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Builder’s Level vs Transit Level: What’s the Difference?

builders level vs transit level

You’ve probably heard the terms “builder’s level” and “transit level” when it comes to surveying or construction. What’s the difference? It’s just the ability to measure vertically or horizontally. Transit levels have a limited range of motion horizontally and are primarily used for vertical measurements. Builder’s levels cannot be adjusted vertically, only horizontally at 360 degrees. Read on to learn more specifics about each device.

Transit Level

This is a telescope with crosshairs that comes with the bonus of vertical tilt. Transit levels provide relative positions of objects as well as precise angles of inclination in degrees, minutes, and seconds. They come equipped with a spirit level and tripod to create level stability before using and require a graduated rod to determine relative height. Builders use transit levels to determine plumb or vertical angles.

a transit level
A transit level. Here we see the NWI NSLP500B Siteline
  • Vertical measuring and angling
  • Less range of motion

Builder’s Level

A builder’s level moves only horizontally, in 360 degrees. It is used primarily to establish level points and check elevations. It also comes with a spirit level and tripod to stabilize the device before using it. Make sure the device is level at all 360 degrees for the most accurate measurements. You’ll also need someone to hold a graduated rod at your measuring point to determine the relative height. These are used primarily to establish level and horizontal lines.

a builders level
A builder’s level. Here we see the DEWALT DW090PK
  • 360-degree rotation
  • No vertical angling


Determine how you’ll use your level to decide between the two. A builder’s level will give you precise horizontal measurements, and a transit level will give you precise vertical angles. We hope this brief guide has cleared up the confusion between these two very similar devices and their uses. When in doubt, you may need both to accomplish your work.

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