I am trying to build a shed on a bit of a slope in my backyard. From what I understand, the best way to lay out the outline of the shed is with batter boards. I attempted to use a water level today with a 50' clear vinyl hose and food colored water.

I established a batter board at the highest corner approximately six inches off the ground and attempted to use the water level to gauge the proper height of the remaining batter boards. I also attempted to level (with a spirt level) each board when screwing them into the stakes at the height I determined with the water level. When I ran the strings to establish the corners, the outline was square but it was clearly not level. I used a line level in the center of each line to confirm they were not level.

Where did I go wrong in this process? Does it really matter if it is level as long as it is square and the proper dimensions? I plan on digging out the highest corner to match the grade of the lowest corner to make the shed level. Any general advice would be much appreciated as this is quite frustrating.

Picture of my attempt:

enter image description here

  • 1
    You'll want it level later. Placing it unlevel is only going to make you kick yourself every time you have to wrastle with the unlevel. Apr 25, 2020 at 23:26
  • So I should just place the stakes and adjust the batter boards until the line level in the center of the line is level? The water level is/was unnecessary?
    – ab217
    Apr 25, 2020 at 23:31
  • I am no expert. If you set three corners just higher then the reference corner then you can drive the stakes down a little at each corner at a time until the string level reads level. or set the stakes but not attach the cross piece, wrap string tight around cross piece and move it up and down on stakes until level, a helper to read the level is nice or clamps to hold cross member in place with you go look at the level. level should be in the middle of the string. find level, screw cross member to stakes. Assistants are helpful but i have done alone. YouTube is your friend.
    – Alaska Man
    Apr 25, 2020 at 23:39
  • If we're talking about a little clip on string level, it's not going to do anywhere near the job you want to level across a distance. A rough approximation is what you need right now to start digging, but you'll want it accurate later. Apr 25, 2020 at 23:59
  • Invest in a laser level. so nice.
    – Alaska Man
    Apr 26, 2020 at 0:02

2 Answers 2


When using a water level like you have, you need to make absolutley sure there is no air trapped in the middle. I used a water level for laying out the batter boards for the foundation work of my home. I set a stake approximately in the middle of the floor plan, after I hung the water level in the air with the open ends bundled together and corks in the ends. Left it hang there for a while. If the water level was just filled and there is a bunch of tiny air bubbles in it, thy need to leave. I don't know why, but whenever air was trapped in the tube with the water I got a bad reading. Make sure the only air in the line is in the ends!!!

Back at the layout. Drive all your stakes, just like you have. Strap/tape the water level to the center stake and pull the cork leaving the cork in the end you are operating. This part of the the level must be as plumb as you can get it set to the stake. Tape it at the top, and neat the bottom, NOT kinking the tube. Vacuum will keep the water in place. Also have a mark on the center stake that you can see from a distance and an appropriate height, whether it be the top of foundation, top of piers or even if it is a reference point.

To start marking the batter boards, set your water level your best guess to level with the mark on the center, and pull your cork. Set you level marks on all three boards at the corner, and cap the pipe, move to the next corner, doing the same process for the other corners.

That should get you accurate.


Hopefully others more knowledgeable then me will post.

Since you have your stakes set i would remove your strings and cross boards from the stakes except for your reference corner ( near left in photo ? )

Strings 101

Attach string to cross member at reference corner and pull string to the next corner. Wrap string around the cross member and temporarily secure it. If you have a helper have them place the line level at the halfway point on the string and while you move the cross member up and down until the helper tells you it is level.

Attach cross member to stakes, use a level to insure cross member is level, this is so once you have all the strings level you can slide the strings side to side to find square without changing the strings level.

Repeat at the remaining two corners. Make sure all strings are level and that one string is not pushing down on another. Now you can square the strings up so you have 90 degree corners.

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