Milwaukee has announced that they will soon be coming out with 3 new USA-made magnetic I-beam levels.
The new levels feature an all-metal frame (red anodized aluminum) that Milwaukee says is stronger and built to withstand jobsite conditions, and an integrated pitch vial.
The pitch vial has 1° and 2° marks, for convenience when working on runoff applications.
The vials are set behind impact-resistant windows, protecting them from impact damage, debris, and fogging.
The new Milwaukee I-beam levels also have a magnetic edge, for holding to ferrous surfaces for hands-free use, and a top-read window at the center for easier overhead viewing.
Accuracy is said to be within 0.0005″ in all working positions.
The new levels will be available in 24″, 48″, and 78″ lengths, and Milwaukee says they are backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
Pricing and Availability
- 24″ – MLIBM24: $30
- 48″ – MLIBM48: $40
- 78″ – MLIBM78: $80
ETA: September 2020
Buy Now: 24″ via Tool Nut
Buy Now: 48″ via Tool Nut
Buy Now: 78″ via Tool Nut
See Also: Empire 24″ Magnetic Level via Amazon
As you might know, Milwaukee Tool acquired Empire Level several years ago, and has pumped money into the brand and their USA production facility.
We have seen other new Milwaukee layout and measuring tools that seem to have been born from the Empire Level acquisition.
New USA-made Milwaukee levels? Sounds good to me.
What’s interesting is that the new Milwaukee level looks to be an evolution of Empire’s professional magnetic heavy duty I-beam levels.
Compared to the Empire EM81.24, the new Milwaukee level looks to have the same profile shape, similar end caps (perhaps), and similar handle and hanging punch-outs.
If I had to guess, I would say that the vial housings have been beefed up a little.
Instead of one each of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal vials as with the Empire levels, the new Milwaukee levels have a single horizontal and two vertical vials. This isn’t unusual for I-beam and box levels.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Milwaukee’s new magnetic levels, but it’s still an important expansion for them. These new levels complement Milwaukee RedStick box levels, and come it at lower pricing.
See Also: Milwaukee RedStick Box Levels via Acme Tools
Milwaukee’s RedStick compact 24″ level is priced at $40, their RedStick compact magnetic level is $59, their RedStick level is $79, and their RedStick magnetic level is $89. As a reminder, the standard RedStick levels so far have been box-profile levels. Their are different features, such as a large “Sharpsite” central vial cut-out, whereas the new I-beam levels have only a window.
But, compared to 24″ RedStick box levels randing in price from $40 to $89 or so, the new 24″ I-Beam level is just $30. The are cheaper levels out there, but this is probably as far as Milwaukee is willing to go without sacrificing build quality or branding image.
When Milwaukee first came out with their new levels, seemingly building upon Empire Level know-how and capabilities, I asked about whether they would be offering as a broad a lineup of layout and measuring tools. I was told that no, they would seek to provide innovation where new features or special construction can offer an improved user experience.
Basically, new Milwaukee levels and layout tools would be built to a premium.
As a result, this seemed to differentiate Empire Level and Milwaukee Tool with a “good and better” and “best” type of tier-like structuring.
Consider a trip to the ice cream shop. Empire Level would be the cake and sugar cone options, and Milwaukee the waffle cone with chocolate and sprinkle-coated rim.
But, several years have passed, and it seems there has been strong demand for lower-priced level options from Milwaukee.
Perhaps the new Milwaukee levels are better than Empire’s.
Some vendors have the Empire EM81.24 priced at $30 – the same price as the new Milwaukee, but Tool Nut has it at $22.
I’m not sure how I feel about the overlap.
If the new Milwaukee magnetic I-beam levels bring improvement to the table, and distinction, it’s a good move.
I’m optimistic that the new levels are great products.
And, I think that this is an isolated example of near-overlapping tool options between Milwaukee and Empire options. It seems like a cautious instance of Milwaukee catering towards user needs and wants, rather than the start of a pattern.
We know that there are some tool brands that play “lick and stick” with the their brand labels, but Milwaukee knows this too, and they have been extremely careful to avoid falling into the same tendencies.
I say all this because I know some of you will immediately recognize the similarities to Empire’s offering. Plus, this context makes the new launch more interesting to me. Yes, it’s noteworthy that Milwaukee has come out with new I-beam levels that are priced lower than their RedStick levels, and that these new levels are made in the USA. But what insight does this launch give into Milwaukee’s long term roadmap and strategies? It’s a divergence from their typical behaviors, to complement more premium-featured tools with a little more basic and lower-priced options, but I’m not taking this as a sign of what’s to come.
It still looks to be a step up compared to Empire, rather than a step down for Milwaukee, and as we get closer to the launch you can bet that I’ll bug Milwaukee for some added details about any differences.
One thing’s for certain is that you can bet a lot of folks are going to buy these new levels.
I’ve been moving more towards Kapro. They seem to be trying to approach levels and measuring tools more like how Milwaukee tackles their other tools. I like their 4 foot ruler level combo.
Many Husky brand (Home Depot) levels were made by Kapro in Israel – but I’ve also seen Kapro items marked as made in China.
For whatever reason – we had mostly Sands and Checkpoint levels in our plumbing business – and mostly Stabila levels in our GC-Remodeling business.
I’m pretty sure Kapro makes the Klein levels.
I see that Kapro also offers a drainage level – a bit akin to the Sands:
The gradient feature might come in handy some others offer something similar. We sometimes used Checkpoint slope pins – but Sands offers a level adjusting screw:
Kapro also offers a box level with gradient
Milwaukee/USA-made at these prices?
I’m buying (48”).
The pricing sure surprised me. I wonder if Empire will now come out with a higher featured model. Sort of an internal company battle. “ The Empire strikes back”.
I wonder how any of these will functionally let alone durability over time compare to Stabilo?
I know. I know. Price point and breadth of product line placement. And big box distribution.
Am I missing anything?
Stabila was our choice among our carpenters -and they liked their more common box-beam levels and plate levels. But in the plumbing business we tried some of their specialty laser items – and did not find them to be so useful as to buy more than our first test sample:
Others may have felt the same way – as they no longer seem to be widely available.
It’s actually kind of odd that Milwaukee didn’t use their Empire purchase to add Milwaukee levels at more price points, especially given how much other stuff Milwaukee has added to their tool lineup, plenty of which is rather inexpensive.
People are willing to pay more for Made in the USA, pay more for the Milwaukee name and red color, and pay more for quality with a warranty. I like the Empire stuff, but I can see where the same basic I-beam level with red vial holders/end caps and Milwaukee branding would go for slightly more vs. the Empire and still sell well, even side by side at Home Depot.
Given that Empire has their True Blue line with blue vials and lots of blue everywhere, it seems like a missed opportunity for some of the Milwaukee levels not to have red dye in the vials, too.
I’ve really liked Empire’s past offerings, especially when they made stuff for Craftsman. These days though, it seems they only really manufacture/assemble the lower end I-beam levels in the USA, with mid-tier and high-end box levels being made in China or otherwise overseas. I’d rather see more of the levels being made in the USA, even if it means prices would be higher. I doubt it will happen, given TTi’s global footprint, but would nice to see.
The philosophy has been to do something differently and better, otherwise what’s so compelling about having a new tool in Milwaukee colors and branding?
I have the slight feeling that we’ll see these levels at Home Depot. The purchasing power of Home Depot has the potential to influence design and development decisions. We know Home Depot has been switching from some Bosch power tool accessories to Diablo. It’s possible they seek more consolidation from Milwaukee hand and layout tools as well. These levels *could* be destined to replace comparable Empire offerings on the shelf at Home Depot, or they could be intended to sit alongside them.
While the motivation behind this seems uncertain, I am fairly confident that it’s still the exception than the trend, for the too-close overlap between brands.
Doing things differently and better is good, to a point. You don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel when a basic design is tried and true. Stuff like Milwaukee’s folding fastback utility knives are great, but there are times when a basic fixed-blade is what you want/need and it’s ok to have a more basic design for that and keep costs low rather than have this weird overengineered fixed blade handle that makes the knife overpriced where it costs as much as the folders.
My local HD did away with some of the Empire offerings over the last few months, though I didn’t know about the Milwaukee news until now.
I think they could offer two of nearly the same level in both brands. Milwaukee guys are very willing to pay more for something in red with the Milwaukee logo, in my experience. Even a basic bare aluminum I-beam level with red/black instead of the blue/black of Empire and Milwaukee stickers would probably sell well, but maybe Milwaukee won’t go any lower than these offerings.
Hopefully they come out with some specialty levels, too. There really needs to be a better post/pipe level than the plastic/nylon stuff. It’s too bad Empire doesn’t make an aluminum one.
I’m guessing that the manufacturers (Empire, Irwin, Johnson, Kapro, Stanley, Swanson et. al.) who all make post levels – think that these tools don’t have an upscale market. Or maybe there is some manufacturing issue in producing a quality post level from aluminum at a reasonable price. Anyway, they do (as you note) all seem to be plastic or plastic composite. To be fair – I don’t recall that any of our carpenters ever asked that we buy one – so they probably used their regular level – switching it side to side – to plumb posts.
There are higher-end post levels, some of the aluminum designs fold instead of being fixed, though I’m sure most are plastic/composite due to price.
I’d just prefer to buy a USA-made product as with most of my other levels, and would like aluminum to match the other levels rather than the composite that is mostly used on entry level levels, including the ones at the dollar store.
Oh, the local HD replaced the mid-range and low-end Empire 24/48 levels with….orange composite Johnson 24/48 levels. Seems kind of strange since I thought they would be exclusively Empire and making space for midrange and high-end Milwaukee. Nope. No Milwaukee levels at all, yet. At least the Johnsons are also USA-made.