Levelling rods can be one piece, but many are sectional and can be shortened for storage and transport or lengthened for use. Aluminum rods may be shortened by telescoping sections inside each other.

There are many types of rods, with names that identify the form of the graduations and other characteristics. Markings can be in imperial or metric units. Some rods are graduated on one side only while others are marked on both sides. If marked on both sides, the markings can be identical or can have imperial units on one side and metric on the other.

Self-reading rods are rods that are read by the person viewing the rod through the telescope of the instrument. The graduations are sufficiently clear to read with good accuracy. Target rods, on the other hand, are equipped with a target. The target is a round or oval plate marked in quarters in contrasting colours such as red and white in opposite quarters. A hole in the centre allows the instrument user to see the rod's scale. The target is adjusted by the rodman according to the instructions from the instrument man. When the target is set to align with the crosshairs of the instrument, the rodman records the level value. The target may have a vernier to allow fractional increments of the graduation to be read.