A Guide to Buying Surveying Tools

Like if this guide is helpful
A Guide to Buying Surveying Tools

Surveying is the act of accurately determining the three-dimensional position of various points as well as the distance between the points. Before homes are built, businesses opened, or fences laid, the prospective plot of land for a project must be appropriately surveyed. Surveyors work closely with other professionals including architects, contractors, and carpenters.

There are surveyors in nearly every country. The art of surveying dates back as far as human history, with no definite beginning. Everything from the pyramids of Egypt to Stonehenge was likely scoped out by a surveyor using rudimentary tools and geometric formulas before building commenced. As a result, centuries of development have produced a massive amount of tools to get the job done, often making the selection of materials alone quite the challenge for a recently-trained surveyor.

Survey tools have certainly become more advanced than the simple rope and weight structures of early man. Today, there are more tools, and understanding the different types is important before purchasing these tools. Although surveyors can find a wide array of these tools from traditional suppliers, they may be able to obtain these tools at lower prices from an online retailer such as eBay.


Levels are one of the more common and basic of all surveyors tools. Most of the levels used by surveyors fall into one of three categories, namely, "dumpy", "wye", and "automatic" levels. 

It is important to know what type of level suits the type of work one needs to do before making a purchase. The same tools may not necessarily be suitable or both land and building surveys. Personal opinion should also come into play when purchasing a level, as one type of level may simply be more comfortable than another from a surveyor's point of view.

Dumpy Levels

The dumpy level features a permanently mounted telescope. It is also known as a builder's level or levelling instrument. In surveying, the dumpy level is used to establish or review spots along the same horizontal plane. To use a dumpy level, one must have a compatible tripod. The dumpy level is placed on and steadied by the tripod as the surveyor reviews the horizontal line ahead. Some dumpy levels come with a bubble to indicate when proper levelling has been achieved. Overall, the dumpy level is an important survey tool, but it is not the ideal option for a job where measurements must be painstakingly precise, due to a large margin of error. Additionally, the dumpy level takes expertise to operate, so it is better suited for the more experienced surveyor. 

Wye Levels

The wye level, sometimes referred to as the "Y" level, features a removable telescope. It is one of the older types of level and bulky, and as a result, it can be cumbersome to tote around during projects. Generally, a wye level is capable of providing faster, easier readings than the dumpy level. However, the addition of extra, movable parts means that the wye level can become disturbed more easily, leaving data askew.

Automatic Levels

The automatical level is relied on by modern surveyors more than other types of levels. Virtually the same as a dumpy level, the automatic level simply removes some of the guesswork. The automatic level features a compensator capable of automatically correcting minor errors in set-up. Many modern surveyors rely on the automatic level, rather than the dumpy or the wye levels, for basic levelling needs. This is a must-have investment for the new surveyor, and it is used in land surveys.


Theodolites are common survey tools. They allow the surveyor to measure both horizontal and vertical angles with ease. Theodolites may be either transit or non-transit, the difference being that a transit theodolite features a telescope capable of rotating in an entire circle. A non-transit theodolite, which has a fixed telescope, is generally more accurate than the transit type, but it is by only a small fraction of a degree in most cases.

Some models, such as the Brunton Pocket Transit have been in use for more than a century, with little to no design changes. The builder's level is sometimes mistaken for a transit, though it is an entirely different tool. The term "diopter" may also be used in some older texts to refer to a theodolite.


The compass has long been an important part of surveying. A compass differentiates between north and south so that the surveyor knows where to begin and end a line. When buying a compass, it is important to know that there are three major styles of compass available. Additionally, many surveyors are turning towards the use of GPS systems rather than traditional compasses to determine location and direction.

Plain Compass

The plain compass is a common type of compass. These are the small, inexpensive, round compasses that many people learn to read as children when camping or scouting. They are handheld and light, though accuracy varies by user. It has no adjustment, but it always points towards magnetic North.

Vernier Compass

The vernier compass works similarly to a plain compass, with the exception that the vernier compass can be adjusted. This differential makes it possible to estimate correct bearings straight from the compass. Vernier compasses can be difficult to use and are largely obsolete.

Solar Compass

The solar compass uses a special technique based on the Earth's planetary alignment to determine True North as well as latitude. It is not rendered useless by iron or other natural substances in the way that a plain compass sometimes can be. The solar compass is so important that its use by surveyors was once required by law.

GPS Alternative

The handheld GPS system has largely replaced the antiquated compass in many surveyor's bags. The GPS works by finding one's exact position via satellite signal. Though potentially less reliable in remote areas, having a GPS on hand is another must for the modern surveyor.

Poles and Rods as Surveying Tools

Survey ranging poles and rods serve a number of purposes. They are used to determine elevation, grade, level, and a number of other data-related factors. Most surveyors have a variety of poles and rods at their disposal at any given time. Poles and rods used in surveying should offer a clear display and come from reputable retailers to ensure accuracy.

Plumb Bobs

A plumb bob is a lead weight added to the end of a surveyor's line. It adds enough pressure to hold the line in place for a vertical measurement. These weights are common in both surveying procedures as well as construction. Generally, plumb bobs are simple tools, diamond-shaped and featuring sharp edges. They should be heavy enough to hold down the surveyor's line with ease to mark a beginning or end point along a plane.

Laser Plumb Bob

Laser plumb bobs represent an improvement over one of the older leveling tools. Up to 20 times faster than traditional plumb bobs, the laser addition has helped to greatly reduce work for qualified surveyors. Unlike the traditional lead-weight plumb bob, this device features a laser light capable of pinpointing a specific spot. Often, the spot can be transferred with a simple push of a button.

Using eBay to Purchase Surveying Tools

eBay offers an excellent source for purchasing surveying tools. An online retailer with millions of sellers from around the world, eBay provides access to multiple types of survey tools, in both new and used conditions.

Searching for surveying tools on eBay is easy. Simply input search terms related to the type of device you desire. For example, you could enter "plumb bob" or "vernier compass" in the search bar. This can provide a number of listings which can be narrowed down using eBay's filters that help refine the results you can see.

When shopping on eBay, customers typically find listing descriptions to be very accurate and very detailed. At times, there may be concerns regarding the product, shipping, or other factors. When this is the case, it is recommended that you contact the seller of the product prior to making a commitment to purchase. This can be done easily by visiting the seller's profile page to retrieve the contact information. eBay makes it possible for you to communicate securely and privately with the seller.


Surveyors have long played an important role in the development of land. Without surveyors, arguments over land may be never-ending without an exact science for determining when and where the perimeters of a property are.

Surveying is as much as an art as it is a science. A mixture of physics, geometry, and law, the act of surveying has existed for centuries. Today, surveying has become more advanced, with new technology enabling more sophisticated tools. However, many surveyors remain true to the same basic tools which have existed for decades. Due to the highly rooted geometric and physics applications at the heart of surveying, these age-old tools are as valuable today as any other time. Therefore, purchasing surveying tools can often amount to the surveyor's personal preference.

It is important to select quality surveying tools when purchasing equipment. Buying top-of-the-line, reliable surveying tools makes work easier for the surveyor and results more accurate. Thanks to its wide network of sellers, an online retailer such as eBay can make the process of acquiring surveying tools easier.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides