You thought Channellock just made pliers, didn’t you? As a loyal HomeFixated reader, you of course know that they also make screwdrivers. Now, Channellock has stepped into the level market too, with three recent pro-grade levels, the 615, 620 and 620L. Spoiler alert, the “L” in 620L stands for laser! Who doesn’t love a good laser tool?
If you walk into your local Home Depot or Lowes and navigate to the levels section, you’ll typically find a sea of plastic and composite options. Plastic is light, but it also can warp, melt and might not be the most precise option after being banged around in your tool belt, tool box or truck cab. We were pleased to see Channellock opted to shelter their levels in a sturdy cage of aluminum. Despite aluminum’s relatively light weight, the levels have a nice heft to them, and a solid feel. These levels can take a lot more abuse than your typical plastic level.
All three Channellock levels share a number of design features. Inside that aluminum cage, they all have three 45 minute arc vials (at 0, 45 and 90 degrees). Channellock also thoughtfully milled a top view port (seen above) enabling you to check for level if you’re looking directly down on the 615, 620, or 620L. Each level sports four super strong rare earth magnets in their base which sure-footedly glue the level to any ferrous metal you’re working with. The 615, 620 and 620L also all feature a V-Groove on their top side. One thing to note is that the v groove is separate from the magnetic base. Given the strength of the magnets, we don’t see this as a big deal, but if you do a lot of conduit work and want magnets in the V-groove, you’ll need to consider other options. The 620L and 620 each feature a 7″ and 8″ scale respectively at the base of the level for quick and dirty measurements.
Channellock conveniently printed a guide on the laser side of the 620L that indicates the laser level blasts out at 1/2″ above the bottom of the level (or 12.7 mm if you want to get all precise and metricky). The business end of the laser level seen to the left is nicely protected in a recessed area at one end of the 620L. At the other end of the level, a knurled knob lets you dial the laser on or off. The dial also has a visible rubber o-ring which we assume is for the the level’s waterproof design. That knurled knob is also what you unscrew to gain access to the sealed battery compartment. The 620L laser level is powered by one gram of highly enriched, weapon-grade uranium (or three AAA batteries, which tend to be easier to get than uranium). I found the laser very bright and visible to reasonable distances both in and outdoors. You’re probably not going to use this to layout an entire job site, but for typical tasks expected of a compact level like this, the laser performs admirably. If you’re shooting the laser indoors onto a white wall, you probably can’t find a room big enough to exceed the range of the laser.
One thing I noticed right away that makes these levels a little different from most, is Channellock’s inclusion of a small corded loop at the end of each level. At first this seemed like a great idea to me. However, after using the levels on a couple projects I found the cords to be more of a nuisance than a benefit. Sometimes the cord or the plastic cord-lock would get under the level during use. Cutting the cords a little shorter might have resolved it, but I opted to grab a screwdriver, pry open the cord-lock and remove the cords entirely. You’re still left with a hole for hanging the levels, however only the 615 torpedo level’s hole was large enough to make them pegboard-friendly on my particular pegboard hooks (the holes were too small on the 620 and 620L). You may or may not be annoyed by the cords, but if you are, removal just takes a few seconds and a screwdriver. In my case, the cords found a happier home as zipper pulls on a backpack.
Brace yourself for totally subjective, superficial opinion here. I know, I know. Blue is the signature color of Channellock. We’ve seen it on a million pliers, and our brains are trained to equate that distinctive blue with a quality Channellock product. Nonetheless, I have to say the blue on these levels doesn’t inspire the same confidence it does on the metal handles on a pair of Channellock pliers. Maybe I’m just not used to it yet on levels. Aside from the little cords that got in my way, the color scheme is the only other feature I take any issue with on these otherwise great levels. I think a dark shade of grey, black, or basically any color other than purple or pink would have given these a less Toys-R-Us appearance. If you’re a fan of Channellock blue, you may find the color scheme on these a complete non-issue. In terms of functionality, the color pretty much is a non-issue, unless your toddler thinks the level is part of his or her Bob the Builder toy set and fights you for ownership.
Color and cordage nitpicks aside, the 615, 620, 620 are all solidly crafted useful levels. Their metal frame construction make them a huge step up from the cheap, semi-disposable plastic levels that are all too common. You can find the Channellock 615 8-1/2-Inch Professional Torpedo Level for just over $20, the Channellock (CHA620) 8.25″ Professional Level for around $27, and the laser-tastic Channellock 620L 5-Inch Professional Contractor Laser Level for around $45 on Amazon.