When I started working on my first old house, a contractor friend advised me to leave my level and framing square at home. It’s true that little, if any, of the existing structure in most older homes is square, plumb or level. (This is commonly referred to as “character.”) It’s equally true that if you’re adding or repairing any windows, doors, or anything that involves plumbing, you’d probably better bring those tools along after all. We recently received some Milwaukee Redstick Levels to evaluate; we’ll see if they’re worthy of being added to the character-correcting arsenal.
Box levels aren’t the sexiest tools on the job site; basically, they’re just sticks with glass vials in them. Although they ARE cordless and brushless! A reliable, sturdy level is a necessity for anyone employed in the building trades, though, and they can end up taking a fair amount of abuse. Milwaukee addressed this in a couple of ways.
First off, the aluminum frames for the Milwaukee Redstick levels are very robustly built. Milwaukee reinforced them with an All-Metal Backbone™ to help eliminate frame deformations (“It’s OK to use this as a pry bar, right?!”). The Backbone™ reinforced frame helps protect the accuracy of the levels, and protects them from damage by creating a reinforced area around the vial. The ends of the levels are protected by high-density end caps, which are removable to provide better access into tight spaces.
Next up, the vial. On any level, this is the component most likely to go kerblooey. The vials on the Milwaukee Redstick levels are engineered with high-impact acrylic. Milwaukee claims this provides 10X more durability than the vials in standard competitive block levels, and protects the accuracy of the level over its lifetime.
The vials in the Milwaukee Redstick levels all feature SHARPSITE™ Vial Technology. The vials have black bands to create high-contrast edges, making the magnified bubble easier to read accurately. And while we’re on the topic of accuracy, Milwaukee provides a Lifetime Accuracy Guarantee, warranting that the levels will be accurate within .029° and .0005”/in. for as long as you own them. Here’s the feature list, followed by a short Milwaukee Redstick levels promo:
• All-metal backbone – strongest, most durable frame, reinforced vial retention
• SHARPSITE vial technology – best readability, impact protected
• Guaranteed lifetime accuracy – accurate to 0.029-degree (0.0005 in./in, 0,5 mm/M)
• High contrast vial system is easy to clean and optimizes visibility
• High density, removable end-caps protect frame and provide access in tight spaces
• Wide, durable handles (on some models) for comfort and portability
• Precision milled measuring surface guarantees accuracy in all working positions
• Over-molded, non-slip grips stick to the wall and prevent sliding
• Durable, all-metal hang hole for storage
Making The Case For Milwaukee Redstick Levels
There is a huge assortment of Milwaukee Redstick levels to choose from, as you will see in a moment. Milwaukee sent us a few to evaluate: A magnetic 32-incher, a 24” Compact Box Level, and a three-level starter set in a carrying case. Even though it’s technically not a Redstick level, they also sent along a handy little Milwaukee Billet Torpedo Level.
The Milwaukee starter set (MLBXC48) contains a trio of levels in commonly-used sizes. You get a 48” Milwaukee Box level, a 24” Milwaukee Box level, and a Milwaukee Torpedo level with a rotating vial. The levels come in a sturdy, protective storage bag. Constructed of tough ballistic water-resistant nylon, the bag uses all-metal hardware, and has a sturdy zipper and two debris vents, to let water and miscellaneous junk escape. The bag offers a great way to keep the levels together when you’re not using them, and provides very good protection as you schlep them into and out of the truck.
The storage bag has a built-in handle and a detachable strap, along with a hanging loop on top. There are three separate pockets for the levels, and a couple of external webbed loops and two hook-and-loop straps let you take some extra tools, or a set of blueprints, along for the ride.
If the sizes mentioned above don’t suit your needs, there are a couple of other options available. You can get the Milwaukee Redstick levels in a regular or magnetic, standard-sized or compact frame, and they’re available individually or in a variety of sets. See if there’s something here that would work for you:
• 16” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX16)
• 24” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX24)
• 32” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX32)
• 36” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX36)
• 48” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX48)
• 59” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX59)
• 72” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX72)
• 78” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX78)
• 96” REDSTICK™ Box Level (MLBX96)
• 24”/48” REDSTICK™ Box Level Set (MLBXS48)
• 78”/32” REDSTICK™ Box Level Jamb Set (MLBXJB)
• 16” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM16)
• 24” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM24)
• 32” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM32)
• 36” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM36)
• 48” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM48)
• 59” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM59)
• 72” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM72)
• 78” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM78)
• 96” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Box Level (MLBXM96)
• 24”/48” REDSTICK™ Box Level Set (MLBXSM48)
• 78”/32” REDSTICK™ Box Level Jamb Set (MLBXJBM)
• 24” REDSTICK™ Compact Box Level (MLCM24)
• 24” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Compact Box Level (MLCMM24)
• 48” REDSTICK™ Compact Box Level (MLCM48)
• 48” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Compact Box Level (MLCMM48)
• 72” REDSTICK™ Compact Box Level (MLCM72)
• 72” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Compact Box Level (MLCMM72)
• 24”/48” REDSTICK™ Compact Box Level Set (MLCMS48)
• 24”/48” REDSTICK™ Magnetic Compact Box Level Set (MLCMSM48)
OK, ready for the quiz?
Hands – And Eyes – On The Milwaukee Redstick Levels
The build quality is evident as soon as you pick up any of the Milwaukee Redstick levels. They’re heavier than the I-beam levels I’m used to using, and feel very solid and sturdy. I think they look pretty sharp, too, which never hurts. The longer levels (over 24″) have built-in hand holds, with a rubber overmold. They’re fairly comfortable to hold, and the openings have plenty of room, even for my large hands.
Before using any of the Milwaukee Redstick levels, I tested each of them for accuracy. This is fast and easy to do, as shown in the video below from our friends at Fine Homebuilding. All the levels were dead-on, for both plumb and level.
I used all the levels over a period of several weeks. One of the projects I’m working on is the renovation of a very old house. As always, it’s kind of scary to see just how far out of plumb some of the walls are. One exterior wall, into which we cut an opening to install a new door, was out of plumb by almost an inch from the top to the bottom of the 80” door. Using some creative custom spacers, we got the door installed plumb.
The Milwaukee Redstick levels were all very easy to read. As is often the case, the work areas weren’t always very well illuminated, and my eyes are, in technical terms, “crap,” so the oversized SHARPSITE vials got a workout. The thick black bands on the edges of the horizontal vials really did help to focus on the target area. Also helpful was the full 180° view of the horizontal vials. This makes it much easier to get an accurate reading, compared to some levels with a continuous edge, where you have only a limited space to view the vial from above or below.
There is a noticeable difference between the regular and compact 24” Milwaukee Redstick levels. The compact level is lighter, about 1/2” shorter when set on its edge, and a bit narrower. Both levels have the same vials, though, and the same excellent build quality.
The magnetic levels all use amplified rare earth magnets. Translation: these things have some excellent grip. The 32” level hung onto the wall in the plumb position, hanging onto drywall corner bead through the joint compound. The little torpedo levels have incredible holding power; when they latch onto a piece of pipe or a metal stud, it takes serious effort to persuade it to come off. No worries about them falling off unintentionally.
The little 10” torpedo level that comes with the starter set is pretty slick. Although it isn’t designated a Redstick level, its die-cast aluminum construction makes it every bit as robust as any of the Milwaukee Redstick levels. It has a horizontal vial, a vertical vial, and an adjustable vial, set into a dial that can rotate 360°. The scale is clearly marked and easy to read, and there are preset marks for some of the most common settings: 15°, 22.5°, 45° and 75°.
The vial can also be locked in at any other point on the dial. This would be hugely helpful when you’re trying to replicate an existing angle. Once the dial is adjusted, a knurled locking knob holds it very securely in place, so you get excellent repeatability. A groove in the bottom of the level gives it great stability on pipes or other curved surfaces. This is the level that will be living in my tool belt!
Time To Get The (Red)Stick?
Over the decades, I’ve gone through several box levels. Some got broken vials, through normal jobsite wear and tear. Some got out of whack, and had no way to get back INTO whack. A couple actually ended up being bent or twisted, although no one seems to know quite how that happened… Bottom line, the real world is a harsh place, and if you use a level in the real world, you probably want one that can deal with that harshness.
There are a lot of levels on the market, with a wide range of quality – and price. I seldom go for the most expensive of anything, but I’ve long been a believer in the concept of “you get what you pay for,” and feel it’s wise to buy the best quality you can afford. Are there cheaper levels out there? You betcha. There are definitely more expensive levels, too. In the balancing act between price and quality, though, I think Milwaukee nailed it with the lineup of Milwaukee Redstick levels. The 24” level retails for just over $70, and the 48” model for around $115. At just under $200, the three level plus case starter set is a pretty good deal, knocking almost $100 off the individual prices.
The levels are very well built, they’re extremely accurate, and there are more of them than you can shake a (Red) stick at. Milwaukee is obviously confident in their durability; the entire lineup of Milwaukee Redstick Levels is backed by a lifetime accuracy guarantee and a limited lifetime warranty. If you want an accurate look – no matter how painful – at how plumb and level your world is, stick one of the Milwaukee Redstick levels up against it.
Ohio Power Tool search page results:
Home Depot Search page results:
Buy the Starter Set from Ohio Power Tool for Just Under $200:
Buy the Starter Set from the Home Depot for Just Under $200:
Buy the Milwaukee Locking Rotating Torpedo Level from the Home Depot for around $50: