Transit Level VS Builder’s Level | Let’s End The Confusion About These Two

Hello there, wondering what is going on with these two levels? What each one of these is used for?! And other similar questions? Welcome then … I’ve put together this ” Transit vs  Builder’s Level” article because when I first saw these two tools together

… I’ve asked myself the same question:

What is the difference between these two?

transit level vs builders level , whats is the difference between these 2?

If you do an online search about the difference between these 2 levels … you will quickly be overwhelmed with a lot of confusing information that won’t help you understand anything.

That is why I came up with this article!

I will answer the above question and others about these two construction laser levels in this article.

So keep reading to learn more!

To be honest, I have not seen a transit level or a builder’s level on a construction site, not on the multi-million construction sites that I’m working on anyway!

What I see the engineers using here to set up angles and positions of buildings and diggings, etc … they are using sophisticated Digital Theodolite levels. Here’s a list of some of the best laser levels I see on most construction sites.

Both, the transit level and the builder’s level are quite old instruments.

I mean they’ve been in the construction and surveying industry for many many years, maybe hundreds of years. Some level manufacturers still put their money into these tools and update them and bring them into today’s industry requirements … but these two tools are very basic.

Even though they’re basic, they’re pretty accurate. If you’re curious, here are the most accurate laser levels that can be a great alternative to these basic old tools.

Let’s talk a little bit about each one of them.

What Is A Builder’s Level?

what is a builders level used for?

It’s a very very simple tool, nothing fancy about it.

I could say that this particular one is good for homeowners, DIYers or very small construction companies, where they don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a professional tool like a digital optical level that shoots laser points, something like a Leica MultiSation or anything similar

A builder’s level is an optical instrument used in constructions to check on level points and elevations. It is used in surveying and building and in transferring, setting, or measuring horizontal levels.

Some of you might know the builder’s level by the name of “DUMPY” level.

This is how a modern updated version of the builder’s level looks like.

Leica GeoSystems Optical Dumpy Level

It is primarily a leveling vial attached to a telescope. The leveling vial consists of marks called graduations used for centering the bubble. It works by attaching the telescope to a leveling head and mounting to a tripod.

These are the parts of the builder’s level:

updated version of the builders level
  • Telescope

The telescope is at the top of the builder’s level. Its purpose is to magnify distant objects, it moves horizontally around a graduated horizontal circle which is marked at each 1 degree up to 360 degrees.

  • Level vial/spirit level

The graduated leveling vial is used to level the telescope while being placed on the base. This works much like a traditional hand spirit level.

The base plate is the area where the level is attached to the tripod.

What Is A Transit Level?

here is what a transit level is

A transit level is an optical instrument or a telescope that has a built-in spirit level. It is mounted on a tripod stand.

It is used for surveying and building and for determining the position of lines and objects. They are very precise, are used to establish a reference line and to provide a reading of angles in precise measurements.

A transit level consists of the actual transit level, a tripod base, a tape measure, and a calibrated rod.

The transit level itself consists of several parts:

David White Optical Level-Transit
  • Telescope

The telescope is located at the top of the transit level.

Like the builder’s level, the telescope moves horizontally around a complete circle. The horizontal circle is marked at each degree.

Unlike the builder’s level, the transit level also moves vertically at 45° in either direction.

  • Graduated leveling vials/spirit level

The spirit level is used to level the telescope while it is being placed on the base and works like a hand level. The leveling vial is placed above or below the barrel of the telescope.

There is also another spirit level built into the base that is used to level the base of the transit level.

  • Alidade

 The alidade is the entire upper part of the transit level.

It consists of the telescope, the leveling vials, a circle-reading device, and a spindle. The alidade is mounted on the alidade spindle, which is the inner center of the instrument.

  • Vernier scale

A Vernier scale is a scale that moves around the main scale and is used to determine angular measurements that the original scale cannot read. Most transit levels use double vernier, allowing the angles to be read in multiple directions.

How To Use A Builder’s Level/Transit Level?

Setting up the level on the tripod

Both levels need to be installed on a tripod. Depending on the age of your level and the brand this might come with a different mechanism to attach it to the tripod.

When setting up a level, have the right tripod since tripods have different types of heads.

  1. For a 5/8″ center bolt mount, the protective cap from the tripod head should be fitted onto any of the tripod’s legs using the attachment found on the cap
  2. For a threaded tripod head mount, remove the threaded protective cap. Unthread the level and screw on the tripod head. After thread the protective cap onto the case mount.

Place the level directly on the tripod after, thread or bolt onto the tripod base. It might not be necessary but if you do need a tripod, here’s a great list of the best laser level tripod for all your laser level models.

How to level the transit/builder’s level?

These levels are not self-leveling, so you’ll have to do it manually!

I know, it’s a lot of work 🙂

how to level a builders level?

These levels are using a four screws leveling system. That means you will have to lose and tighten the screws until the spirit level on these devices are showing you that it’s completely leveled.

  • First, align the bubble level with two opposite screws and we SIMULTANEOUSLY we start to lose or tight the screws until the bubble is in the middle of our level indicator.
  • Now, we want to level the instrument on the opposite axis. For that, we align the bubble level with the other two pair of opposite screws.
  • Once this is done, we go back to the earlier position and check again if we need to make any adjustments … we will go back and forth a few times until it’s completely leveled.

Here’s an awesome youtube video about how to level a dumpy level

(it’s the same process with the transit level)

How To Read The Builder’s/Transit Level?

You use the eyepiece of the telescope.

Turn the knob to bring the crosshairs into focus.

The horizontal graduated circle is a guide marked with degrees, used for reading horizontal angles. The horizontal tangent knob is used to adjust left and right.

The vertical tangent knob to adjust up and down. The vertical lock knob locks the vertical direction in place. Use the leveling to adjust the device level.

In this video, you can see how a transit level is used and how to read the Vernier scale.

Helpful Tips When Using These Levels

  • When the objective lens is not in use, it should be covered with a lens cap to prevent damage to the equipment.
  • Do not lift your level by the telescope, lift by the base.
  • Turn both screws at the same time and rate when leveling a transit level.
  • Make sure the level is level around all 360° of direction, if not the measurements will be incorrect.
  • Ensure screws are not too tight.
  • Do not look at the sun using the telescope.
  • The image being sighted is sharpest when it is quartered by the crosshairs.
  • Do not touch the tripod at any time after the transit level is mounted. This can cause problems with the measurements as well as the accuracy of the level.

Transit Level VS Builder’s Level

A builder’s level compared to a transit level is

  • inexpensive
  • easy to assemble
  • easy to use and
  • lightweight

First, NONE of these two are laser-level devices…you will use the telescope to look and find your points and the downside of using this kind of leveling devices is that YOU NEED TO BE AT LEAST 2 PEOPLE in order to make your measurements.

One person will look through the telescope and the other one will mark the points … that is a big no-no for me 🙂

Both transit level and builder’s level have similarities.

Actually, they look so similar that I personally could not understand why would you create two tools that that does the same thing and call them two different things 🙂

But they do have their differences though…and it’s mainly one!

is there any difference between these 2 levels?

HERE IT IS: A builder’s level moves only horizontally, while a transit level moves both horizontally and vertically. 

Transit levels are preferred over the builder’s levels for establishing straight lines as well as turning angles.

The transits level also has more parts than a builder’s level.

The telescope of a transit level if locked into place, works almost exactly like a builder’s level.

A builder’s level can move 360 degrees in a horizontal plane when the telescope is not locked into place.

Transit levels, with their vertical movement mechanism, are great for measuring vertical angles.

Maintenance Costs Of The Builder’s/Transit Level

A builder’s level is inexpensive and easier to use. A transits level, on the other hand, is costly and requires expertise to operate.

Choosing Between The Transit And Builder’s Level

Where a builder’s level is cheaper and less complicated to operate, a transit level is more precise and can be used to measure vertical angles. Transit levels are preferable over the builder’s level for establishing straight lines as well as turning angles.

The choice between the two levels will depend on work but the transits level is more versatile.

Where to buy transit levels?

Well … as always, you could go down to your DIY shop or to the big building and construction material stores in your area and buy one ( as I said already, these tools are not very famous, compared to the easy to use laser levels, so I would guess you would not find them in the small shops)

But, I would suggest having a look at Amazon of course. It’s impossible not to find something on there.

Here are a couple of links to Amazon if you want to check the price and pics for these items.

Builder Levels

Transit Levels

After you’ve read this post you feel like none of these two are for you, check out what are the different types of laser leveling tools you can use as an alternative to transit and builder level.

Wrapping up: what’s better? Transit or Builder Level?

In summary, both transit levels and builders’ levels are essential pieces of equipment in any construction project. Getting the right tool will ensure precision measurements and reduced the occurrence of errors in alignment. Pick the appropriate level to suit your project’s specifics.

As I’ve said at the beginning of the article as well … I haven’t seen the builders level on a construction site … so I don’t know if anyone is still going after this tool nowadays … but I hope this Builder’s VS Transit Level article helped you understand a little bit more about these two tools!

Say something in the comments … don’t be shy 🙂

Are you using any of these levels? What for? Let me know, I love to know what other ninjas are doing out there!

Stay Safe Ninjas and Happy DIYing!

Ninja Team Members Working On This Page

Adrian – WebMaster / Construction Professional

Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, handyman … As a construction pro I love to get creative and see things done with my hands coming to life. Here I share with you some of the things I learn and hopefully you’ll get something out of it. Enjoy 🙂

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