How to Use a Dumpy Level

An amateur surveyor using a builder's level.
What You'll Need
Dumpy level
An assistant
E meter staff or English staffs

A dumpy level does not refer to a level far past its prime, but rather to an instrument used to measure, transfer, or set horizontal lines. Also called a builder’s level, an automatic level, or a leveling instrument, these gadgets are often used in surveying buildings or land to establish relative height, distance, and bearings from different parts of a site. Using this device requires a certain amount of skill and experience as well as the right tools and some know-how.

Dumpy levels often come in kits, which will usually include all of your basic tools like the level head, a leveling rod (or E meter staff), and the tripod.

Step 1 - Setting the Instrument

It is important to make the dumpy level completely horizontal for it to work properly. Adjust the height of the tripod until it is eye level and then move the legs of the tripod so it is balanced and can hold the level head properly. Once you are satisfied, secure the legs of the tripod by pressing it to the ground.

Step 2 - Attaching the Instrument to the Tripod

The level head is a very sensitive tool so take special care when you handle it. Set the instrument on top of the tripod. At the center will be a large screw that you will use to screw the device on tight.

The bubble for alignment will be on the side of the level, so adjust the screws holding it in place until the bubble is at the center of the marker. This is to ensure that the instrument itself is properly leveled.

Step 3 - Using the E Meter Staff

Once the dumpy level is set, ask your assistant to stand at the point of measurement while holding the E meter, or English, staff. You will look through the level toward the staff to take your measurements. This staff usually has both metric and imperial measurements, with the ‘E’ on the staff equivalent to five centimeters.

In order to get a reading, you will usually start with a benchmark, which is a point of known height usually determined by a previous survey, or another point with an assumed height. If you’re having issues with your measurements, you may also need to calibrate your builder’s level. It is not easy, however, and often requires experience, just like taking measurements in the first place.