Johnson’s Big J wood level definitely stands out among the many aluminum levels available today. The Big J is a beautiful tool with a contrasting walnut-maple construction. But does it function as well as it looks? We reviewed the level to find out.
Johnson Big J Wood Level Features
First, most obviously, the level has a laminated walnut and maple layered construction to prevent warping. The reference surfaces are lined with stainless steel bindings, and the ends are protected with rubber caps.
The vials are made of tough acrylic for improved strength and durability, and the lenses are made of glass and are replaceable.
All About the Bubbles
The 24″ level features 3 pairs of vials, with each vial being arched slightly opposing its twin. Not used to having each vial arched, I thought that it would take me a while to get used to this, but this turned out to not be the case.
I found that the level was a pleasure to use in both horizontal and plumb orientations. The bubble vial pairs allow the level to be used right side up or upside down. But, there is a downside to this – the arched geometry of the vials mean that the level cannot be used horizontally on its side. The placement of the levels also mean that there’s no top-side window that can be read from above.
Performance & Portability
Overall, the level is easy and comfortable to use, and the readings were spot-on accurate. The windows are large and bright, and the bubble vial contrast is sharp and easy to read. I did find myself sometimes missing a vial at the top of the level, and rolling the level over to its side is not a working remedy.
The level’s beauty also comes with extra weight, which is something to consider if you are constantly on the move.
The Big J wood level is a thing of beauty, and it works reasonably well. There’s no question, it is well built and it feels durable enough to last a lifetime with a bit of care. Johnson did a great job with the vials, although I personally prefer the more traditional vial layouts such as the ones in their Glo-View digital level.
While I really like this level, I think that the vial arrangement and lack of a top-mounted vial or window may be a deal-breaker for some. After a few uses I learned to always read the bottom vial of each pair, and compensated for the lack of a top vial/window by leaning back slightly and glancing down. As long as I didn’t try to look straight down from above the level, visibility wasn’t an issue.
Based on the great aesthetics, build quality, easy to read vials, and the fact that the level is made in the USA, I would highly recommend the Big J wood level. But, the slightly unconventional vial geometry and absence of a top vial or window is cause for some reservation.
If you’re set in your ways and don’t like changing your work habits, you may want to look at a different Johnson or other branded level. But if you’re open to a [short] learning curve and enjoy owning and using finely crafted tools, you’ll love the Big J hardwood level.
Big J wood levels are widely available, with the 24″ version (B1024) priced at ~$100-120, and the 48″ version (B1048) around $130-150.
Thank you to Johnson Level & Tool for providing the sample unconditionally for review.