Last Updated on August 30, 2020
You may think that shopping for torpedo levels should be a quick in and out experience, as the name implies, but the fact of the matter is that you can get a great deal or get ripped off when you’re shopping for these tools online. You shouldn’t have to settle for the cheap-o model you can find at your local hardware store, but it can be hard to tell if you’re getting something better when you’re shopping online.
We want you to know what you’re getting before you spend your hard-earned money. Our reviews are created with the busy user in mind. Short and sweet, they cover the good and bad on every model so that you can find not only a great tool but the exact model which is right for you. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide which covers the information you need to know about torpedo levels so you can get up to speed on what you need to know before you buy.
|Top Pick||Stabila 25100||
|Sola MM 5 25||
|Best for the Money||Dewalt DWHT43003||
|a BARGAIN||Stanley 43-511||
|Johnson Level & Tool 1435-1200||
The Stabila 25100 is the very best torpedo level on the market today. It comes with a pair of very strong magnets on the back, which allow you to mount this level to a surface you’re working on and frees up your hands for balancing. It’s also extremely accurate and is certified to be within .029 degrees of the indicated measurement. That error is so small that you won’t notice it on all but the most delicate jobs. It also comes with a sturdy frame that can hold up well against drops from ladders and against accidental crushing situations. While it won’t survive falls from multiple stories, it has enough durability to make it a good job site tool.
The acrylic vials are also covered by a limited lifetime warranty, which will replace the tool if they break or fog up. That warranty shows that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind the product, and that makes for a good deal. The only problem with this model is that the magnets sometimes come loose, though that’s a problem solvable with some epoxy. Overall, this is a great torpedo level and one with which most people will be very happy.
The Sola MM 5 25 Torpedo Level is the model you want to get if you value durability over all over features. This model comes with an aluminum frame, which makes it on the heavier side, but also means that it will stand up well if you drop it. It also comes with glow-in-the-dark bubbles, which make it possible to use this level in poor light or even the dark. It also comes with large bubbles in slightly-curved vials, which makes it easy to see when you’ve achieved the perfect level.
This model also comes with a 45-degree angle vial, so you can use it for trickier installations. Unfortunately, this model only comes with one magnet on the backside. The model’s stability is underwhelming. A tap to the side can spin it, and since it only has one magnet, it doesn’t have the same grip as other models on this list. If you really need the magnetic function, you may end up disappointed with this model. However, if you want a very durable, very accurate torpedo level, and don’t need the best magnetic grip on the market, then you will be very satisfied with this model.
The Dewalt DWHT43003 Torpedo Level is the model for the cost-conscious shopper who needs a great torpedo level on a budget. You can get this model for about half of what you’d pay for the top two models on our list, which makes this one the best overall value for the money. It comes with a strong, but lightweight body, fitted with rubber end caps for extra shock resistance. It also includes a magnified center vial, which makes it easy to verify that you’ve achieved a great level with just a glance.
That easy-to-read vial adds to this model’s overall ease of reading. It’s extremely accurate in general, to within a few thousands of an inch on each measure. What ultimately keeps this low-cost, high-value model out of the top two is that we have some overall quality concerns. The end caps sometimes pop off, though that’s something you can fix at home with superglue, though the fact that you have to lowers the value. The line-markings also quickly wear off on some models. If these problems were fixed, it would be easy to rank this model higher, though it’s still a good overall deal given its low price.
The Stanley 43-511 is an extremely inexpensive model. If you need to get a torpedo level on the cheap side, you’ll generally be happy with this model, though some units ship with serious problems. On the plus side, this model does feature an aluminum frame, which is surprisingly good quality at this price. That means it will have good strength and durability while remaining very lightweight. It also comes with non-marring feet, which resolves a problem common to cheaper levels. This model won’t scratch your work surfaces like some might. Also included is a pipe groove, so you can level rounded pieces.
However, the worst thing about this model is its weak magnet. It barely holds the level up, if it works at all. Most people are unhappy with the magnet’s performance, and it’s the area that seems to be most affected by the low price. Some units also ship with misaligned vials, which leads to inaccuracy. It’s not a widespread problem, but it’s one for which you should be on the lookout. If you need a strong magnet, you’ll need to get something else, but people who don’t need one can consider this model to be an excellent bargain.
The Johnson Level & Tool 1435-1200 12-inch comes with a great selection of leveling vials, including a plumb, level, 45-degree and multi-pitch vial. That makes this the most flexible torpedo level on our list. It also comes with large, easy-read vials, so it’s great for people who won’t always be working in great lighting or have poor eyesight. It also comes with some of the stronger magnets on this list. However, what drops this model to the last place is the fact that the magnets aren’t mounted well.
They tend to come loose while holding the level, but sometimes fall out while in transit. That can lead to you losing a magnet altogether. That’s a big pain to deal with, especially since the factory could fix the problem by using stronger adhesive. It also suffers from durability questions. It doesn’t seem to hold up against fall damage as well as some comparable models do. If you’re going to use this model at home, that’s not a big deal, but it’s a deal-breaker for construction. Overall, this is a model which is good for people who need advanced leveling capabilities, but unfortunately, it doesn’t provide great overall value for the price.
We hope that our reviews have helped you better understand what makes for a good torpedo level and what makes for a model that will leave you regretting your purchase. If you’re looking for more information on torpedo levels, or just want to make sure that you understand the market before choosing the model which is right for you, then you’ve come to the right place. In this buyer’s guide, we cover torpedo levels from top to bottom, and we’ve also included some tips on getting great value for your money, so if you’re looking for a steal, make sure you check out this guide.
The truth of the matter is that torpedo levels are rarely as accurate as longer levels. That’s not because there’s any inherent difference in how sensitive the vial is to changes in angle, but rather that longer materials might have a different average angle relative to any short distances.
Thus, it’s important to take measurements at multiple different spots along longer pieces when using a torpedo level. That way, you can be sure that you haven’t missed out on the overall trend by measuring a spot that happened to differ greatly from it.
Some people argue that torpedo levels are inherently less accurate, but as long as you use them correctly, you should be able to achieve a high level of accuracy.
When it comes to comparing levels to each other, the measurement is generally given in fractions of an inch per inch. For instance, very accurate levels are those with have 0.0005”/1” accuracy, or better. That means that the level is off a maximum of .0005 inches per inch in length on the level. With a standard, 48” level, that would amount to roughly .024” difference. So, the measurement would be within .024 inches of dead level, which is within most projects’ tolerance for error.
A shorter, 12-inch level with the same error would lead to an error of just plus or minus .006 inches. However, since torpedo levels tend to be cheaper, they aren’t always made to the same demanding standards. That means they can be far more inaccurate, and you may not realize it until you install something and realize that it wasn’t anywhere near level.
Of course, the upside to torpedo levels is that they are very small. If you’re working a project with demanding tolerances, then you either need to deal with a larger level or spend more and get a premium, very accurate torpedo level.
While there’s no rule about the size which a torpedo level can be, most manufacturers make a model which is somewhere between eight and twelve inches long. Size doesn’t have a huge impact on accuracy. Instead, the biggest difference tends to be in how many measurements you can make with a single level.
Many levels come with at least two vials, allowing you to level and plumb objects. The most common type of level comes with three vials, which adds a 45-degree angle vial to the ones dedicated to leveling and plumbing. Not everyone will be able to make use of that third angle, but it’s vital in certain industries.
There are other kinds of vials which manufacturers add to increase the value of their product. You usually only find these in torpedo levels which are ten inches or longer, so if compactness is your primary concern, you may want to skip these models.
One of the most interesting examples is the multi-pitch vial. This vial typically shows you measurements in increments of 1/8-inch, so it can be used to level pieces which need to be offset from the level, or it can be used to tell exactly how much you need to move one side of the piece to get it perfectly level, instead of engaging in an endless game of moving and rechecking.
The great thing about the list we’ve assembled here is that each model comes with oversized vials. That makes it easier to see if you’re level or not, even if the lighting isn’t great, or you can only look at your level from an oblique level, which sometimes happens when you’re working in tight spaces.
It’s also important that you get a model that won’t fog. If the seal between the vials and the frame isn’t perfect, it may not leak, but humidity may still work its way inside, leading to vials that become unreadable because of the condensation that’s built up on the inside. The best way to avoid this problem is to look for models which describe themselves as “anti-fog.” While that’s doesn’t necessarily prove that they won’t have the problem, but it does mean that the manufacturer is aware of this common problem and has tried to fix it.
Next two an oversized vial, the next most important feature that makes reading a torpedo level easy is the size and darkness of the markings on the vial. You want levels with large, dark markings so that it’s obvious from the get-go where the bubble is in relation to true level. Some models have problems with those markings wearing off, so if you see a complaint about that in the reviews, it’s a good idea to skip that model.
Most torpedo levels come with magnets somewhere in their frame. That allows them to be securely affixed to the top of a metal object, or even to hang off the side or from the bottom of one. Relative to a standard level, the torpedo level can make a huge difference in what you can do, because of the magnets alone.
However, not all magnets are made equally. The kind you should be looking for is rare-earth magnets. These will either be made from neodymium or samarium-cobalt, though manufacturers don’t typically declare which kind they’re using. There’s no particular benefit to either kind, so you should be good with either set.
The bigger fact you need to pay attention to is that the magnets aren’t always secured well to the frame. This is a solvable problem if the magnet doesn’t fall out and get lost. You’ll want to check that each magnet is held tightly before you start using your torpedo level, and if not, you may want to take it out and use a strong adhesive to permanently reattach it to the frame.
There are a few cool features that some models come with, which don’t necessarily change the overall value of the torpedo level relative to its price but may be worth having just the same.
Some models come with a hanging hook hole. These allow you to add string or another kind of holder to allow it to attach to your tool belt or to other pieces of equipment so that you can have them ready at a moment’s notice.
Aluminum-body torpedo levels can be very strong while staying very lightweight. However, crummy aluminum can be about as strong as hard plastic, so it’s not necessary to go with a more expensive plastic-framed model over a cheap aluminum one, as you may get more drop resistance and resistance against cracking with the more-expensive plastic model.
While only a few models come with it, purchasing a model with a lifetime warranty could save you a lot of money in the long run, if your model does happen to break while in the course of normal work. It’s also a good sign that the manufacturer thinks the quality of the product is good enough to guarantee it, which means that it’s probably going to hold up well over time.
Every worker has different needs, so there’s no one torpedo level which is going to be right for all people. Many people look for great value when they shop by looking at the most expensive or least expensive models. However, that’s not a great way to end up with great value or even do end up with a model that you like using.
A better strategy is to focus on the accuracy you need for the jobs you’re doing, and on the features which will make those jobs easier. If you make a shortlist of the torpedo levels which have those features and the accuracy you need, and then pick the least expensive one, you’ll get the best value for your money. That torpedo will have all the features you need to be satisfied with it, but provide them at the lowest overall price, making it the best deal for the money.
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The Stabila 25100 is the best overall model due to its strong magnet, great accuracy, and limited lifetime warranty. In second is the Sola MM 5 25 Torpedo Level which comes with a strong but light aluminum frame, as well as large vials that glow in the dark, though it only comes with one mounting magnet. The Dewalt DWHT43003 Torpedo Level includes a magnified center vial and great accuracy, and since you can get it for a fraction of what you’d pay for the top two models on our list, it’s the best overall value for the money. The Stanley 43-511 has an aluminum frame and non-marring feet, but its weak magnet and accuracy problems mean it falls to fourth place on our list. In last is the Johnson Level & Tool 1435-1200 12-inch. It has strong magnets and a multi-pitch vial, but its weak magnet attachment and durability questions mean it can rise no higher than last on our list.
We hope that our reviews and buyer’s guide have helped you learn more about torpedo levels and find the model which is right for you.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!