Most tradesmen need to use a spirit level at some point in the course of their job. Some will use them more often than others. But how do you choose the right one for the task you are carrying out?
We take a look at I-beam levels versus box beam levels and ask ‘what’s the difference?’
Before looking at what the differences are between an I-beam level and a box beam level we should consider what features they share and have in common.
First of all, the purpose of a spirit or bubble level is to check that a surface is either level or plumb. A horizontal surface is checked to ensure that it is level and a vertical surface is checked to make sure that it is plumb.
Both types of level will carry out these functions through the use of vials embedded in the body of the level. Some levels will also have a vial that measures the degree of angle such as at 45 degrees.
There are a variety of different types of I-beam and box beam levels which are aimed at different trades and designed for specific tasks but in general both types carry out the same function.
At first glance they may look similar, but there is a difference in their profiles and how they are made. While this does not affect their common purpose it can influence which one a tradesman may prefer to use.
I-beam and box levels both come in a magnetic version for use with steel frames and other ferrous materials. This allows the level to remain firmly in place while an accurate measurement is taken.
These two levels take their name from the shape of their profiles. An I-beam level has the straight metal frame profile of a capital I while a box beam is a rectangular shape similar to a box.
If you were to cut either of them in half and look at the profile internally you would be able to clearly see the shape of each. So what is the purpose of the difference in profile shape?
An I-beam level frame has two horizontal planes, on top and bottom. These are called flanges. The vertical plane of the I-beam level is known as the web. This is similar to an I-beam used in construction.
The level is designed to be lightweight but also to withstand the rigors of being used on a construction site and maintain its shape. They are typically easier to carry and use due to the shape of the profile and less material than box levels.
A box level has four sides, two long and two short which create the rectangular box shape that it derives its name from. These levels are typically hollow to make them lightweight and easier to use and carry.
However, the shape of this profile adds to the strength of the level and makes it more durable. Some makes of box level have acrylic cores as opposed to being hollow to increase their strength.
Many box levels have recesses for hand grips to facilitate ease of use and carrying.
Most spirit levels are made from aluminum. This is a very strong and robust but lightweight material and so is ideal for the construction of spirit levels.
However, there are different grades of aluminum, so it is important to know the quality of the level that you are buying. Many spirit levels are made from high strength aluminum and some have reinforcing ribs along their length for extra stability.
The vials are typically made from acrylic as this is a strong material and less prone to breaking, as well as a higher grade aluminum for durability. Both I-beam and box levels will normally have two vertical vials and one horizontal vial for ease of readability with an air bubble in each vial.
End caps are often fitted to both types of level. These are designed to protect the profile against shock and impact such as dropping the level or knocking it against a solid object. Some are removable while others have an anti-slip material for accurate measurements.
I-beam levels don’t usually have a need for hand grips as their shape allows them to be more easily held in place than a box level. Many box levels do come with hand grips and some have two profiled grips for greater stability.
The different types of construction for I-beam and box levels allows a range of choice for different trades to pick the level most suitable for their occupation.
The durability of an I-beam or box level will come from the materials that it is made from. High quality aluminum is the basis for most strong and durable spirit levels as well as tough acrylic vials and shock absorbing end caps.
The shape of the I-beam level gives it a strength that a straight level wouldn’t have. It prevents the spirit level from twisting out of shape and reduces the stresses of impact on the profile.
However, as it is a lighter level it will not have the same strength and robustness as a box level. If it is dropped from height, such as from scaffolding or a roof there is a chance that the I-beam spirit level may be bent out of shape.
Due to its construction a box level has a greater level of durability than an I-beam level. This is because it has four points of strength, its four sides and this creates a stronger profile. The box level is still lightweight and easy to use and carry.
Some box levels are hollow and others have an acrylic core. While this may increase their durability it will make them heavier. Other box levels have thicker walls in the profile to increase strength, but this too will add to their weight.
Both I-beam and box spirit levels have a multitude of uses and can be employed by all kinds of tradesmen.
The I-beam tends to be the less expensive of the two because it uses less materials in its construction. As a result they are perhaps more often chosen over more expensive options.
Craftsmen will always choose the most appropriate level for their trade however and in many instances this will be the I-beam level. Many choose it for its light weight.
Carpenters, bricklayers, reinforced concrete construction, window fitting and landscaping are all examples of trades who may use an I-beam spirit level.
A box level can be used by all the above trades and in many cases may be preferred by them for its robustness and durability. It also has the potential to have four measuring surfaces.
Those box levels with hand grips are easier to manipulate over the solid profile versions which may be tricky to hold in place especially if you are working above your head.
Both I-beam and box levels do an excellent job of measuring surfaces for level and plumb accuracy, the one you choose should be best suited for the job you are doing.
Most I-beam and box levels are made from quality materials and will give accurate readings for measurements.
You should check the specifications of the types of level you are considering before making a purchase to ensure you chose the correct one.