How to Build and Use a Water Level
I had to lay some field drain lines on my property to address some problems where water was pooling and causing mud holes. Once I had dug the trenches my next problem was to figure out how to accurately measure the slope of the drain lines to ensure the water would go where I wanted. I’m basically too cheap to buy a laser level or a transit; and too inept to use a string level with any accuracy… .So I decided to build a simple water level to make sure my drain lines were right.
The concept of a water level is to use colored water in a clear hose to show the proper common points for leveling most anything. Gravity forces the water in the tube to always be at a constant level (relative to the supply tank), so every measurement taken against that reference point is really VERY accurate.
Setup requires a storage tank/jug with some clear tubing; a grommet to seal the tank; colored water; and a measurement tape or rule. I added a section of a broken metal yardstick and some angle iron to mount the hose and ruler together. Then I added a magnet with an arrow painted on it to use as a sliding pointer that shows the beginning water level. I also added some food coloring to the water so its shows up better inside the tubing. Each measurement moving down the trench allows me to see if the pipe is sloped correctly to my intended 1/8" per foot slope target. One of the pictures shows the magnet pointer and the blue water with a 1" difference in readings which correlates to the change in depth of the pipe over an eight foot long section (1/8" per foot x 8' = 1" drop).
To use the water level, place your rule with the clear tube attached along side of it at your first measurment point. Move the magnet pointer to where the colored water level is showing. This is your starting point. Now simply move your rule stick anywhere else and see where the water level is in comparison to your starting point. You can easily see if you are going up or down by where the water level is showing up.
This picture shows that my new reading (colored water line) is a full 1” lower than my starting point (magnet pointer).
Hopefully this description makes sense. It was very easy to build and even easier to use too. Some key benefits of using a water level are: Its cheap; easy to measure; quite accurate; and you can even level around corners or past objects…you don’t have to be in a straight line like when using a string or laser level. Some cautions when using the water level: Make sure you get all the air bubbles out of the line; no kinks or bends to impede the water; and make sure all the hose is at the same temperature…no hot spots to cause the water or hose to expand unevenly. You may want to use some antifreeze so your level doesn't freeze up in the winter...or just dump the colored water out.
P.S. - I also used this water level to set the slope on my house gutters for proper flow where I was having problems. and you could also use this to easily set the slope of the ground away from your basement wall to make sure water drains away from the house if you are adding top soil.