Tool Review: Laser Level

Laser levels offer a level of accuracy and convenience that old-fashioned spirit levels can’t match.

Installing a chair or picture rail around a room usually requires a great deal of patience and skill, and a certain amount of luck. Using a long spirit level from point to point invariably results in human error and a line that doesn’t connect. You could try stretching a string affixed with a “line level” across the room to mark various points, but this is usually a multi-person task. Water levels (the kind used to mark out a foundation) are great outdoors, but can be a little messy in your newly papered dining room. Enter the laser level.

What to Look For

For a number of years now, spirit levels with an attached, high-quality laser have been available for as little as $50. A level fitted with a laser is like having a spirit level as wide as any space you need to mark.

You can purchase lasers that split a single beam into several tiny points of light at precise right angles, affording you the ability to verify plumb and level with a single tool. Some levels even include lenses that take these beams and transform them into lines so that a perfect grid of intersecting lines can be produced to indicate plumb and level across your room.

Don’t purchase more level than you think you’ll need—invest in accuracy instead. Lasers are usually rated at their deviation from level at 100′; look for lasers that can guarantee accuracy to ¼” or less over this distance. This will be more than enough accuracy for most home projects.

Where to Use It

Laser levels can be useful for anything from constructing a new addition to hanging several pictures at the same height.

Contractors regularly use a tripod-mounted laser level placed in the center of the room for tasks such as installing chair rails. An internal motor spins the red dot of the laser around the periphery of the room so rapidly that it appears as a thin line. After a few carefully placed marks, chair rails can be installed perfectly level.

This same system can be employed by homeowners, although contractor-caliber systems can be pricey for occasional use. Fortunately, small lasers, usually the size of a torpedo level (about 8″) work just as well to save you hours of time and frustration. Mount it at the correct height in the center of the room (most can be attached to a camera tripod) and mark a series of points on the walls. Now you just have to find those elusive studs.

Tags: OHJ June/July 2011 Old-House Journal Ray Tschoepe tools

By Ray Tschoepe

Raymond Tschoepe is Director of Conservation for the Fairmont Park Historic Conservancy and and adjunct faculty member of the historic preservation program of Bucks County Community College, where he teaches a core course in building conservation. He is a contributing editor of Old House Journal, for which he has written, illustrated, and photographed numerous articles. Mr. Tschoepe lectures at conferences and workshops for the Traditional Building Conference and the Association for Preserving Technology. Mr. Tschoepe graduated from the School of Fine Arts master’s program in Historic Preservation. He then worked for nearly 10 years as an independent restoration contractor. Among many preservation projects, Ray worked toward the restoration of elements of Bellaire manor, Letitia Street House, Malta Boat Club and the entry doors and panels of Founder’s Hall at Girard College.

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