DIY techniques: Finding your levels

A quick guide to the DIY techniques needed to make sure your shelves are level. When you are putting up shelves, the most important part of the job is getting the shelves horizontal and the brackets and tracks vertical.


Spirit level

Investing in a good spirit level is crucial. Levels are available in different lengths and designs, from miniature and pocket levels to long carpenter's levels and even digital levels that give a readout of a slope angle.

A spirit level has one or more clear vials filled with a liquid. When the level is truly horizontal, a bubble in the liquid floats within an area marked on the centre vial to indicate that it is exactly level.


Laser level

State-of-the-art laser levels fire a laser beam enabling horizontal or vertical guidelines to be marked quickly and accurately. There are laser levels that rotate and are very portable since many of them "rely on rechargeable batteries, which often have a charger that is compatible with common household outlets. Make sure you always have a spare battery ready if you want to reduce downtime", according to BestOfMachinery.

Laser levels have a wide range of uses including guaranteeing a consistent and accurate level for wall lights across a room or positioning brackets for shelves within an alcove. However, their strongest benefit is in establishing levels for setting out outdoor work, such as putting up fences or laying paving.


Using a plumb line

A plumb line is simply a weight tied to a length of string. If you hold it firmly at the top, it will hang vertically, provided that the string and weight are not touching anything. You can buy a plumb line, or make your own by tying a heavy nut to the end of a length of string.


  • Plumb line
  • A hardback book
  • A long screw
  • Pencil
  • A long straightedge, such as a length of track from a shelving system.

1. When fixing shelving track, mark and then drill the hole for the topmost fixing screw. 

2. Plug the hole and partly drive a long screw into it.

3. Suspend the plumb line from the screw so that it hangs as close to the floor as possible.

4. Let the string become steady. Then place one edge of the book on the wall and slide it up to the string until they touch. Mark the wall where the corner of the book has come to rest.

5. Remove the book, string and screw. Using a track from the shelving system or a straight wooden batten, draw a line between the centre of the screw hole and the pencil mark. This line will be the centre line for the track or brackets to be fitted.

6. Other vertical lines on the wall can be measured from the first line, using a steel tape measure.

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