Milwaukee REDSTICK Box Level Review

Tool Box Buzz rating:

Visibility – SHARPSITE Technology

Some of the features that Milwaukee used with the REDSTICK and their vial approach was to use oversized vial surrounds to bring more light to the vial.  According to Ryan Schwoegler, Product Manager at Milwaukee:

The internal geometry of the REDSTICK vial is identical to other vials in terms of machine coring, arch and radius shape. The REDSTICK vial has large black bands at the outer edges of the vial are designed to bring light to the edge of the bubble meniscus.  The vial is also rounded instead of a square block, this rounded vial edge creates a magnified visibility.

In addition to the visibility of the actual vial, the placement of the vial within the level frame also contributes to the overall visibility of these levels. The REDSTICK vials are definitely easy to see.

The large black bands on the vial creates high contrast edges that make the magnified bubble easier to read. The REDSTICK vials have a guaranteed lifetime accuracy and are guaranteed to be accurate to .029° (.0005″/in, 0,5mm/M).  For the vial material, Milwaukee used high-impact acrylic, which they claim delivers 10X more durability than the standard competitive block vials and protects the accuracy over the life of the level.

Right vial

Level Accuracy

Accuracy is obviously important with construction levels. We performed a basic evaluation of the level to check accuracy. The test involves placing the levels on a fixed surface in both directions and checking the level to see that it reads the same from both sides. The REDSTICK vials are rated accurate to .029° ( .0005″/in, 0,5mm/M). I tested five different size REDSTICK levels, 16″, 24″, 32″, 48″, an 72″, for plumb and level.  All five levels passed the test, with one level being slightly out of level only.

The REDSTICK level was finicky when determining pitch. Pitch is important with the wet trades (wherever water is flowing), like masonry, where slope is important in setting driveways, patios or landscapes.

A machined vial should read accurate no matter degree or angle. When testing the REDSTICK [Holding the level plumb and slowly lowering it to a level position] the level bubble stayed buried, until it reached a 100% “level” position. Masons work in terms of the bubble from level, such as,  “a quarter bubble out” or “half a bubble out”, providing pitch. If your working in a wet trades or need to establish pitch we suggest using a pitch vial, not the REDSTICK.


Center Vial

Frame Strength

Milwaukee accomplished a rugged frame design, by milling a beefy rail system on all four edges of the REDSTICK box level and by inserting a Magnesium “backbone” into the level. This Magnesium backbone is an internal rib structure that sits in the center of the cut away section, but it doesn’t run the entire length of the level because it would make it too heavy. It protects the open vial and reinforces the frame to prevent frame deformation.

Milwaukee’s choice to use the Magnesium backbone is an interesting one. While I’m not a metallurgist, I wonder if the block inserted into an aluminum frame will cause a memory or a crumple zone when exposed to stress.  Milwaukee told me that the amount of stress needed to accomplish a crimp could never be obtained under normal jobsite use.

Testing The Frame Strength

For us at ToolBoxBuzz, testing levels often involves placing the level under the stress of weight, on both edges. We load up these levels to 200, 260, and 320-pounds. The purpose of these tests is to mimic jobsite use and also the scenario of a level getting caught in a door jamb. [i.e., pushing a cart through a door and jamming the level against the door frame and cart rail] The cart and doorframe scenario is real and one that could potentially create up to 250 pounds of stress on a level.

The strength testing rig is the same one we used for our Construction Level Head-2-Head article. It’s a pretty simple but effective set up. We used a motorcycle/atv jack to prop up the pallet, hence the slack chains above. When everything is set, we lower the jack until the weight is completely suspended from the center of the level. We take measurements before, during, and after so that we have a complete picture of the level’s strength and elasticity (how well it returns to shape). The load isn’t applied for long, just long enough to measure the deflection.

In order to put the bend test measurements into perspective, we added the data to the set from the Head-2-Head article so that you know how the REDSTICK stacks up against other level offerings, specifically the premium offerings from Stabila. As shown in the table below the strength of the REDSTICK is right on par with the Stabila 196.

Milwaukee RedStick Strength

When it comes to elasticity, the REDSTICK didn’t fare as well as we thought it would. Looking at just the numbers the REDSTICK is the third worst in the Post 320 and the worst in the two lighter loads. That isn’t the whole story though, when we applied a 320 pound load to the opposite strong axis the level returned to flat.


Milwaukee RedStick Elasticity

NOTE: One concern, with longer levels, is having too many cut outs in a level, that it can weaken the frame. The same principle applies to the middle cutout for the level vial. Some level manufacturers use a metal bridge over this vial to keep strength, which is also useful for continuous scribing.

Milwaukee could not add a bridge design to their REDSTICK line due to Stabila patent issues. They instead rely on their magnesium back bone, and are looking at other future innovations to improve. The lack of the “bridge” may affect the strength of the longer level over time, time will tell.

About the author

Rob Robillard

Robert Robillard is also the Editor of Tool Box Buzz and the editor of the blog, A Concord Carpenter and principal of a carpentry and renovation business located in Concord, Massachusetts. As a carpenter and web editor, Rob is a recognized leader in tool and how-to information for building professionals. He is the carpenter correspondence for and writes a Q&A column, in the Sunday Boston Globe, called "Ask the Carpenter."He hosts the Concord Carpenter Cable TV Show,, offering the do-it-yourself audience in Boston’s Metro West region expert advice on home repairs and maintenance. Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review - Video Channel, where we post all of our tool reviews and video editorials. Rob enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate on best practices in the remodeling industry. The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob Robillard

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