Benefits of Laser Level Tools

The rotary level is the best tool to have if you’re in any way into home improvement. It takes out the guess work and the skill of using a manual 2 to 4-foot level. And because leveling errors increase exponentially with distance, the laser levels are really the only option at longer distances where even small errors in reading or calculations ruin a project. A slight tilt or bump in the manual level can easily add up to a couple of inches when you reach the next wall.

From setting up a level foundation to hanging a straight painting on the wall, you can’t really tell how useful having a true horizontal(or even a true vertical) guideline is until you have one.

A level foundation is essential to a precisely engineered project and to provide a good accurate reference point for the other contractors or projects you want to build on top of it. The floor carpenters will be especially grateful for a level foundation.

And speaking of foundations and floors. Leveling a foundation of over 100 ft is a pain in the ass with a manual level tool, not to mention that unless you are an experienced contractor or have learned from a couple of previous mistakes you will most likely get it wrong. It’s inevitable a sort of builders right of passage.

A good rotary laser level, you turn on, it shoots a laser dot that spins around in a perfect horizontal/vertical or set angle line and gives you wall to wall perfect horizontal/vertical or angular reference line, accurate to at least 1/4 of an inch for the first 50 ft.

And most rotary lasers have an auto-stabilizing that saves you the hassle of calculating true horizontal and setting up the machine.

Another handy feature to have on most job sites is a bump alert. So if it gets bumped or nudged accidentally, most manufacturers have a way of letting you know. Even the smallest of movements either turns off the device or turns on an audible alert. This will save you a lot of time and work cleaning up after human negligence, especially on a busy job site where you have multiple contractors working in a single room.

After you got a level foundation going you use the level tool to set up your sills and doorways. And draw water, gas and electrical lines.

Mid-project the masons will have an easier job doing their job as accurately as possible if they have a fixed grid to work with. Later on, while adding these finishing touches, you’ll be able to get those perfectly level kitchen cabinets and perfect moldings. These nifty little tools are a godsend when installing chair rails, wainscoting because the overlay on anything you add to the wall, so your markings are always on top of anything you work on.

And that’s just on the inside; rotary lasers really come into their own on outside projects or yard work. Whether it’s installing a deck, building a tree house or just landscaping. Almost any pro laser level can serve you well for these miscellaneous homeowner tasks. However, rotary levels leave other laser levels behind when it comes to jobs that require leveling over longer distances. With rotary levels, you can do more niche tasks like surveying, checking the alignment of posts, beams, decks, porches, fences or masonry. You can also check elevation and slopes for better drainage design which if you live in some parts of the of the country, this will basically save your house.

Now before we get more into specifics about laser levels, you should know the most important edge they have, in my view. It’s simple but might be controversial.

They are very easy to use. They are one of those simple pro tricks that give even home improvement amateurs pro level results. Most are self-adjusting and find true horizontal on their own with an internal gyroscope.

Ultimately there’s no glory in going the old fashion way and measuring 1000 times and still getting a bad result. The lasers, especially the rotary ones, take out the guess work the calculations and the repeated measurements and enable you to get on with the job confident of the results. And all this get multiplied by 1000 when working with inclines.

What you need to consider before buying

 

What’s the job

If you just want to hang up pictures straight, you don’t really need to invest in a rotary level. A manual laser will serve you well enough for most in-house tasks or save the money and just use a level app on your smartphone.

However, when you work on whole rooms or houses, you need 360° capabilities and some designs are better than others. Some of the casing struts around the laser cast some thick shadows that end up as blind spots on the wall. Sometimes you get some big blind spots all around the room where the 360° laser should be and not all of them are adjustable by remote.

Outside jobs require brighter laser beams and maybe even green color beams but watch out as these fade into the background fast on longer distances.

A wireless remote will make the job easier in larger workspaces.

Usability and Storage

Most manufacturers build leveling tools to be pretty rugged so they withstand some bashing on a construction site, the difference in durability as always you can determine by the warranty but also the specifications like the IP rating for dust and water resistance.

Is it idiot proof?

Also, accidents happen, these are precision instruments. Accidental abuse is way more common that hitting it while it’s in use, so having a purposed made shatter proof storage box will decrease the risk of accidentally breaking it significantly, because at the end of the day it’s a high precision measuring tool, not a sledgehammer.

I don’t care if you are the most attentive person around, things get nudged on worksites. And the more people you have on a construction site the odds of nudging the equipment grows exponentially.

The right tool for the right job

Sometimes you need the extra 500 ft visibility range and accuracy for some fence work. Sometimes, there is no eventuality where you will ever need that. So get just the right device because with increased accuracy and beam range these things can go up in price fast.

Tips on buying the best leveling tool: What features do i need?

If the laser isn’t accurate enough you might as well just save the money and use a manual level, a notepad a pencil and some math.

If there are more lasers on the job site a laser that allows you to reduce or increase the angle of the projection will save you a lot of confusion and time.

When choosing a good leveler you should consider a minimum amount of features you need and the lowest price point you can get them because the differences between enthusiast builder and professional gear are not that large in terms of features but with each added utility the price goes up by quite a lot, a few hundred dollars in one go sometimes.

A proper laser requires perfectly accurate alignment capability that can not be achieved with a regular manual spirit level the most accurate of an eagle-eyed mortal.

Not at the top end of a lasers capabilities, you will see they all have their limitations and your needs need to fall squarely under it.

Accuracy & range

A top quality laser will come at an accuracy of ¼ inch error at 100 feet and a good all purpose laser will come at half that.

Most lasers will clear most one room leveling jobs. The difference is made on outside work. However, you need to check your plans and see if you can work with your average 100 ft last or you need to improvise around. Most will work up to 200ft with the reasonable loss in accuracy. Anything above that, you’ll need to spring for more expensive options.

Visibility and Rotation speed

Not all eyes are made equal, especially as you go up in age.And depending on how big your windows are and how they are orientated, your construction site might be very bright. Take that into account and maybe try out a green laser option. Also, most lasers are made within some safety guidelines, so sometimes you can’t really get anything visible enough for an eastern facing floor with floor to ceiling windows. In this case, you either go for a brighter green beam, slower rotation speeds or use a beam detector.

Since we’re on the topic of beam speeds, it’s a give and take; low speeds increase visibility over short distances, but it reduces it for outdoor projects, bright worksites, and longer distances, where you will almost certainly need a detector. So it’s on a case by case basis, more options are usually the way to go. But the lack of options isn’t a big downside. You can’t know in advance if a 200 rpm

Ingress protection rating

Or IP rating is an international standard of a device’s ability to withstand intrusion from foreign bodies like dust and water. The first number of the rating shows how dust proof it is and the second one how water resistant it is. The 50s is dust resistant and 60s is air tight. While if it ends in 4, it’s splash proof, 5s are water tight for 1 min under a direct water jet and a 6 would be resistant to high-pressure water jets up to 3 minutes.

As a rule of thumb, higher IP rating better builds quality. It’s like a warranty but in an international certification form. In practice, it also guarantees that the instrument doesn’t get damaged by dust and water, but realistically you won’t throw it in the dust heap on your worksite, so as long as you take care of it, you can get away with the basic certification like with most tools, maintenance can always save you money both in the long term and the short term.

An IP rating of 54 will suffice for most indoor and the occasional outdoor work. A top tier device should have an IP rating of 67. Which would make it air and water tight, as such you could theoretically roll it around water and dust and nothing would get into the mechanism.

Autonomy

This should not be a factor unless you have your own construction crew working in 2 shifts and need the 20+ hour autonomy. A couple of spare batteries should work just as well or keep an eye our for the plugin options. If you are just an amateur builder or working some home DIY, an extra battery would be enough for 99% of the times you really need it to go the distance.

Manual, auto or both?

Levels can be set at a certain level or they can find the horizontal/vertical themselves. Some can do both. And for versatility sake, you should go for an adjustable auto. If you’re building some stairs it will save you a lot of headaches.

Ease of use

This one is subjective. I usually like to tinker when it comes to DIY the easier option it is to use and the fewer steps I need to take to get the job done the better when I have a mental checklist a mile long.

Another important factor when it comes to ease of use is the mounting options. This can save you time and even an accurate level job. Because when it comes to accuracy, improvised rigs are terrible.

Leveling Tool Reviews

Dot lasers

Basically a longer foot level. Harder to use for long distance, wall to wall projects. In my view, get a 2 ft leveling bubble and keep your money. The only advantage they might have compared to manual levels is that they

Line Lasers

You can check straightness and squareness as the lines are usually 3D.

They

They are usually compact and give you the most bang for your buck.

Bosch gll 2-20

This is a nifty and versatile little thing. The size is also a big plus for any ceiling work. It projects a 360° horizontal line and/or a 120° vertical line, in front of the device up to a 65 ft diameter around the device. It features a manual mode for locking the lines at an angle, which makes it useful for most indoor jobs. Very versatile for the price. You can put it on any surface because of it self-levels and with the BM3 support unit you can attach it to any metal surface or clamp it down in place. Decent visibility, good all round performance within certain environments. Thin red line, might be hard to read in bright light. The device does not come with a sensor unit and it lacks a pulse function which makes it unusable with any receiver, even after market ones., but for the most indoor use, you won’t need it. No IP rating and no case, unfortunately, but it’s a Bosch and it does come with a 2 years warranty. So as long as you don’t take it to any industrial construction site. You should be good.

 

 

Rotary lasers

These are the big boys. The laser spinning laser point is usually brighter and enables you to plumb up or down as a need, usually via remote, which at this price point is usually standard because these are made for larger spaces. Compared to the line lasers they are usually heavier and bulkier. But unlike the simple line lasers, you can also do most outside work even with a basic unit.

Any of these have the specs for interior work. Their lasers are clearly visible at anything under 100 ft. And their accuracy is negligible for any interior job. The issue comes with yard work, fences, landscaping and other occasional uses the homeowner might have. So from here on out you should assume that all these are more than enough to suit 90% of your needs.

They all have self-leveling, they alert you when moved and they are adjustable to use with gradients. They come with a solid containment and an IP rating that will handle any indoor applications without a problem.

Any of these are excellent choices for the DIY enthusiast. But I want to know how cheap can you get away with

Specs Overview

 

johnson level 99-006k
cst/berger rl25hck
topcon rl-h4c
dewalt dw074kdt

Self leveling

+/-3°

+/-5°

+/-5°

+/-5°

Accuracy (+/-)

1/8 inch @ 50 ft

3/32 @100ft

1/16 “ @ 100 ‘

¼ “ @ 100 ‘

Range with detector

800 ‘

2000 ‘

2600 ‘

1500’

Rotational speeds RPM

200/400/600

150/300/600

600

60/600

IP rating

54

56

66

54

Batteries

4 x AA

3 x D cell

4 x D bateries

2 x D batteries

Average battery life

20 hours

85 hours

100 hours

Warranty

3 years

2 years

5 years

3 years

Price

420

589

849

504

 

Johnson level 99-006k

Features outline

  • Varying speeds
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Audible and visual alarm
  • Strong composite housing
  • Integrated brackets
  • Laser enhancement glasses

Pros

  • Great value, the price is entry level but it has an IP certification and you get the full big boy kit with a tripod, sensor, grade rod and even some infrared goggles.
  • AA batteries this is a subjective one because I don’t have D batteries lying around, and I buy my double As in bulk. But this makes it a versatile tool to have around for the odd project.
  • 3-year warranty
  • Low price for the specs, it does everything you need at half the price of the industrial grade machine.

Cons

  • Low battery life, but you probably have some double As around the house, so take it as you will.
  • Not ideal for constant outdoor work with that IP rating and laser. Not saying you can’t use it, but if you mainly want to use it outside, spend a little more and get a longer beating laser.
cst/berger rl25hck

Features outline:

  • Durable housing design,
  • out of level alert/height of instrument alert,
  • Multiple rotation speed, the slower 160 rpm comes in very handy.
  • single slope mode

Pros

  • Very accurate, almost overkill when you compare it with even more expensive rotary laser levels. If you want to make a pool table out of your whole yard, this is definitely the one your you.
  • Long battery life – which is something you will see with the equipment that uses D cell batteries
  • Wall mount comes in very handy.

Cons

  • Low IP rating makes it just shy of being pro-rated
  • No carrying case
Topcon rl-h4c

Features outline:

  • Horizontal electronic self-leveling,
  • LCD display,
  • low battery indicator
  • Easy manual close calibration slope matching
  • Warns you when it drifts from initial position height of adjustment alert

Pros

  • High accuracy and range with a 2.4 MW diode. Really strong beam. And combined with a season you can use it for most outdoor tasks.
  • Very long battery life, I would have expected nothing less from such a workhorse.
  • Amazing IP rating and long term warranty, this thing was made to work in construction sites and septic tanks. Nothing gets inside this thing, even in the case of fully covering it with sand or lightly submerging it in water.

Cons

  • Price, but for a good reason. IP rating is expensive to engineer, but at almost double the price as the Johnson, I don’t know, if you get double the utility out of it. Some contractors definitely will and if it’s a company asset, that IP rating and warranty will end up paying for it’self in the long run.
  • Overkill for most non-contractors. It’s a great bit of kit to have and if money is not an issue it’s definitely the best out of the line-up.
Dewalt dw074kdt

Features outline

  • The cage has very thin struts so there are fewer blind spots
  • Horizontal self-leveling
  • 8-foot grade rod

Pros

  • Good battery life
  • Good for indoor and outdoor with its waterproofing
  • No blind spots, this is, unfortunately, the only features that make the Dewalt stand out,
  • The cheapest option for yard work and groundskeeping for homeowners. If you have a farm or do a lot of work outside it’s a serious alternative to my top pick.
  • You get a great range for the money and a respectable good 3-year warranty.

Cons

  • It sits in between what a professional contractor would need and what’s overkill for the average homeowner unless you need the extra range.
  • There’s a cheaper option with 90% of the capabilities, still, the best option for yard work if you need the extra 500 ft in range.

Recommendation

This is not going to be any shocker; I would buy the cheapest one, well relatively speaking cheap.

These are all industrial grade tools. They are solid pieces of tech. But the average home improvement enthusiasts won’t tell the difference for the most part.

Sure, if you want a pro grade piece of tech that is made to rebuild a bombed city. Go for the Topcon. It’s a tank, a hermetically sealed tank with a line of sight that will go on for miles. If you need it.

Or go for the Berger’s accuracy, and range if you really need it. But you can probably do most of those outdoor jobs with the cheaper options and a sensor.

For “civilian” use I don’t see the need to go more expensive than the Johnson. For anything that I could possibly want to build in my backyard, or in my house, the Johnson seems not only adequate but overqualified.