July 9, 2010

Swanson Lightning Level - Review

swanson_lightning_level.jpgPrevious to them sending us their new Lightning Level to review, the only contact we had ever had from Swanson was the legal document that their lawyers dropped on us demanding that we stop using the term 'Speed Square' in a generic sense. As it turns out, the only acceptable way to refer to the tool is by saying in its entirety: "SPEEDĀ® Square, a registered trademark of Swanson Tool Co., Inc." so if you see anyone else out there who doesn't take the time to write out that entire ridiculous statement, please contact Swanson and let them know that there's some serious trademark violation going on. The whole episode was very irritating and entirely unnecessary...they could have just asked. We hope that those lawyers charged them a lot of money. Due to their heavy-handed approach to the matter, we decided we would rather drink wood glue than aid in the publicity of any of their tools. We created a blacklist and we put them on it. It was the least we could do. We're deeply Irish and capable of holding a mega-grudge.

swanson_lightning_logo.jpgBut, our policy is to review everything that shows up on the doorstep, so we suppressed the battle-axe wielding tribal Irish chieftain who lives in our head (he's in charge of long-term animosities), and carried on with the review of the Swanson's Lightning Level.

So what exactly is it? Well, it's a level with a little LED light at each vial. To operate it, just press the button that is at one end of the level and the lights go on. Press it again and they go off. If you forget to press it again, it goes off by itself in ten minutes.

The level has two plumb vials and one level vial, rubber bumpers at each end (and, at one end, the dual AAA battery compartment), and rubber grips. Both edges have v-grooves for things like pipes and on the model we tested, one side (the side uninterrupted by the level vial), is magnetized.

swanson_lightning_end_off.jpg swanson_lightning_end_on.jpg

Thankfully, Swanson has a non-magnetized version available. We sit the fence on the whole magnetic level thing. While there are circumstances when it comes in handy, most of the time we find it to be a nuisance. Once the magnets collect a few metal shavings, which is inevitable, they become VERY dangerous to finished surfaces. It seems to be a matter of personal preference, and ours is to usually pass on them.

swanson_lightning_on.jpgAnd what do we think about the lighted vials? We actually like them and Swanson did a nice execution with the tool. Thankfully, it's not a level with some additional contraption built off the side that lights the vials up, but rather it's a cleanly integrated system. It's not like you feel compelled to always use the lights, but they're there if you need them. It's a level that happens to have lights, not lights that happen to have a level.

And we found the feature to be useful in all the usual places; closets, basements, and job sites (especially when you're only relying on a string of junky temp lights). We also feel the need to note that the pictures we took don't accurately represent the lights. In reality, it's a nice soft glow that lights up the vial, not the Tron special effect that our camera is capable of showing.

So is it a necessary feature that should be included on all levels? We don't think so. Is it handy to have from time to time? Definitely.

The Lightning Level is available in both 24" and 48" lengths and goes for about $45 and $65 respectively (add about $10 for the magnetized version).

Read More in: All Reviews | Hand Tools | Levels

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at July 9, 2010 5:50 AM

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Recent Comments

I was going to say speed square a few times as well. I think I still will

Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square Speed Square

Thanks Swanson for helping me cut down on the choices of levels. I'll keep to my level and a flashlight if needed. Usually if I'm in a dark place I need it anyway. I usually use a head lamp actually, I don't mind being the goofy looking one and having two hands free.


Posted by: Adam at July 9, 2010 9:42 AM

speed square, speed square, speed square... Ok, that's out of my system now.

Anyway, with the whole magnetic level thing could the concept of switched magnets work? Just like the ones in those magnetic squares used for welding?


Posted by: jeff_williams at July 9, 2010 9:05 AM
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