Surveyor with Leveling Rod

By Lou Rollins
Graphic Design, Marketing, and Web Development at Vectors Inc.

I need a leveling rod!

Ok, which one?


When I first began working for Vectors Inc. almost four years ago I walked into an entirely new world filled with strange equipment. Tripods, bipods, and these tall telescoping sticks with measurement marks on the sides were everywhere. My lack of land survey equipment familiarity made my new job feel a tad overwhelming.

What do you call it?

Although over the years I have mastered the names of most of the equipment around the store, the terminology is still a challenge. Regularly, a customer will ask for something I have never heard of. What a particular piece of equipment is called can vary regionally and sometimes names are used interchangeably.

Grade Rods, Level Rods, Philly rods, oh my!

This brings me back to that telescoping stick thing I mentioned earlier. One common point of confusion for customers (and for me) is the many options of rods. Leveling rods are also known as grade rods or builders’ rods (or staffs) and are used for all kinds of surveying applications as well as masonry, landscaping, excavation, and plumbing. Traditionally, leveling rods come in one piece or adjustable telescoping segments and can be made of a variety of materials like wood, plastic, or aluminum. The strong, rigid fiberglass SECO rods that Vectors Inc. carries are waterproof, nonconductive, and corrosion-resistant which makes it the preferred choice for our New Mexico and Colorado climates and especially when using around power lines.

Different shapes.

SECO classifies their leveling rods in groups determined by their shape.

Different scales.

SECO offers leveling rods in 8’, 17’, 25’, and other extended lengths. Some leveling rods are graduated on only one side, while others have measurements on both sides. Their increments can be confusing too. The scale on the side of the leveling rod can vary greatly based on a particular job or the user’s preference.
Most sources cite the Philadelphia, or Philly, rod as the most often used leveling rod. These sources also say that the Philly consists of two sliding sections with 1/100-foot increments, which would make this an imperial measurement tool. SECO’s only catalog reference to a Philly rod is metric. No wonder I am confused when someone asks for a Philly rod. I have also heard the leveling rod referred to as an Engineer’s Rod. This designation refers to rods that have graduations that measure in feet and tenths and hundreds of a foot. A Builder’s Rod, or Architect’s Rod, is like the Engineer’s Rod, but instead of being divided into inches and decimals, this rod is divided into inches and fractions.
SECO’s offerings include:
      • Eighths - might also be called Inches
      • Tenths - might also be called Imperial Philly
      • Metric Philly - The Philadelphia Rod, or Philly Rod, is the most common engineer’s rod
      • .05 cm metric
      • ‘E’ metric
    Click on the images to enlarge them.
    *Vectors Inc. does not list all available items on our website. If you can't find something that you need, contact us. We can get you just about anything in the LaserLine Brochure or SECO catalog.

    Ok, but what does direct read mean?

    This is a completely different kind of rod. Vectors Inc. recently added LaserLine brand direct reading rods to our inventory. These rods, also called Lenker or True Elevation style rods have a moveable tape face allowing you to set the actual benchmark elevation, or any elevation, above or below the bench into the rod.

    LaserLine touts, “The actual true elevation above sea level is read on these rods, thus eliminating errors caused by adding or subtracting. Since no math is involved, grade shots are much faster than conventional-style rods. On most job sites, the bench elevation is typically established by survey, and all elevations on that project are above that or below primary bench elevation.”

    Now I know what to call it (I think) here are some useful tips.

    The leveling rod must be placed on the correct point exactly and held plumb throughout its usage. If the rod is in the wrong place or not held plumb, the readings will be incorrect and useless.
    If you are using a rod that extends in sections, be sure to extend from the bottom up. Otherwise, you will get inaccurate readings. (ie, if you have a rod that has five sections, be sure to extend the first two sections at the bottom of the rod first, then work your way up to the top of the rod).
    If you don't need the whole length of the rod, don't extend the upper sections, as it will just make it more difficult to keep plumb with any kind of wind blowing. No matter which leveling rod you choose, they need to be handled with care and protected from damage. The safest place for your rod is in the protective bag that comes with your SECO rods. A Direct Read Rod Bag can also be purchased separately for your LaserLine rod.
    *Protip! If you don’t know the name of what you need, send the sales team at Vectors Inc. a picture or bring in the item for us to see. Having a visual will help us identify the part number for you.
    Lou Rollins heads up Marketing and Website development at Vectors Inc. and is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. ©Vectors Inc.