When I first started out in the trades, I was told that Stabila levels were the gold-standard in spirit levels because of their locked vials and durability. After learning how to check that the level was accurate, I was taught to treat the level and all layout tools carefully. We’ve used Stabila for decades and never had a problem with accuracy, cloudy vials, or durability.
Back in 2013, Stabila released its R Beam level. Gary Katz described the level as a game changer and I agree with him. Recently, Milwaukee introduced its REDSTICK levels and offered to send me one for review. I requested the 96-inch level because if this level is as durable as they claim, then any size smaller should be durable too.
Features. If a level isn’t made well, it won’t stay true for very long. Milwaukee calls its design “All-Metal Backbone,” claiming “strongest, most durable frame.” Additionally, it features large, clear vials that are “high contrast.” The end caps are removable, and the non-slip handles are plenty large enough to use when you're wearing thick gloves. There is also a hole for hanging the level from a nail. The magnets on this level are strong too. I was able to hang it from the forks on a forklift with only two of the magnets holding it in place.
Pulling the level out of the box, all three of us on the jobsite immediately noted its heft and that it felt durable. Right away, I loved how clear the vials are. As I’m getting older, I find that I have to squint and get closer to the vial on the Stabila levels to read them. This especially matters when I’m inside hanging a door and the lighting isn’t great. I often get right up to the vial to check for plumb, but these vials are so clear and the contrast is so strong that I don’t have to get as close.
There is nothing to dislike about this level except one thing: its durability. Within two hours of using the level, I accidentally knocked it off the second floor to the wood subfloor below—a 9-foot drop. I’ve done that with the Stabila level many times (and yes, I’m careful, but not real bright). As I was walking down to pick up the Milwaukee, I thought to myself, “Well this is good for the review.” I picked it up and noticed that the level was bent and worthless. We were dumbfounded to ruin a level within two hours of using it.
Based on this fall, I have to recommend passing on the Milwaukee 96-inch Redstick level, which costs $279. Four years and many drops later, our Stabila (which sells for about $199) is still going strong, although it does have a few dents here and there.
Very clear vials
Large openings for holding