Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer
Working easier with the magic of electronics
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 3-15-2011
Ever dream of a world where everything you build is either perfectly vertical or absolute horizontal? Well life is tough, snap out of it Bucko, the real world awaits. The good news is that the folks at Johnson Level and Tool have seen your dreamland and devised another level-based solution that can make all of us stars in the ever-angular reality surrounding us. Their latest dream maker is the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer.
At 10-5/8”-long, 2-3/16”-tall and 1-1/4”-thick the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is handy in a large range of situations. It has a decidedly job-site-tough feel to it with a thick metal top and bottom frame with tough composite material surrounding the electronics between them. While the metal frame has a large V-groove in both the top and bottom to let it sit firmly on rounded surfaces the bottom frame surface of the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is magnetized. That lets you put it where you need it on metal surfaces and use both hands to do your work around it.
The Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is powered by three AAA batteries that are included. Even the battery compartment is “hardened” for the rigors of job-site usage. Rather than a snap on plastic cover the battery compartment has a door retained by a screw. To help keep those batteries fresh an automatic off system is built in that shuts the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer off in 20 minutes if no keys are pressed.
A sealed keypad on one side lets you control the many functions that the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer has to offer. We will look at all of the functions later but the most obvious is the Power button that turns the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer on and off. Another button controls backlighting of the LCD screen and holding that same button down for more than 3 seconds toggles the sound on and off.
Beep-Beep Beeeeeeeep You’re Level
One of the nifty features packed into the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is an audible system that emits a solid tone when it is perfectly level or perfectly plumb. Until then it beeps, more slowly as you move away from level or plumb and faster as it get closer to level or plumb. That means that you can be shimming a cabinet and get it dead on right without being able to physically see the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer. To keep the beeping from going on endlessly it stops when the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is more than 10-degrees from horizontal or plumb.
A Laser button controls the emitter built into one end of the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer. The emitter is located 1-1/8” above the bottom surface of the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer which makes it easy to shoot accurate height or level markings across a cabinet or across a large room. The laser in the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer really is one of the stronger laser lights I have seen.
The Mode button is really a built-in unit converter. This button lets you choose how the dimensions are displayed on the LCD screen. Available are simple degrees, percentage of slope, millimeters per meter, inches per foot (slope, pitch) in decimal form and inches per foot in a fractional display.
This mode function can be a lifesaver when working with plans or specs that use units of measure with which you are not familiar. You can change to the format on the plan, match the plan numbers on the LCD and then change it to a number scheme you understand. There are mathematical ways to convert dimension formats but if you are anything like me, the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is the only way to get the conversion right.
A not-so-mysterious button is labeled “Hold”. Push this button and whatever the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is displaying on the LCD screen is frozen. This is especially helpful when you can’t see the reading or it’s just not clearly visible. Set the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer in place, push the Hold button and you can take it wherever you need to see the reading clearly.
This button does way more than the nothing its name suggests. You can literally teach the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer what you regard as perfectly level. The instruction manual describes a simple procedure that calibrates the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer very precisely. Essentially the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is measuring the surface twice, 180-degrees apart and then averaging those readings to find Zero. And it does this for horizontal and vertical “0”s. I know it sounds simple enough but anything that does math for me becomes a cherished friend.
Now you see it, now you still do
One of the really different ideas incorporated into the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is a two-position LCD screen. The body has viewing opening on the front and the top and the LCD screen itself can be rotated to be visible through either of them. And, if you are working overhead, the numbers right themselves.
There is a third window on the rear surface and you can actually turn the LCD that far but why? You can turn this level end for end so that the front is always towards you, even when it is upside down when the numbers reverse so that they are right side up again. Why complicate things with the third window. I expect that it was easier to make that way rather than carve out just the front and top openings.
Between the Mode changing capability and being able to always have the numbers right side up where you can actually see them the possibility of mistakes is reduced dramatically. I really like anything that helps reduce mistakes because they are a particularly frustrating waste of my very limited shop time.
Keeping It Pretty
All of this electronic wizardry deserves protection so Johnson Level and Tool includes a nice lined canvas carry case with a belt loop on its back. A hook and loop closure keeps that flap closed. The cased even has a sewn-in fabric “tube” along the inside edge for storing batteries!
In the Shop
I nearly skipped the “In the Shop” portion of this review because the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer really is very self-explanatory. Read the instructions (Yes, really!) and using the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is very easy. Because the LCD turns to where you are, even reading it is simple. Probably the hardest thing about using the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer is coming up with legitimate sounding excuses for why you make any mistakes. It certainly is not the fault of the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer.
I love the magnetic feature because being able to put the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer where I need it on virtually any metalworking job gives me the use both hands to weld or adjust the structure. It is very much like having an extra person in the shop. Add in the beep-beep leveling feature and I don’t even have to be looking at the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer to know the surface I am working on is level!
With a street price of just $155.00 (3-11-2011) the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer certainly doesn’t qualify as a toy. However anyone who enjoys being able to build things straight and level and being able to do that alone, it is a small price to pay. Between the typical Johnson Level and Tool attention to quality and the group of user-enhancing features the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer could be a welcome addition to your crew, especially if you ARE the crew!
I don’t do job sites but I am alone in my shop frequently. Having the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer on hand makes it easier for me to be accurate when building my projects and that is worth a lot to me. I suspect that you will find that having the Johnson Electronic Level Inclinometer in your shop is easily worth the investment also.
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