Home Improvement Concept: Level

Home Improvement Concept: Level

As you get more into home improvement and DIY projects, there are two concepts that will make what you do look more professional: level and square. (And if you’re going for a rustic, primitive look then you may want to consider if “breaking the rules” here would be helpful.) Today, let’s talk about ‘level.’

The basic idea of something being level is that the object is parallel to something else. Let’s take hanging a shelf as an example. There are two ways to determine whether something is (or appears to be) level:

  • Using one of your toolbox items – your tape measure: To get an approximate level, measure from either the ceiling or the floor and mark the same measurement at either end of where the shelf will be. Then place an item that rolls fairly easily (pencil, marble) on the shelf. When the round object stays in the middle without rolling to either side, then the shelf is level.
    A caveat: old houses (and the ground under them) settle. If you take the entire measurement from ceiling to floor, you may notice that the two are not parallel to each other. That is, the measurement at one point is not going to be the same as as a different point along the wall. By standing back and looking, you may be able to determine which is off – ceiling or floor. (Sagging ceilings can indicate larger structural problems, but that’s a problem for a professional.) An easy way to determine if the floor isn’t level is to place a round object, like a marble, at what appears to be the high point. If it rolls, chances are the floor is sloping. The reason I point this out is because whichever the shelf (in this case) is going to be placed closest to, that is what you want to use to determine level. If you are putting it in above a piece of furniture, then make it parallel to the top of the furniture. If it’s going in close to the ceiling, you may want to see how strange it looks if the ceiling is very off. (After all, putting in a shelf at too much of an angle would also defeat the purpose.)
  • levelAdding another tool to your toolbox – a bubble level: If you are able, I highly recommend purchasing a bubble level. They are not very expensive, and they make the job of hanging things very easy. The idea is fairly simple – there is a small portion with liquid in the middle of the level. Inside is an air bubble, and on either side of the air bubble are two lines. If the bubble is between the lines, then the item is level.
    As in the picture on the right, many levels have liquid chambers at three different positions – vertical, horizontal, and angled. The vertical chamber allows you to determine whether something is plumb (at a 90 degree angle to the ground), and the angled chamber determines whether something is at a 45 degree angle.

All that being said, it is possible to just ‘eyeball’ whether something is level. I don’t recommend this for construction or furniture projects, but for hanging frames on the wall, it should be fine.

A final note about hanging pictures – if you hang a frame from a single nail or screw, the item will likely shift out of level over time usually due to vibrations (slamming doors, earthquakes, or the like) because the single nail ends up acting as a pivot point. It’s easily moved, but easy enough to fix by just moving it back into position. If you want a picture or other object to remain at level permanently, be sure to use two nails or screws – one at either end of the object. This removes the pivot point, and the object will stay at level permanently. (An easy fix for that frame that always seems to move.)

Are you the type of person that uses a level for everything? Or are you more likely to try and eyeball it and call it good enough?


Sewist, knitter, reader, dancer. Wife. Lover of things vintage and retro.


  1. […] Home Improvement Concept: Level October 9, 2014 […]