When we bought our first old house, a builder friend advised me to throw away my level and framing square. As we began renovations, I soon acknowledged the wisdom of his advice – there wasn’t a level, plumb or square surface in the place. Admittedly, the “character” of older homes often requires a bit of fudging. Assuming you’d like to end up with operable windows, doors and plumbing, though, having your framing or finish work plumb and level is key. Old school “bubble” levels are a big help, and get you in the right ballpark, but the final result is dependent on whoever is reading them. If you’re angling for perfection, though (and who isn’t!), the new Bosch digital levels offer precision accurate to the nth degree – give or take 0.05°.
Available in both a two-foot and four-foot version, which is what we received to evaluate, the new Bosch digital levels represent a complete overhaul of their previous offerings. According to Stephanie Dahl, Bosch’s product manager for measuring tools, “We completely redesigned our new digital levels to be easier to use, more durable and more functional than ever before. From great illumination and tilt display to precise digital accuracy, this updated line is designed to meet the needs of the most demanding trade professional.”
Here’s the lowdown from Bosch:
• Easy-to-read angled, illuminated, rotating flip display
• Display automatically rotates for ease of use
• Precise measurements in degrees, percent or feet and inches
• Hold/copy button to transfer target values to other work areas
• Audible tone indicator for level, 90°, or target setting
• Accuracy at 0° or 90° is ±0.05°
• Easy field calibration for consistent results
• Alignment arrows that help users adjust while leveling
• Robust housing with IP 54 protection from dust and water
• Two year warranty when registered with Bosch
Let Me Level With You
The Bosch digital levels come in a canvas protective case, with a little pocket under the flap to stow the instruction booklet. When they come out of the case to go to work, the protection continues. Both the Bosch GIM 60 and Bosch GIM 120 are now encased in an IP 54-rated protective housing, offering a more robust and durable level. This might not help if you drop it off a three-story building, but the design limits exposure to the dust, dirt and moisture often found on jobsites. The electronics are designed to keep the levels working hard for 80 operational hours, using standard alkaline batteries.
The levels have a clean, finely machined look to them, nice smooth aluminum with a Bosch Blue racing stripe. The controls are straightforward and easy to figure out and operate, and the manual helps fill in any gaps. A Mode button lets you choose among degrees, percentage, and in/ft. This last mode would be a huge benefit to plumbers, framers installing porches or decks, someone installing a patio, or anyone needing to factor in a slope for drainage. The normal pitch is around ¼” per foot, and the Bosch digital levels let you get it right on the money. It would also be a time saver for anyone framing up a roof, or building wheelchair ramps, allowing you to get the exact pitch desired.
Like any level subjected to getting banged around on the job, it’s possible for the Bosch digital levels to get mildly out of whack. If the level is off by more than .1°, it can be quickly recalibrated. To calibrate the level, just set it on a fairly level (less than 5°) surface, and press the “CAL” button. When CAL1 appears, rotate the level 180° and press the “CAL” button again, and CAL2 will appear. Repeat this process for the other surfaces of the level, and your precision is back.
The Hold/Copy function lets you precisely duplicate any angle. Set the level on the surface, and press the Hold/Copy button. Set it on the surface you want to adjust, and move it until the level beeps continuously; easy peasy. In every mode, arrows on both sides of the display indicate where to move that end of the Bosch digital levels to get them plumb, level, or to your target setting.
The Bosch digital levels also sound a beep when the level is at 0° and 90º. If the beeping bugs you, you can quickly do the digital equivalent of telling it to SHUT UP!! by pressing the speaker icon.
We tried out the Bosch GIM120 on a couple of current projects. The first was a kitchen remodel, where having cabinets and countertops plumb and level is crucial to having a good finished product. Having the audible signal as you’re securing the cabinets gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, knowing they’re not coming out of alignment. It also allows you to not have to monitor the level constantly as you maneuver the cabinets into place, which is especially helpful when you’re operating short-handed.
The next project probably wasn’t quite as enjoyable for the poor Bosch. We were replacing a bathroom subfloor, which was rotted badly enough to make it fodder for our HomeFail site. We removed all the flooring, sistered in some new material on a couple of joists, and were in the process of shimming and leveling everything. The Bosch GIM 120 helped us ensure that our lovely new subfloor was perfectly level, making it the only floor in the building that could make that claim.
The display on the Bosch digital levels is easy to read. The numbers are about an inch high, and the backlit display makes it legible even in darker areas. When working overhead, the display auto-rotates when you flip the level upside down. The only time it’s hard to read is when you’re directly above it; the display is much clearer when you have a direct view.
Bosch Digital Levels – Ready To Burst Your Bubble
An accurate level is an essential tool in just about every trade. Plumbers, electricians, framing and finish carpenters, cabinet installers, and masons all depend on a level to end up with quality work. While traditional bubble levels do a good job in general, there’s always a bit of a fudge factor built in, depending on who is reading the level. In my case, it could be a jumbo box of fudge.
The new Bosch digital levels are well made, quick and easy to use, and eliminate that fudge factor, give or take five hundredths of a degree. They’re not cheap ($169-$185 via the Amazon links below), but they just came out, and prices may drop as they become more widely available. Meanwhile, for those who demand perfection, the Bosch digital levels are as close as you can get. Just keep them away from my character-filled home, please.
GIM 120 from Amazon
GIM 60 from Amazon