Interested in staying “on the level” over large areas? Here’s a tip that goes back many years, yet has often been forgotten and fallen out of use now that laser leveling guides have become popular.
If you find that you need to mark out horizontal guides on uneven and wide-spread mounting surfaces ( large cabinet installations, decks, wall renovations ) and you need to continue marking a very specific height even around corners and into other rooms, this method might prove very useful if you’re unable to secure straight lengths of lumber as guides.
It’s well known that water seeks its own level. You can make use of this with a length of clear plastic tubing, a few small c-clamps, regular tap water, and some food dye.
Clear plastic flexible PVC tubing is available online and at most local hardware stores in lengths cut to order. Twenty-five feet of 1/2″ OD should cost about $25.00.
Start by securing both ends of the tubing to any surface outdoors or in the garage – at around chest height. Stretch out the lengths and be sure there are no hard bends or tight loops in the line.
Note: Try a test first by pouring a small amount of water into a short length of the tubing you’ll use. If you find that you can clearly and easily see a water level inside the tubing, don’t add the food dye. You’ll have a safer leveling method in case of small spills.
Prepare a water/food dye mixture and fill the tubing with it until the fluid levels off at around 2 feet or so from the open ends.
Bend the ends back on themselves and secure them with c-clamps, cable ties, strong elastic, or any method that works best for you to assure the water won’t escape the tubing until you’re ready to use it.
When next you need a long-distance height matched perfectly level, uncoil the water-filled length of tubing and hold both ends together making sure the rest of the tubing is lower. Open both ends of the tubing and secure them against your starting mark so that the fluid level lines up with it. Allow 30 seconds or so for the water to level out and any bubbles to escape.
Once you have the level point of your water matched with your starting point, you can leave one end secured at your original mark and take the other end of the tubing anywhere you need to make additional guide marks for as long as the tube will reach, providing you keep the length of the tubing lower than the open ends and allow a few seconds for the fluid to settle. ( Be sure to keep the end you’re moving around close to the same height as the opposite end, otherwise, you’ll be spilling. There will be rising and lowering water as the tube is used. That’s what the empty two feet at the ends are for. )
Important points to remember:
While this method is very inexpensive and effective, be EXTREMELY careful to avoid spilling if you’re trying it out in a fully finished home. PVC or Vinyl tubing should last for multiple uses, but if you don’t anticipate needing the water level in any upcoming jobs, carefully drain the tubing and set it aside so it won’t get frozen in the winter.
Also, don’t store your water leveler with your other tools. If it becomes pierced or cracked it could end up soaking them. And finally, avoid using this method if you’re working at an extremely cold job site, as the tubing may split or crack.