I've been plugging away at this blog for 5 years or so, and I finally got the ultimate reward of blogging: FREE TOOLS!
A representative from Keson got in touch with me a few weeks back and asked if I'd like a free SOLA level to review. It looks like Keson is taking over the distribution of SOLA products in the USA, and they wanted to get the word out about their product.
I've had my levels for 20-odd years and they're getting pretty beat up, so I jumped at the chance.
They bravely sent it to me in just a cardboard mailing tube. The level came with a handwritten note that said,
If our levels can survive the Postal Service, they can definitely thrive on the job site.
Ha! Well put. And it did come through in good shape.
Out of the box, the first thing I noticed was the bright red color. It's easy to lose tools on a busy job site, so this will be easy to find.
I also noticed the rubber end caps.
Let me explain why this is great: when you're hanging a picture on a Sheetrock wall (for example) you have to be careful if you're using a solid metal level. One hard bump and you've dinged the wall and have to patch the ding.
Anyway, the rubber end caps will make my job a little easier. Also, I can casually set it down on a floor without making a big loud CLANK, and it's easier on the level. So if you're sensitive about being careful with your level like I am, you'll be able to relax a little bit.
But the real star of the show is SOLA's patented vial technology. For one thing, the liquid in each vial is bright green with a big, clear bubble that stands out well and is easy to see. My vision isn't what it used to be, and I'm usually too busy to fool with eyeglasses when I'm on a job site, so this is a nice touch. And the shading on either side heightens the visibility as well.
Also notice that the horizontal vial is notched into the side. On most levels you have to look through a little hole in the side, kind of like a port hole, and it gets kind of tricky to see, especially when you're holding it over your head. This one will be much easier to use.
And then there's this:
I assume this machined side has an important function, like resisting dings so your straight-edge stays straight. But I also like it because it's shiny.
Since it's been awhile since I went shopping for one of these, I dropped by the local Big Box hardware store to see what the competition looks like. I didn't see anything of the same quality. Certainly none of them had the little green vials with the great big bubble.
However, the Big Box levels had one thing in their favor: at about $15 to $50 in price, they cost a little less than the Big Red, which runs at about $57 according to Google. So if you're just starting to build your tool kit and need to cut costs, this might not be the right level for you.
But the bottom line is that the SOLA Big Red Spirit Level lives up to its reputation: it's the equivalent of a custom red Karmen Ghia with a chrome-lined engine.
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