Tool Review: Sola Levels

by luke on November 21, 2014

Sola Level ReviewSola Levels

The level is the indispensable, unsung hero on the jobsite. Levels are responsible for providing us with the plum and level planes that lay the foundation for the entire structure of the finished product.  An adequate set of levels should include a 12” or 16”, 2”, 4ft. and 6ft. For large jobs a transit or laser level is a great supplement to the traditional bubble level.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the level everyone and their brother owns, they are usually cheap and maybe made of plastic. Basically they work…sort of. If you can get a level for (literally) a quarter of the cost then why not go cheaper. The more expensive level won’t ever make you more money or a better carpenter right?…

There are a lot of benefits to stepping up to the plate and purchasing the more expensive tool. I upgraded from my “box store” set a few years ago and looking back it was hard to justify at the time, but I am exceptionally happy with my decision to do so. After much searching, I found there were really only two “A List” brands: The old gold standard Stabila…and Sola, a “new” player. Both Stabila and Sola are top brands to buy. However, there are a few things the Sola brand has accomplished that have taken them to the next “level”. :)

Stabila has been making levels since the early 1950’s. They offer a lifetime warranty and have built a reputation based on excellence; this is evident the moment you pick up one of their levels. On top of that they are exceptionally accurate, and in fact, are the gold standard of what you should demand of a high-end level. It may seem there are only so many functional changes you can make to level over time. Aside from ergonomics, there is very little difference from the level your Dad bought 20 years ago and the one you are going to pick up tomorrow.

Sola Level Bubble

The Bubble

Sola has worked to not only to bring the high-end level into the 21st century but improve the concept as well. Sola is an Austrian company with roots in innovation. The first thing you’re likely to notice is the magnified bubble. This may seem trivial; however, it can make a huge difference when you’re holding the level at a full arms extension trying to get that perfect read while setting a sliding door. The easier the bubble is to read the more accurate the finished product will be. This accuracy will not only save time…it can also reduce the frustrated beer intake as well!

Another major improvement Sola made is the “tightness” of their bubble. Space between the edges of the bubble and the lines allows the bubble to stay within the lines (level right?) for a larger range of planes. Sola’s bubble almost touches the lines. This bubble/line sizing allows for no margin of error. Making reading level, or more importantly NOT level a task that can easily be completed with a quick glance. When working in dark spaces you will love that Sola’s vials also “glow-in-the-dark”!

These characteristics may seem slight. However, the only TRUE purpose of a level is to provide an accurate reading. Unfortunately, you’re “not the best, but gets the job done” level set often fails to do this. When spending a considerable amount of money on any new tool…you need it to withstand the rigors of a job site to get return on your investment. Sola is 110% professional grade with a lifetime warranty. Did I mention they also make a mason series that you can beat directly on the level with a hammer!? I think they are onto something here.

I’ll share a link to their website where you can find more information about their products. Currently, you’ll be hard pressed to find them in stores, the best bet is online. You can find them in our online store by searching for “Sola” or following the links below. I recommend the 10”, 4’ and 6’ to start.

FYI: I didn’t get paid or compensated to write this review or recommendation. I wrote this because I did my research and wanted to share what I found; Sola, a company making significant contributions to a traditional tool.

-Nick Michaud

Sola Big “X” Box 16″ Aluminum Level w/Contoured Grip – BX16

Sola BIG RED 48″ High Profile Aluminum Box Level w/Handles – BR48

Sola BIG RED 72″ High Profile Aluminum Box Level w/Handles – BR72

Sola Magnetic BIG RED 78″ and 32″ High Profile Aluminum Box Levels w/Handles – Door Jamb Set – BRM7832

 

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3 Ways to get Better Cuts

by luke on December 10, 2013

Good Miters vs. Perfect Miters

 

Often the difference between a good job and a beautiful job is 1/32″ or less. It’s an easy call to set aside a piece that was cut 1″ short…but 1/32″ short…kinda still fits!  WHEN this happens…NOT IF…it is a good idea to take a moment to figure out why it happened. Even if you install that particular piece, it’s worth it for your next cut.

Cutting Speed and Blade Speed

It’s important to know when to slow down and what things shouldn’t be rushed. Cutting is one of them. Forcing a spinning saw blade through wood, results in a chewed up and inaccurate cut. The teeth on the blade need to have time to take comfortable sized “bites”.  When trimming the end of a piece, cutting too quickly can also cause the blade to deflect towards the end of the piece, resulting in an uneven cut.

NOTE: Line-up your cutting mark with the very edge of the blade teeth while the blade is stopped. Once you are positioned exactly where you need to be, lift the blade off of the material, bring the blade up to full speed, and proceed to cut through the piece smoothly, and at a steady speed.

Table Saws

Controlling blade speed can be especially difficult on a table saw. Often the material is being pushed through at an uneven speed as you stop to re-position your hands. This results in an uneven cut due to the dramatic variations in blade speed.

NOTE: Try to keep the material moving through the saw at all times. Complete stops can cause burns or gouging. If you must stop to re-position, try to ease into and out of the pause. Also, keep a Push Stick on hand to help finish your cut smoothly AND SAFELY!

Blade Wobble

Be sure to check your saw frequently to make sure that the bushings are tight and the blade is spinning smoothly. The average saw blade cuts a swath that is just over an 1/8″ wide. If the bushing are loose, the extra play in the blade can cause your cut to be mysteriously short.

NOTE: Good tools are worth maintaining. Any carpenter would rather use an older, well maintained, quality tool, than a brand new piece of crap.

Dull or Cheap Blades

It’s a saw…not a wood stove. Stop burning wood with it! A dull or cheap blade will smoke you out of your workshop as well as ruin your material. We talked about the importance of controlling blade speed, a near impossibility with a dull blade.

Don’t buy Cheap Blades

Buying the $4 blade to save a few bucks is like putting $10 of gas in your car to save money on gas…it actually saves you $0 and is a pain in the ass. Cheap blades also have a tendency to overheat and warp, causing inaccurate and uneven cuts.

NOTE: Buy good blades, like Diablo Blades and get them resharpened when needed. Most lumber yards offer resharpening with a few day turn-around time.

It’s important to be a practical carpenter. Knowing what level of accuracy a job requires is key if you are serious about productivity. IF the job is a production level job where the expectation is more geared to practicality rather than aesthetics, then you SHOULD be making the minor concessions that increase productivity. IF the job is high-end job with a focus on aesthetic appeal (OR for your wife!), the allowable tolerance is much less.  A good carpenter is able to find the correct balance of these aspects and productively work along this line.

 If you haven’t yet, click here to learn how to accurately find those difficult miter angles.

As always, work safely!

Luke

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Latest Tool Deals!

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Choosing the Correct Screw

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USB Wall Outlets for your Iphone & Android Nearly all phones and electronic accessories use USB charging…and constantly die! (Although I know many Iphone users will swear that their phone lasts days without charging  120 volt wall chargers are great…unless you left them at the office, hotel, or simply the other room. I am convinced […]

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Installing Baseboard and Chair Rail using Coped Joints

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Baseboard and Chair Rail: Using a Coping Saw Finish work is often the most rewarding part of the any project. Although there is often frustration with any carpentry project, if you use the correct techniques and have the right tools available you’ll do fine. Expect to make mis-cuts, and to use your (planned) scrap to practice […]

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Who should pay for your fatal mistakes?

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Cortex Fastening System

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Cortex Screws for PVC Trim One of the issues regarding Cellular PVC trim is the fastening. Trim is commonly fastened using galvanized finish nails. The downside of using finish nails on PVC trim is the expansion and contraction of PVC can cause the trim to loosen and buckle after several years of extreme heat and […]

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Is Your Home Wasting Energy?

August 25, 2011

Energy loss and Your Home A well-built, (or proudly-built;-), home provides comfortable living space in a variety of temperatures. Thanks to advanced building products, and correct use of such, the days of drafty rooms, and cold floors can be a thing of the past. Correct framing and insulation methods are vital to an energy efficient […]

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