Productivity -- ON THE LEVEL PDF Print E-mail
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Issue Archives - July August 2010 issue


Today’s laser tools are more purpose-built for specific tasks. But new hybrid lasers can shoot a combination of points or lines of reference.



New laser levels are getting more job-specific, easier to use, and when time and labor savings are balanced to their ever-more attractive prices, more of a no-brainer to own and use than ever before. “Today, it’s extraordinary to not find a laser on the jobsite. Contractors understand what these tools can do. Not every contractor will use a laser on the job, but they know about them and laser tool companies continue to work with contractors to use these tools to help them perform their jobs faster and more accurately,” says Mike Tramontin, executive vice president of Pacific Laser Systems.

“In many cases, one person can do the work of two or more people,” says Jim Cerroni, director of sales at Johnson Contractor Laser Systems.

'“Five years ago, most lasers were not self-leveling, but since that time, the number of self-leveling models has greatly increased. Plus, today’s line levels are smaller, more portable and more dependable,” says Mendy Johnson, DeWalt product manager for laser instruments.

Laser lowdown

Even though these tools have been around for more than 15 years, contractors continue to use traditional – and often less accurate – methods to establish level, square and plumb. “But that’s changing,” according to Tony Pauly, director of brand measurement at Bosch Measuring Tools. “Depending on the tool, lasers can offer level lines and points at 90, 180 and 360 degrees. Contractors’ habits are so ingrained they still reach for the bubble level and use it to measure things three or four times, each with a chance of making an incorrect measurement. With laser tools, they can greatly reduce the amount of work and chance of error,” Pauly says. “It’s even easier now as the tools and their controls are more user friendly and accurate.”

“Rotary and line lasers are increasingly durable and accurate,” says Johnson. “Some contractors don’t believe that lasers are as accurate as they really are, but they can be very accurate as long as the contractor double-checks calibration periodically and uses the units correctly. Lasers are definitely more accurate than a plumb bob,” she says.

“Most contractors believe that generally, all lasers and levels are pretty accurate, whether they are high quality or low quality. That’s just not true,” says Al Karraker, head of sales at Sola Levels USA.

“When the first lasers came on the market, they were very expensive and caught many end users’ eyes. The market was soon flooded with cheap look-alike laser tools with extremely poor quality and accuracy. These novelty tools are quickly getting pushed out of the market and replaced with models that are very accurate and designed for specific applications, such as installing dropped ceilings or cabinets or setting tile,” Karraker says. “The tools now on the market are well-priced, very accurate and dependable.”

Tramontin agrees the tools are getting more purpose-built. However, new hybrid lasers can shoot a combination of points of reference and, in some cases, reference lines. “Hybrid laser tools can do the work of two or three laser tools on a variety of jobs. They are attractive to remodelers and other contractors with a variety of precision alignment tasks. However, if your alignment tasks are repetitive and very similar in nature, you may not need one of these hybrids,” Tramontin says.

While the cost of laser tools has been decreasing, the experts agree that the old axiom, “You get what you pay for,” still holds true.

Not all lasers are the same, says Cerroni. “Manual-leveled lasers are typically used by DIYers or infrequent laser users. Manual leveled lasers are less expensive, but they take longer to set up and do not provide any out-of-level indicator. Self-leveling lasers are a better choice for professionals because they are faster to set up, compensate for slight movement and alert the contractor if the laser has moved outside its self-leveling range.”

While most laser tools use a red laser, a few models are available with a green laser that’s easier to see indoors. However, even in bright sunlight, accurate laser measurement requires using a laser detector, which is an option for most laser units, Cerroni says.

Lasers go the distance – accurately

Popular outside the United States, laser tool makers are betting that range-finding tools that rely on laser technology will soon catch on in the United States. The tools use the speed and accuracy of light to make measurements and are accurate to within +/-1/16" at 800', sources report. Unlike previous generation tools that used ultrasonic signals to gather distance information, these tools use laser technology to measure the space between two points.

The new-generation tools are much smaller in size and fit easily in a pocket or tool pouch. In the past, these types of tools retailed for $800 to $900; now models coming on the scene will retail in the $450 range, says Mendy Johnson, DeWalt product manager for measuring tools. “They can make measurements from one point and simply calculate distance, area or volume within 1/8" accuracy. You can’t measure to 1/8" or 1/4" accuracy with a tape measure over these distances. The tool also allows you to stand in one spot to make most measurements,” says Tony Pauly, brand manager at Bosch Measuring Tools. Laser distance tools are accurate to within 1/16" at 800'.

New products New purpose-built tools

Tiling laser

Sola Levels USA’s new FCL tile laser projects an “X” pattern onto the work area. Where other line lasers lay down a “V” pattern, which eventually requires moving the unit up to four times to lay tile in a room, this unit lays down a wall of light that rises over tile adhesive grooves in an “X” pattern. Laser sources are positioned away from the end of the tool, making it less likely to be contaminated with adhesive. When it comes to finishing the job, the user simply removes the laser and inserts the last tile to complete the job. Unit works 60' in all directions.



Dual plane leveling and alignment laser

The Bosch GLL2-80 line laser provides precise 360-degree full plane coverage in horizontal and vertical operations. The two 360-degree laser planes can operate separately for maximum convenience. The unit’s freestanding base has magnets that can securely attach it to metal track, or it can be mounted to a tripod with a 1/4" or 5/8" mounting screw. Its single-button operation is easy to learn and use and features a pulse mode for use with a laser receiver. The Smart Pendulum Leveling System self-levels and indicates out-of level condition. A secure transport lock protects the internal pendulum when the unit is switched off. It is accurate to +/- 1/4" at 100'.



360-degree level line laser

Pacific Laser Systems’ HVL 100 laser provides 360-degree horizontal and vertical lines in a self-leveling package that has +/- 1/8" accuracy at 60'. Unit comes standard with HVL 100 sending unit, SLD receiver, heavy-duty wall bracket, rechargeable Ni-MH batteries and layout targets. It’s a versatile tool for remodeling jobs, ceramic tile, electrical or HVAC installation and wallpaper hanging.



Self-leveling interior/exterior rotary laser kit

DeWalt’s DW074KD laser kit features a horizontal self-leveling design for quick and easy set-up. It features an enclosed leveling vial, manual leveling capability and other design features for interior and exterior jobsite durability. The digital laser detector that’s part of the kit extends interior and exterior range to 600' and the standby mode allows the user to pause the laser while transitioning from horizontal to vertical applications. It’s accurate to +/- 1/4" at 100'. Kit includes, unit, wall mount, digital laser detector, target card and batteries.

2000'-range rotary level

Johnson Contractor Laser Systems’ 40-6535 rotary self-leveling laser level offers 2,000' diameter range and accuracy of +/1/16" at 100'. Primarily for outdoor use, its best application is determining elevations from a known point of elevation or instrument extends its versatility. Its electronically controlled dual-slope feature has height. Unit comes with a detector, but adding an optional grade rod visual and audible alarms when it goes beyond leveling range. Kit includes laser unit, Ni-MH rechargeable battery pack, 6-volt battery adapter, remote control with 9-volt battery, detector with clamp and 9-volt battery, instructions and hard-shell carrying case. “Generally, the professional-quality line laser are accurate within +/-1/4" of 100',” says Pauly. However, higher-priced units are accurate within +/- 1/8" at 100'; some models have a published accuracy of +/-3/32" at 100'.



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