 900mm levels, there are two sets of magnets set into the levelling surface so that it can be attached to metal scaffolding poles, RSJs etc or stored within a van. Some might argue that the magnet settings might be a cleaning problem, but again, users make their choice – which is handier for you?
The rounded top side of the level houses the shockproof OPTIVISION™ vial that comes with a lifetime warranty. The highly visible red vial is UV resistant and accurate to within 0.5mm per metre. Each vial also has a red surround that makes the bubble definition stand out and easy to read. Another interesting feature, and one that divided opinions when I showed it to various trades, was the multiple lines in the centre vial so that users can read the gradient of 1 and 2% depending on need. Again – you pays your money and you makes your choice. I personally thought that it would be a feature that I might use occasionally and would therefore want included.
The vertical vial is also shock resistant that can be read from the front and side of the level or indeed from the curved topside via the side view vial feature. I could see that there are some situations where this arrangement would be very useful, but most of the time the front view would be fine.
What I particularly like are the large ergonomic handles that are lined with ridged grippy rubber that makes this solidly made level easier to handle, and even to hang on the end of a handy batten or nail.
Finally, the end caps are thick, solidly made and very shock absorbing; they provide sound protection against accidental knocks and drops. The end caps also include four rubber bumpers that protrude through the body, ideal for gripping on smooth surfaces.
Draper Expert Optivision™ Boat Level
Boat levels have an even tougher life than site levels so need to be strongly built and this level is milled from a solid piece of cast alloy. It has three Optivision red vials that all have a lifetime guarantee. The middle dial has three lines on each side of the level indicators so users can gauge gradients. The right-side vial is a plain red with just two lines so that its main trade users, namely scaffolders, will find it easy to read and quick. Interestingly the left-side dial has an angle finder function on it. This is easy to use and very useful – think scaffolders determining the angles of angled cross poles that are necessary for the stability of a whole scaffolding set up.
Big rubber bumpers on each end protect against dropping, and two powerful magnets mounted in a groove on the levelling surface are used to hold the level in place as the poles are levelled. My end users all thought that the quality was self-evident and robustness built –in. This is definitely a level that will find a space in many toolboxes.
Prolaser 5-Dot Self Levelling Laser Pointer
This is a simple and compact piece of laser technology that we wonder how we did without - it makes layouts so much simpler, since all dimensions can be done at the same time relative to each other.
In the black nylon case there is the laser, a laser target, a magnetic auxiliary mount and two AA batteries so it is ready to go on unpacking. The device is quite compact at only 95mm long,80mm high and 50mm wide. It has only one switch with indicators for power and laser on and a locking switch on the front releases the self-levelling mechanism. Underneath there is the all-important screw thread for a tripod that would be needed for setting the dots at the correct level needed.
With a range of up to 30m, using the laser target and a self-levelling accuracy of+- 4mm in 10 metres this little device is accurate enough for most layout tasks, and at a price tag that will soon see it pay for itself.
The Draper Range
This review looked at only three of the many levelling and marking products in the Draper range just to give a taste of what is available. Draper Expert products are aimed at trade and professional users, but keen amateurs would be wise to aim at this higher price point. Occasional users could look to cheaper Draper ranges that match their demands and skills, but truly, we have a range of kit that will do a good job – any blame for sloping brickwork will only attach to the user!
Aimed at: Pros and demanding DIYers who can appreciate the extra accuracy and quality needed for a good job.
Pros: well priced but well made with some unique features and good dial visibility.