Best Torpedo Levels of 2021
Made from CNC cut solid aluminum, the Ideal Electrician Level earns our top overall spot for its versatility and durability. The packaging includes two durable acrylic vials that are easy to replace with an Allen wrench in case of breakage. The conduit thumb screw was very easy to use, and we especially liked that the magnets were embedded on a grooved rail so that it snugly adhered to pipe materials. Its versatility is appealing, boasting five levels: a bull's eye, horizontal, vertical, 30, and 45 degrees. This little level is one of the smallest in our test group and has easy-to-read bubbles with a slow viscosity, which we preferred over more watery competitors. Although the vials were smaller than others, the color contrast with the aluminum frame and neon-colored liquid made for easy reading, even in low light. Our testers appreciated that the zero mark on the ruler coincided with the edge of the ruler, allowing the user to measure in a corner or against a surface without a gap. Though it may seem obvious, only the Ideal and the Milwaukee shared this feature. Most levels had the zero mark set back as much as 1⅝ inch from the edge of the level. The one-handed, grooved thumb screw mates well onto conduit and piping, holding fast at all angles.
Other than the price, there isn't much to complain about. We feel that all of its well-thought-out attributes make it worth the higher price tag. If you are an electrician, plumber, or professional of any kind, this is a great product to keep in your back pocket or tool belt.
The Empire was the favorite among budget-priced levels. The fluid in the vial had a slow viscosity that returned to a single bubble immediately and didn't break into foamy suds after impacts. The plastic siding proved sturdy under durability testing and showed no cracks or breaks compared to other models in its class. The magnet was strong enough to hold the level inverted, but it did fall with the minimal effort of tapping two fingers against the lateral edge.
We found the darker tinted fluid difficult to read in low-light working conditions. The small viewing window along the top edge was also difficult to read in low light and shaded corners. All that said, if you just need a level but want an aluminum frame, the Empire will do the job.
For those on a tight budget who can't justify spending more than a few dollars on a level, behold the Johnson 7500M. Unlike other products in this review, this product provides durability not from the strength of its materials but the resiliency of the plastic. This level is so lightweight that our durability test had little visible effect on the exterior.
The darker vials and small view windows make it harder to read, and the magnet strip was less than inspiring when tested inverted. But we enjoyed the bright orange color that was easy to locate in a mess of tools or at a busy worksite. Thanks to its great price, our testers quickly recognized the Johnson as the best level for those on a shoestring budget or who only require minimal use.
Our testers were impressed with the sturdy aluminum Milwaukee 7 Inch Billet. The easy-to-read acrylic vials are accurate and bright. The large horizontal vial has large viewing windows along both edges and ¼ and ⅛ over one foot marking for laying pipe. This level bested all others in magnet strength, capable of holding a five-pound plate at 90 degrees. If you are working in a dynamic environment, you can be assured that this torpedo level will be where you left it. Our testers appreciated that Milwaukee set the zero mark at the edge of the level rather than set an inch or more back from the nose as some competitors do. The ruler is convenient to use in a corner or against a surface. We all have fought cheap levels when the fluid separates into multiple bubbles, which is not a problem with this level. Milwaukee uses a fluid that makes it very difficult to separate the reading bubble into suds. No shaking or slamming the bubbles back together. The acrylic vials are durable, and during the drop test, this level did more damage to the concrete test surface than it received.
It did not rate as high in extra features because the vials are glued in rather than replaceable. Also, the grooved edge is not magnetic. Still, overall this level should give even the most abusive user many years of reliable service.
Our favorite feature of the Craftsman level was the magnified horizontal vial that is easy to read. It was the largest vial of the products tested, and the notch that it sits in allows for top-down, 270-degree viewing, which can be handy in certain situations. The neon color of the fluid is easy to read and bright, even in near-dark conditions. The magnet held strong among the top group in testing, with a performance just below that of the substantially more expensive competitors when jostled inverted on HVAC ducting.
However, during our durability test, we witnessed the rubber ends loosen and work out from the metal casing. They were easy enough to push back in, but this unnecessary feature would likely disappear in a tool bag or truck over time. Fortunately, this does not affect the accuracy of the product and is merely a design element that gave the product a rubbery bounce on the drop test. We expect this Craftsman model to give the home handyperson plenty of years of good service.
Although there are less expensive options for those on a budget, our testers still think the Swanson 9-Inch Magnetic is a great choice for the home handyperson. The sturdy aluminum frame can take a beating, and the acrylic vials are not prone to shattering. We would have preferred the groove and magnetic edge to be the same, but we can't expect the same perks as the Ideal at this price point. Swanson has made a great no-gimmicks product that lives up to their reputation. This level sports a grooved edge and has the strongest magnets of any product in its price range.
The view window on top is a little small, but the white casing around the vial assists with visibility. Our testers decided that for those not concerned with professional jobs or fancy extras, the Swanson fit the bill.
If you don't want to spend as much as other brands but want some of the great features that come with a professional-grade level, look no further than the Workpro torpedo level. We appreciated the mirrors in the plumb level that provided a view of the bubble through the leading edge. Unfortunately, the plastic housing of the plumb level immediately broke out during durability testing. It was easy to click back into place but was concerning in a level that otherwise was cast from solid aluminum. It includes four angles: level, plumb, 30, and 45 degrees. The horizontal vial has viewing windows along both the magnetic and grooved edges.
Again we were disappointed to see a grooved edge not be magnetic. The conduit thumb screw is a little more challenging to operate because of its small circumference and placement along the top spine. This can pose as an impediment to using the full length of the grooved edge as well. The ruler does not start at the edge of the tool as it does in some higher-ranked products. Still, the Workpro is a great level for pipefitters in the industry or the more serious home craftsperson.
Need a light and accurate level in the kitchen drawer for those house projects such as picture hanging? The Amazon Basics level will do the trick. The imperial and metric ruler along the top edge provides an extra benefit for small projects and adjustments. Our testers complained that the zero mark is recessed 1⅝ inch back from the edge of the level. Need to measure a photo from a corner? Better grab a tape measure. The Amazon Basics lives up to its name as inexpensive, easy to read, and basic.
For those who seldom need a level and don't abuse it, the Amazon Basics will be an inexpensive and accurate purchase. Its performance in durability testing underwhelmed and disappointed our testers. The joined hollow plastic frame did not hold up well, immediately cracking along the seam. Beneath the plastic body is a light aluminum frame that was undamaged. The vials are held in the windows by the broken plastic frame causing the product to become inaccurate. If you tend to drop things or are rough on your tools, it may be worth spending a little more on a more durable product.
Trying to save space in a small tool chest or apartment? The Qooltek Laser Level includes an eight-foot tape measure and a six-inch ruler. The laser level was accurate in testing and bright enough to display 30 feet away in a well-lit room. The batteries inside the product lasted just over four hours, and the packaging included extra batteries saving a future trip to the store. If you have wall art to hang, especially a collage or multiple photos on one wall, this level will help you immensely to keep all the frames in line.
To their disappointment, our testers found that the tape brake did not operate consistently after the six-foot mark on the eight-foot tape measure. Unfortunately, on the first series of the durability test, the plastic casing cracked, a piece of trim broke off, and the horizontal crosshair for the laser stopped functioning. The Qooltek also lacks any sort of magnetic edge. Overall this device is a great choice for those that want to minimize clutter or kill two or three birds with one stone. Just be careful not to drop it on any hard surfaces.
The smallest level in our test pool, the Winnsty Spirit, gets points for durability. The simple light plastic design withstood our durability test with no breaks or blemishes. It does not fare so well under tension or compression, so maybe don't pack it below your socket wrench and channel locks. The bubbles were quick to rejoin when separated and were accurate.
Notably, the black plastic and diminutive size make it easy to misplace or lose. We lost it several times in testing only to realize it was within arms reach in a shadow or behind another level. The vials are fairly readable for how small they are and contained a slow-moving viscous fluid that our testers preferred. This is a great level for those on a really tight budget and not a lot of space. It will fit nicely in your kitchen in that drawer that has the rubber bands, binder clips, and thumbtacks.
Why You Should Trust Us
Ryan Baker is a painter and photographer who studied fine art. He uses levels among his many tools to build his own frames and furniture. Jobs in new construction, remodels, and renovations have pulled him from his easel to pay the bills. As a fine artist, he has the attention to detail. As a builder, he has the experience to implement simple tests to objectively rank a product's merits in a field inundated with many options.
As a fellow online shopper, he also understands the stress of trying to choose between the plethora of options online. We have compiled an array of tests in accuracy, durability, and ease of use to build rankings to find the best in class for torpedo levels. We also considered materials and extra features in our rankings.
Analysis and Test Results
Levels share several common traits. The most important of those are accuracy, durability, readability, and materials. Other extra features such as a grooved edge or magnetic edge, level angles, rulers, a conduit attachment, or a laser should also be considered when purchasing a level. Our testers used these metrics to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the products in our review. We hope that our scrutiny and testing can help inform your decision to purchase a level. We elaborate on these metrics and how we tested them below.
Outside of a laboratory, it is difficult to test the accuracy of a six to nine-inch torpedo level. For this test, our team used a four-foot level on concrete to set up as a control subject and compared each torpedo level on top of the long level. We also rotated the levels axially in the vertical and horizontal plane and compared the levels to their own readings in each plane. All ten of our selected levels performed well, and there were no outliers or anomalies.
Not all levels are created equal. What materials a manufacturer uses plays greatly into the longevity and durability of a product. If you plan to use a level every day on the job site or maybe once when you move to a new apartment to hang a photo, you will be decisive on how much you are willing to spend and what you expect from a product. Products made from plastics tend to be much cheaper and do not last as long as those made from aluminum. Further, levels made from joined plastic parts were the most inferior to standing up to abuse. That being said, two categories go hand in hand: materials and durability.
Throughout our testing, we found that the most durable products were all-aluminum, such as the Ideal Electrician Level and the Milwaukee 7-inch Billet. We performed a drop test from an eight-foot step ladder onto level concrete to test durability, orienting each product with the broad or viewing edge toward the ground horizontally. Our goal was to test the durability and vulnerability of the vials. No vials broke during our testing, but we did witness failures in frames and trim features. The saving grace of the cheaper plastic levels such as the Winnsty Spirit and the Johnson was their relatively low weight and were therefore undamaged.
Bubble Readability and Viscosity
The real trait of note in this test was the viscosity of the fluid in the vial. Comparing vials side by side in a 'bubble race test,' we discovered the Winnsty Spirit had the slowest bubble movement and a tiny viewing window on the top spine. The Qooltek Laser Level Pro had the fastest bubble, but the added feature of a laser helped to offset that drawback. All the levels tested had yellow-tinted high visibility vials, but the Craftsman scored points for being the easiest to read with its magnified horizontal level that is twice as large as the Ideal. Our testers also appreciated the mirrors the Workpro had on the plumb level to read along the top spine.
Nine out of ten of the products tested had magnets along one spine. The Qooltek could not compete as it lacked this useful feature. All of the magnetic levels were test upside down on metal venting and tapped with two fingers. While subjective, this was meant to imitate bumping or jostling in a typical work environment.
Most levels were knocked away easily with a tap from two fingers. The Craftsman and Workpro took four fingers to knock off, and the Ideal held strong against a push taking second place. Coming in as the strongest, the Milwaukee, able to pick up and hold a five-pound weight at a 90-degree angle.
Most levels are just that: a tool meant to describe if a surface is flat, vertical, or laying correctly at a common angle. Most levels utilize a bubble suspended in fluid or a laser. Some products offer a little extra such as a ruler along one spine, a screw to secure to pipe or conduit, magnets to hold it in place, replaceable parts, or even a tape measure. Some are probably adept hammers as well in a pinch, though we don't recommend that. Extra features can be helpful, but a level should do its primary job well first.
In this comprehensive review, we strived to cover products across the spectrum of budgets and user needs. Not one torpedo level is right for every person. Our experts put in hours of research to bring you the best torpedo levels. We are confident one of these tools will find its way into your toolbox, kitchen drawer, or job site.
— Ryan Baker