Craftsman Vintage 28" Construction Level Restoration

Craftsman Vintage Construction Level (1980s) - Airplanes and RocketsMy 28" Craftsman construction level (p/n 3311990) was bought sometime back in the early to mid 1980s, not long after Melanie and I were married in May of 1983, at the Sears store in Annapolis, Maryland. After living in while restoring four or five houses in the span of twenty years, it was really showing signs of use and abuse, especially the plastic windows protecting the fluid vials. There wasn't much protection going on with half of them either cracked or missing. A replacement 24" Johnson level was bought, but I kept the Craftsman level as a backup.

It is hard to find a level that gives true readings - even some of the more expensive models. I often take levels off the display wall and place two identical models against each other and compare the bubble positions and find more often than not that they do not agree with each other. It's like how no two thermometers on the shelf ever seem to agree on the temperature.

Craftsman bubble level restoration (ID tag) - Airplanes and RocketsThe way to test a level for accuracy is to lay it on a surface and adjust one end so that the bubble indicates exactly level. Then, rotate the level 180° and lay it on the same surface. If it does not still indicate level, then it is deficient. The same test can (and should) be performed for a vertical surface. My Craftsman level was tested in the store prior to buying it, and has remained true for lo these many years.

After reading a couple months ago that Sears is on the verge of bankruptcy and would be selling its Craftsman brand to Black & Decker, a touch of nostalgia hit and I decided to restore my old level to like-new condition (or close to it). Fortunately, the plastic window frames, along with the fluid vials, are held together with screws, so they came apart and removed easily. The plastic end caps are a friction fit and popped right off. I wanted to be sure to retain the integrity of the paper label, so I carefully scraped it off with a single-edge razor blade.

Two features stand out on this level that you will not find on any new Craftsman level. First, the end caps have "Made in USA" molded into them. Second, the paper label lists the headquarters of Sears to be in the Sears Tower in Chicago - now known as the Willis Tower. Americana has practically disappeared in my lifetime (born in 1958) thanks, IMHO, to a bunch of globalist politicians and businessmen who want to erase the memory of America and its great achievements.

The aluminum frame was sanded free of all paint and then cleaned, primed, and spray painted with gloss black enamel. The paper label was sprayed with a couple coats of clear gloss lacquer and was then carefully glued back on using superglue.

A coat of Turtle Wax Ice, which is a non-whitening synthetic coating, returned the black plastic end caps to a nice shiny look (I used it on plastic window shutters to bring back color, too). It was also used on the plastic vial windows that had survived intact. Some thick Lexan plastic that I bought for making model airplane windshields was cut to replace the damaged windows. The originals have a very slight outward bow that the new ones do not have, but it is not even noticeable if you aren't looking for it.

The 28" Craftsman level now hangs as a relic showpiece on the basement workshop wall. I use it for non-hazardous duty, but all 'real' work is done with the newer Johnson level.



Posted March 11, 2017

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