Johnson Magnetic Aluminum Box Level Quick Review

March 8, 2012 | by Ethan (email) |

Pro-Follow Update: Before I jump into today’s article, I wanted to share that the composite deck we’ve been following has been completed, and I expect the full How to Build a Deck write-up to be published tomorrow! It should be a great guide for anyone considering building a deck or simply wanting to learn more about what to expect. I sincerely appreciate all the questions and comments you’ve written so far, as I’ll be able to incorporate those into the final article. Keep ’em coming!

The basement remodel is also making progress. The drywall has been hung, and the mudding and taping should be completed sometime this week. Look for a full Pro-Follow update on the basement early next week.

Johnson Level Review

Mike is one of the carpenters that works for Steve Wartman at Wartman Home Improvements. As I shadowed Steve’s crew during the shed build, I noticed that Mike always kept a tape measure, pencil, utility knife and level close at hand. He’s used an Empire level for several years; however, it is no longer accurate and its magnets are coming loose.

To help Mike out, we reached out to one of our past partners, Johnson Level & Tool, and asked if they’d be interested in providing a replacement. They were quick to offer up this 48″ version of their “Classic” 9500 Series Magnetic Aluminum Box Levels.

Levels are not fancy tools, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. A level determines whether a wall is straight, a window is square, or a deck is properly sloped. Because of its critical role, first and foremost a level needs to be accurate and durable. Perks like rare earth magnets and anti-shock bumpers are nice, but secondary to this goal.

Levels are also useful as a straight-edge for marking lines. A frustration we’ve had here at OPC, and that Mike echoed, is that Empire levels have beveled edges on both sides that make it near impossible to scribe a plumb, level line with a pencil. Fortunately, Johnson levels have 90 degree edges, which makes them perfectly suited for line drawing.

Mike used the Johnson level on the deck build project for constructing stairs, checking deck posts, and planning joist slopes. Based on his experience, he offered a few thoughts on the level.

The Johnson 9500 is accurate and straight. Mike was impressed with the rare earth magnets which delivered a powerful hold. The magnets were very convenient when he was installing the deck rail system. He also said the heavy-duty, aluminum frame feels solid, and that based on its rugged feel, he expects this level to last a long time.

All of the levels in the 9500 series include these additional features: solid block acrylic vials that won’t fog, leak or break; precision milled edges; rubber hand grips; and, anti-shock removable end caps.

This level is available in 24″, 48″ and 78″ lengths. If you want to see more details, check out the product page link in the Related Content section below.

Pricing & Where to Buy

Johnson levels are priced competitively with other contractor-grade precision aluminum levels. They are sold at dozens of home improvement stores, including Home Depot, Menards, Sears, and more. Here’s what you can expect to pay.

  • 24″ model – $40-45
  • 48″ model – $60-65
  • 78″ model – $100-105
13 Responses
  1. I really like what Johnson has been putting out in the last few years. A week or so ago I got their catalog in the mail. They make tons of impressive products. I’ve been seriously considering replacing my empire with a Johnson in the near future as well.

  2. Icarus says:

    “Perks like rare earth magnets and anti-shock bumpers are nice, but secondary to this goal.” and mult-colors. don’t forget color choices too. ;D

  3. William says:

    I have a couple of nice levels, but like your observation on the Empire, they all have bevels on the edges. And to top that off, the flat edge is milled such that it’s textured. Even if I just wanted to scribe along the bevel, it makes a slightly squiggly line because of the textured face.

    • Ethan says:

      It’s really irritating, and I can’t believe Empire hasn’t heard that feedback before. You’d think they would make some changes, but even the 8′ we have in the shop has that bevel.

  4. Joe says:

    Nice looking Level, I really should get a selection of levels instead of just the torpedo and 3 footer I have now.

    how accurate are the vials? when something is perfectly level, is there any gap between the bubble and the line?

    • Ethan says:

      It’s accurate up to 0.5mm/m right-side-up and 0.75mm/m upside-down. (not 100% sure why it’s different). There is a very tiny gap on either side of the bubble when something completely level.

  5. cool product review. I always figure that even a level that is only mediocre accurate is probably close enough, especially for something like a deck that is bound to due some shifting over time.

    • Ethan says:

      I think the closer you can be to perfectly level, the better your chances of everything fitting / working / lining up right. Even if the deck does shift, I’d rather it be spot on to start.

  6. byeedo says:

    Any idea about the durability of the level? Do you think it can take a few drops off a ladder and still be accurate? From you review, it seems like a very well made and thought out product. I have to admit that $60 for a four foot level seems a bit steep for me. But if it can last me for a lifetime then it would definitely be worth it.

    • Blair says:

      You really can’t trust any level that has been dropped from from a scaffold, ladder, etc.
      I would check it’s accuracy against other levels on the job before continuing to use it, but some manufacturers will re-calibrate their products.

      That said, some levels are much less vulnerable to abuse than others, and not having experience with this model of Johnson level makes me unqualified to say one way , or the other.

  7. haus356 says:

    Reading the comments here and on the compact drill driver test you guys just performed, I’m getting the impression we are all pretty clumsy and drop our tools frequently!

    • Blair says:

      I don’t drop a lot, but I did witness my partner drop the site super’s 4′ mag level about 20′ from the steel (we were setting atrium framing, and he had attached it to the upright to get it out of the way, then bumped it with his elbow hard, and it cut loose), on top of totaling the level, it almost hit our boss, AND the general contractor super who were talking below us!……I laughed so hard I darn near fell off myself 🙂

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