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  • A level helps with everything from hanging pictures to laying tile. And if you want a job done right, it’s always better to use the right tools rather than eyeballing it.

  • The DeWalt DWo88LG Green Cross Line Laser is our top pick because its bright green beams are visible even in full light and this rugged level will last for years of commercial grade use.

What are the most important hand tools? The screwdriver and hammer surely rank high on the list, as do pliers and wrenches. And what toolkit is complete without a good measuring tape? If you leave the level off your list, frankly you’re doing it wrong, my friend. Even the best tools on the market can’t ensure a properly finished project if you can’t be certain all your materials are lined up and, well, level.

Since the invention of the level in the late 17th Century, these elegantly simple devices have become invaluable tools for carpenters, surveyors, masons, and many other professionals. They’re also clutch for hanging shelves or framed pictures yourself or, if you’re an even more audacious DIY-er, for laying tile, building fencing, and, um … actually, you kind of need a level for every building project, come to think of it. Which helps me feel a bit more justified for owning three of them.

If all you’ll be doing is hanging a few family portraits or a spice rack, a simple, affordable torpedo bubble level is all you’ll need. By the way, they’re also known as spirit levels due to the liquid used in the vial. As water freezes easily and is viscous compared to other fluids, levels are usually filled with an alcohol. As for the torpedo part, that refers to a level usually measuring smaller than 12 inches.

For more involved projects, consider a beam level or a laser level. Just don’t consider trying to get something level using your eyes alone — I give this advice sincerely based on far too much firsthand experience.

And oh, by the way, as you wait for your new level to arrive in the mail, you can actually use your iPhone in a pinch. Open up the compass app, and then swipe to the right. Yep, that’s a digital level right there. The shape of the phone and your likely unwillingness to use it around hammers and sawdust and such make it a less than ideal tool for construction projects, but it’s a fine backup.

Here are the best levels you can buy:

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.

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