The Abney Level: A Perfect Field Instrument

If you want to calculate angles of slope out in the field, but don’t feel like lugging around a heavy theodolite or another large piece of equipment, the Abney level might be the ideal instrument to consider. It can be a perfect tool for anyone in the following professions.

Land Surveyors

The Abney level was invented for surveying purposes, so it’s little wonder that land surveyors would utilize this tool. While we have more precise instruments, such as the aforementioned theodolite, there are times when it’s not always convenient to carry heavy equipment out to a site. Additionally, Abney levels are quite affordable, so it’s kind of a win-win situation for anyone tasked with fieldwork, especially in remote areas.

For initial surveying tasks, an Abney level can be a great option, as it weighs less than a pound, and can provide you with a fairly accurate determination of angles of slope or the grade of a specific parcel of land. Interestingly enough, its inventor, Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney was not a surveyor, but a renowned astronomer and chemist. While he is best known for his work with color photography, the Abney level certainly was another one of his many accomplishments.

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers and land surveyors work in conjunction to build everything from roads to airports to dams to tunnels and much more. A civil engineer also might be called in to check on the structural integrity of a bridge or building and check for changes and movement over time. While they definitely have some highly precise and expensive tools at their disposal, an Abney level might be a tool that they would use to check out a parcel of land during the initial stages of a project. 

Builders & Contractors

While you might think that builders mainly will utilize a builder’s level or a transit, these tools do require the use of a tripod. If you want to make some quick calculations by hand or perhaps just with a lightweight Jacob’s staff, the Abney level can make this simple and easy. Contractors, as well as surveyors, often enlist the use of the Abney level before they set up other types of larger equipment, such as a transit or theodolite.

Cartographers & Geologists

We’ve lumped these two together because geologists often head out in the field to monitor changes in the earth in order to update topographic maps. For instance, the United States Geological Survey will send scientists out in the field to look at changes in elevation in a variety of areas, on land and even offshore. While geologists will use a wide range of tools, an Abney level definitely might come along for the ride, as it’s just an easy piece of equipment to tote anywhere. 


If you want to measure tree height, the Abney level can be a handy tool and it’s a bit smaller and lighter than our Forester’s compass, so it’s perfect for those times when you really just want a small instrument that you can store in a rucksack. We do, of course, also sell a high-quality forester’s compass as well as surveyor’s compasses, if you need those instruments.

Our durable WK-40-1750 Abney level can handle rugged conditions with ease and weighs just 10 ounces. It comes furnished with four scales, allowing the user to obtain any one (or a combination) of four slope readings, including degrees, percent of grade, topographic arc and chainage correction.

In addition to our Abney level, we have a variety of other leveling instruments that you might need, including digital protractors, level meters, telemetric alignment systems, and a precision frame spirit level. We also have other types of surveying equipment, including theodolites, clinometers and more. If you don’t see precisely what you need, give us a call and we may be able to provide you with a custom design. At Warren Knight, we’ve been creating quality Abney levels, surveying equipment, navigation equipment and other optical instruments for more than 100 years, and we also provide quality calibration services and instrument repair services.

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