Hand Sight Levels

Hand Sight Level Definition and Uses

A hand level (also called a sight level or hand sight level) is a tool used for ‘rough leveling’ – that is, estimation and not precision. A hand level is essentially a spirit level inside of a telescope. The device is generally used by grading contractors and land surveyors to compare multiple points against a reference point to get approximations of level or distance.

Hand levels save time compared to setting up a tripod and leveling instrument. The trade-off is that while hand levels require far less time, they are nowhere near as accurate as a precision instrument.

Sight levels are effective for preliminary surveying and basic distance assessment. Projects in which hand sight levels are ideal include bricklaying, fencing and laying a lawn. Most DIY projects around the house that require some estimation of level could benefit from the use of a hand sight level.

hand sight level how to use

How to Use a Hand Sight Level

  1. Hold the device at eye level and look through the small opening. 
  2. Make sure when holding the level not to cover the spirit vial, as this will make it difficult to see the bubble from a lack of incoming light.
  3. Depending on your reference point, raise of lower the front end of the sight level until the bubble centers on the center line in the viewing window. 
  4. Once the bubble centers on the center line, you’ve found level.
  5. An alternative to holding the hand level steady is to rest the device on a flat surface. This method will give a more accurate reading of level.

Estimating Distances with a Sight Level

A sight level can also be used in conjunction with a sighting rod for estimating distances between the user and another object.

  1. Begin by looking through the device. Note the lines at the bottom and top of the viewing window. Generally, the distance ratio between bottom and top is 1:12.
  2. If the user looks through the sight level and see the top line at 6 feet of the rod and the bottom line at 3 feet, the user is 36 feet away from the rod.

Here’s how the math works. First, find the difference between the two distances in the viewing window: 6 – 3 = 3. Then, take the difference and multiply by 12 to convert from the distance ratio to the actual distance: 3 x 12 = 36.

For more helpful guides on correct tool use, consult Johnson Level's guides on how to use levels and tools.