Big Red 3 High Profile 48-inch Aluminum Box Level

A decent box level for DIYers; tradespeople could do with a different choice.

Sola_bigred_lead

Big Red 3 High Profile 48-inch Aluminum Box Level



This box beam level is made by Sola, an Austrian firm that is somewhat new to the North American market. I reviewed their magnetic torpedo level a short while ago, and was impressed with it's overall construction, feature set, and it's competitive price.
 
The Big Red 3 is a conventional sized box beam level, measuring 1-7/64" thick and 2-5/16" wide, with an overall length of 48". You get a 46-1/2" continuous edge (only on the bottom edge of the level), which means that you need to reposition the level if you use it to scribe a line across a sheet of plywood or drywall — somewhat of a minor irritation.


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6063 aluminum alloy body

The rigidity and durability of the beam is crucially important to the long-term performance of the level. On the Big Red the body is made of 6063 aluminum alloy, a medium strength alloy that's commonly used to make window and door frames. The level is covered with a powder coated finish except for the bottom edge, which is milled smooth and dead flat. The edges are slightly rounded over, though you can still mark an accurate line with a pencil.
 
The frame has an aluminum frame that is 5/64" thick on the edges and 3/32" thick on the sides. Coupled with a box frame design, this makes for a rigid structure, though not so robust as the thicker walled Irwin 2550 or Task T59362. But, at only 2 pounds, 6 ounces, the Big Red is one of the lightest box beam levels around.
 
A lot of box beam levels now come with magnets inserted along one edge, which enable you to attach the level to any metal surface. It's a feature that I've come to really appreciate. Fortunately, a new magnetic version of the Big Red (#BRM48) is now available. As with most levels, it doesn't have a printed scale, which would make it easier to mark layout lines when installing cabinets.


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Center vial is magnified and illuminated        

The second most important component of a level are the vials, and how they're mounted into the beam. There are three acrylic vials on the Big Red. While they can't be replaced, they are virtually unbreakable.
 
The center vial is 5/8" x 1-15/64", and has a convex shaped top. The vial is magnified so that it's easier to see the bubble, and it has a fluorescent backing that makes it somewhat easier to read in low-light conditions.
 

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You'll notice that the vial doesn't have indicator rings, which serve to indicate where the bubble should be for the level to be perfectly horizontal, but rather it has dark edge bands.
 
The bubble just about fills the space between the edge bands, and I find this makes it quicker and easier to use the level. Plus, the bubble isn't overly sensitive, and the magnified vial is pretty easy to read.
 
However, when you use the level upside down (with the vial on the bottom), the bubble is not as visible (photo at left).
 
As mentioned earlier, there is no continuous edge on the top edge of the level, which I do find inconvenient. If, like me, you use a level when scribing layout lines on drywall or plywood you'll invariably have to turn the level upside down,
 
Like virtually all manufacturers, Sola guarantees the level to be accurate to within .0005" per inch, or .029° (that's about 1/32" over a 6' length), whether used right-side up or up-side down.


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Unique vial mounting system ensure long lasting accuracy
   
Sola uses a unique mounting system to house the center vial. The vial is ultrasonically welded into a two-part housing — the mounting block itself is epoxied in place, not the vial. The reason is that excessive temperature fluctuations can cause the epoxy to expand or contract, affecting the accuracy of the vial. A plastic cover sits over the vial and housing to keep dust and moisture from seeping inside. (Note: In the cutaway photo above the vial is  different than found on the Big Red 3 - it has the more common indicator rings)


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Solid acrylic vertical vials 

The two solid acrylic vertical vials, which are epoxy bonded in place, are 1-1/4" diameter, and just as with the center vial glow in the dark. I found these vials reasonably easy to read.
 
Sola offers a lifetime guarantee against leakage and fading on all the vials.


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Rubber end caps provide protection if dropped on end

Most levels have some kind of end protection in case you drop the level, or it gets knocked about in transit. On the Big Red there are rubber end caps. While they can be removed, I think they are meant to remain in place. The rubber is pliable enough that it grips the wall, helping you to hold the level steady while in use. And, the opening in the end cap enables you to hang the level on a nail.


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Soft grip handles

Two soft grip handles, about 3/4" by 4-1/4", make it easy to hold the level, and tote it around the work site.


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The Big Red

Tradespeople and DIYers will like the light weight, easy-to-read vials, and lifetime warranty on the Big Red. The unique housing design for the center vial will mean that you would never have to worry about the level loosing its accuracy.
 
I think that renovators and carpenters may find the Big Red less attractive. It lacks a few features that I've come to rely on — most importantly a Plumb Site®, as found the Task T59362 and the Irwin 2550. A Plumb Site® enables you to view the vertical vial undistorted while standing flush in front of the level. A continuous top edge, though handy, is a less crucial feature.
 
The Big Red is available in 6 lengths from 24" to 95". The 48" model, which I looked at, retails for just over $100 Canadian and just under $100 US, which puts it at the top of the price pyramid.


KEY FEATURES:

  • 1-7/64 x 2-5/16 x 48"
  • 6063 Aluminum Alloy body
  • Accurate to within .0005" per inch or .029°
  • Shockproof acrylic block vials
  • Three 1-1/4" vials
  • Vials glow in the dark
  • Anti-static treatment
  • 2 lbs. 6 oz.
  • Limited lifetime warranty
COMPANY:Sola 
MODEL:Big Red 3
PRICE:$93.69
MADE IN:Austria
SOURCE:Amazon Canada
Carl Duguay, October 2012
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