Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels offer wide expansion ranges for truing building components and objects separated by a span. I’ve been working with both sizes on several of our jobs including a complete gut and remodel as well as an addition. More than a few features impressed me and make these tools something you may want to consider for yourself.
Note: Pro Tool Reviews got their first look at these expanding levels when they covered the best tools at Milwaukee NPS19.
- Robust, tough-as-nails construction
- Telescoping expansion effectively offers you several level lengths in one
- Ability to span gaps between two areas or objects to level or plumb them
- Telescope tension adjustment and inset lock keeps fingers out of harm’s way
- Easy-to-read vials
- The design makes these levels heavy (but still lighter than carrying several levels!)
- There’s a slight flex when fully extended
Milwaukee’s made a couple of tough levels that reliably expand and (just as importantly!) contract again. The wide expansion ranges effectively give you several levels in one, letting you fit them to the entire length of most building components for greater accuracy. But my favorite feature of the design is the ability to span gaps between two areas. Examples include cabinets separated by a stove, a floor over a bottom plate, or a wall with a window. I noticed a very slight flex when they were fully extended horizontally, but rarely do I use them in the fully-extended position. The levels’ ruggedness add noticeably to the weight, but the pros easily overcome these smaller cons – my work greatly benefits from these tools.
Milwaukee Expanding Levels Performance
It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’ve used standard level lengths for years. But wouldn’t an adjustable level that fit the length of building components make the work more accurate? Of course—and that’s the great advantage of the Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels.
By releasing the inset lock (positioned to keep your fingers out of pinch points), you can expand the shorter level from 4- to 6.5-feet and the longer one from 6.5- to 12-feet. A tension adjustment controls the ease of slide. In this way, you can level and plumb the entire length of the component.
But there’s another advantage that wasn’t obvious until I put the levels to work. The design doesn’t have a continuous edge, so you can level a span over an obstruction like a bottom plate. You’ll see in the photos that I made sure the floor was level from room to room in a recent remodel. That was easy since the house was gutted to the studs. Of course, there are plenty of other applications as well.
Even when there’s not an obstruction of some sort, the level’s expandable design works well for spanning cabinets across the kitchen, plate to plate on a wall, and even large openings like you might encounter when building a block wall. They also work a treat for tiling showers, tubs, or entire or bathrooms.
Heavier But Lighter
A few guys have pointed out that the Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels are heavy. That’s technically true but, to my mind, neither is as heavy as the several traditional levels it replaces. And those traditional levels can’t span over obstructions, so I really don’t mind the extra heft.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the levels’ slight flex at full extension when horizontal. This particularly affects the longer version. Now, that’s a pretty easy issue to solve as you can avoid maximally expanding the level by just a skosh. You’ll still enjoy the excellent extended reach without any material impact on your work.
The exterior on both Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels is built like a tank. Even so, the company offers handsome carry bags (MLSB48 and MLSB78). But the levels are so tough that I don’t worry too much about them outside of the bags. It’s important to note, however, that the levels’ Guaranteed Lifetime Accuracy of 0.029° or 0.0005″ per inch applies to the closed position only.
When Milwaukee Tool introduced the RedStick Expanding Levels, it emphasized their reinforced internal components. Apparently, expanding levels with cheap components can become stuck in the expanded position. The RedSticks are designed to reliably open and close for the life of the level. That claim is outside the timeframe and scope of this review, but it deserves mentioning.
Milwaukee fans will recognize the large, easy-to-read Sharpsite vials. Both levels also boast great hand grips and the shorter version has some seriously strong amplified rare earth magnets.
In a pinch, the levels’ highly legible rules can take the place of your measuring tape, which is really convenient.
Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels Price
Here’s how the Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels compare in price to some of the competition.
- Empire Level eXT78 (4 – 6.5′): $99
- Milwaukee MLXPM78 (4 – 6.5′): $249
- Stabila 35712 (7 – 12′): $299.00
- Irwin 1801107 (5 – 13’10”): $362.89
- Milwaukee MLXP712: $349
The Bottom Line
My work benefits from Milwaukee RedStick Expanding Levels’ ability to fit the entire length of the component I need to be leveled or plumbed. But the levels’ design offers more benefits that aren’t immediately obvious. For example, I took advantage of leveling areas over obstructions like a bottom plate and spanning large gaps. Factor in the reinforced internal components, what seems to be an indestructible exterior, Sharpsite vials, great grips, and a rule that can be your tape in a pinch—and these levels make a compelling case for themselves. The tradeoff is a heavier level, but it’s lighter than the several levels it replaces!
Milwaukee Expanding Levels Specifications
- Amplified rare earth magnets
- Length: 48 – 78 inches
- Width: 4.25 inches
- Weight: 7.8 pounds
- Price: $249
- Length: 6-1/2 – 12 feet
- Width: 4.25 inches
- Weight: 13.2 pounds
- Price: $349