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Irwin Levels and Squares
Common sense design for long-term accuracy, durability and ease of use
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 4-30-2012
The folks at Irwin have been making levels and squares for a long time but never stop tweaking their product line to add a little more usability and accuracy in an ever-expanding market. The tools reviewed here show that they have resisted the temptation of glitz and useless high-tech bling in favor of everyday usefulness and durability. If you use your tools for a living or to get things right in a home-based shop, Irwin was thinking of you!
250 Series Magnetic Torpedo Level
This level features a die cast, machined aluminum body for exceptional toughness on virtually any job site or location. The bottom edge features a V-shaped groove that lets this level sit firmly on rounded stock. Three rare earth magnets are set into this groove so it stays where you put it on metal projects while freeing your hands for welding and other operations. One end of the body even has a B tank key that fits acetylene tanks for when you need some heat and nobody can find the &&%$ key!
The 9”-long body also has spirit vials for level, plumb 22.5-degrees and 45 degrees. These vials cover a huge amount of the work you do and all of them can be seen from either side or in the case of the level vial, from the top and bottom as well as both sides. Irwin added an integrated 1.5-degree button that when extended lets you build in the standard 1/4" per foot slope for drainage. They even gave the bottom of the button a gentle radius so it is more stable on pipe.
8” Tri Square
I think all of us have a 90-degree square of some description in our tool stash. Irwin recognizes that and stepped that concept up a bit with their Tri Square. It does have the traditional base-like short arm and the long blade. However, the Irwin Tri Square base arm is made from high impact ABS material that can be molded very precisely yet remain very tough and impervious to many materials found in or around the work site and shop. The blade is made from stainless steel and cleanly etched and then those markings filled with black to be easily readable.
The blade does have 8”-inch-long scales along the top and bottom, one in 1/16th and the other in 1/8th inch resolutions. Irwin includes labeled angle lines for 22.5-degrees, 10, 15, 22.5, 30, 36, 45, 50 and 60-degrees. And all of the etched markings appear on both sides of the blade for maximum utility on the job. A “hinge” point in the handle lets you lay out these angles quickly and accurately.
1500 Series Heavy Duty I-Beam Levels
Irwin’s Heavy Duty I-Beam Levels lack only the seldom-used “extras” sometimes employed to justify a higher price far more than enhanced usability. These levels are available in 24, 48, 72 and 96”-long models and all come with level and plumb vials that are very accurate and easily read from virtually any angle. These MagnaVials™ are specifically designed for easy reading under the widely variable light conditions you so often find yourself working in.
The bar that makes up the backbone of these levels has a Dual Chamber design, hollow upper and lower rails that resist flex and twist up to twice as much as traditional I-beam designs. That is important for long-term durability and accuracy. The body also has elongated holes that serve as handholds for carrying or holding the level against a vertical surface.
In the Shop
When the vast majority of us pull out a level or square we are looking to make things level, plumb or square. Any features beyond that are seldom used if at all by many of us. The Irwin Levels and Squares shown here are well-designed, well-made tools that serve our most common needs very well in a tough, dependable package that will continue that service for many years with just basic common sense care on our part.
It may sound strange to some but I am impressed with common sense tools that are nicely done and the Irwin Levels and Squares fit that description. Fancy features can be fun and even very useful in some situations but in day-to-day use, tools like the Irwin Levels and Squares work very well and are easy to use.
In addition to quality common sense design and construction, the Irwin Levels and Squares are not expensive which should get your attention as well. As of this writing (4-30-2012) the 1500 Series Heavy Duty I-Beam Level is selling for $22.50 on the street. The 8” Tri Square has a street price of $8.50 and the 250 Series Magnetic Torpedo Level will cost you just $23.60!
I will always have a laser or two around the shop because they are good at what they do. However, I am never without basic squares and levels because they are also very good at what they do and I do a lot of that kind of work. If the day ever comes where a budget is not one of my concerns I might get more of the trick tools just to have trick tools but until then (say forever) I’ll stick with pieces like the Irwin Levels and Squares because they work much better than their low price might suggest.
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