The best laser level on the market for serious Do-It-Yourself homeowners, Handyman or General Contractors will vary greatly depending on your specific needs. The thing they all have in common, however, is that most are so easy to use, as well as being useful, that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to buy one. This article attempts to help you make sense of the different offerings out there, the many features available, and which is the best laser level for your purposes.
Who needs a laser level?
Whether you are hanging a mirror or pictures in your home, laying floor tile or hanging wall tiles, or framing out new walls for an addition or renovation, the best construction level will make your job so much easier. The laser level helps the user demarcate a straight line in a much more accurate way than was previously possible. While there is nothing wrong with the old-fashioned carpenter’s level that uses the bubble indicator, it is really only accurate for the length of the level itself, generally about 2-3 feet. If you’ve ever tried to line up the bottoms of two paintings spread farther apart than that on a wall, you’ll know how frustrating it can be without the proper tools.
How do I choose what is the best laser level for me?
There is a huge variety of laser levels on the market, and MSRPs generally range from around $15 to over $400, though you can spend upwards of $1600. That might make sense if you have an unlimited budget and are in need of a beam 1000-feet or longer. For the rest of us, the best laser levels have these basic features:
- A minimum of 20-foot range – most models promise accuracy within of an inch up to 30 feet.
- A self-leveling mechanism – preferably a pendulum style that can be locked.
- Automatic out-of-level indicator – usually a blinking light.
The two most popular and useful types of laser levels are fixed line laser levels and rotary, or 360-degree, laser levels. (There is a third type, the dot laser, which can be handy for limited tasks, but on it’s own is less useful than the other two.) A fixed laser line level creates a straight line by throwing a continuous beam of light, horizontal or vertical, or both, along a wall or floor. They are mostly used indoors, and can vary in accuracy depending on the range they cover. Another helpful feature to look for is the self-sensing mechanism, where the beam changes from a steady line to flashing light when the device is out of level. For most applications, a 120-degree fan angle should be sufficient, but upgrading to 180-degree angle would not break the bank.
The rotary laser level allows for exact leveling of an entire room, at the same time. The rotary level is placed in the center of the room and beams out laser lines in a 360-degree circle. In this way, it can draw a “chalkline” on all four walls at once, or on the walls, ceiling and floor, simultaneously. The rotary laser can be used with or without a tripod. Some rotary levels come with a short tripod included, while others are offered as part of a kit, or are sold separately. Several manufacturers offer rotary laser level kits and accessories. The kits typically include a pair of tinted glasses – not because the laser is harmful to your eyes, but so you can see the red lines better – and a carrying case. The top rotary laser levels also incorporate dot lasers in their functionality.
There are even a couple of models that are small enough to fit in your pocket, but for the most part the rotary laser levels are larger, heavier, and more expensive than the line laser levels.
The more sophisticated, and more expensive, rotary laser levels offer additional features including wireless remote control. If you are working in a very large space with few hands to help, this could prove useful. Any device you choose should have an automatic sensor that either blinks or beeps when it is out-of-level. Most of the newer models have incorporated this technology.
Another thing to consider, if you will be working in a dusty or dirty area, which many building professionals do, is the type and quality of the case materials. The best laser levels are constructed with durable and moisture resistant components that will stand up to the indoor and outdoor elements over several years. Make sure you look through and understand any warranty information before you choose your model. Many manufacturers offer extended warranties if you register the product with them within a year of your purchase. If you are spending good money on a tool that you expect to use regularly, this would be a good idea.
The best rotary laser levels offer variable speed modes that you can adjust depending on the lighting of your job site. Outdoor jobs will still be easier, though, if you time your measuring before mid-morning and after mid-afternoon, when the sun is not as much of a factor.
Other features that vary according to price include battery type. Many manufacturers boast of extended battery life. Several of the newer models employ Lithium ion batteries instead of the standard AA, C or D batteries. These batteries can last longer on a job site but are more expensive to replace.
Before you decide which would be the best laser level for your needs, consider both how you plan to use the laser level and what you think your budget can handle. You might regret choosing a cheaper model for short term savings, only to find that it doesn’t stand up to steady use. When it comes to tools, it can be worthwhile to spend a bit more and get a product that delivers on its promise and stands the test of time.
What do you want to do with the laser level?
The best laser level is going to be different for every user, depending on how many features you need. For the typical homeowner, or a handyman working alone, the best laser level creates a straight line by throwing a continuous beam of horizontal or vertical light, or both, along a wall or floor. With both hands free, this makes installing shelves and decorative wall fixtures easy and stress free. The ten- to twenty-foot range offered by the most basic models would likely be enough, but an upgrade to a longer range beam could save a future trip to the hardware store.
The Stanley STHT77340 Cubix Cross Line Laser (See Amazon Price) is the best laser level for a myriad of common household applications. It’s not cheap, but it is just affordable, and boasts robust features and as well as durability. There is also a limited lifetime warranty. In addition to being self-leveling, with bright horizontal and vertical lines, this model features a trademarked “QuickLink” bracket and mounting system that allows for mounting easily and securely on multiple surfaces, either with the magnetic base or the sturdy bracket. The laser beam range is up to 40 feet, with accuracy of plus or minus 5/16 inches. A nice added feature is the locking pendulum that makes it possible to set angled lines which are often required in decorating projects. Installing wainscoting on the stairs suddenly becomes a snap. The Stanley Cubix is also small, and weighs just over 1 lb. The two AA batteries are included.
For framers and later, drywall installers, the most important issue is ensuring that walls are straight and plumb and in accordance with the building plans. The basic features offered by the best laser levels should be sufficient to do this. The solid (usually) red lines are easy to follow, and once you set up the job and start nailing, you can see with great accuracy whether your work is lined up and level. This saves time and energy and prevents costly mistakes.
The DeWalt DW088K Self-Leveling Cross Line Laser (See Amazon Price) offers both the serious handyman and the professional installer all the features they need without the hefty price tag. Its horizontal and vertical laser lines are accurate within an eight of an inch up to 30 feet. The DeWalt DW088K weighs in at just over three lbs., so can be easily transported from job site to job site. It also comes with a hard-sided kit box for transport and storage. The unit itself is housed in a very durable water and debris resistant casing, and has a magnetic pivoting base for easy mounting on metal surfaces. The laser has a working range of up to 165 feet, more than enough for a room-sized job in even a large home or office. Its self leveling measures accuracy to within 4 degrees. Three AA batteries are included, and the Laser enhancement glasses can be purchased separately.
Finish carpenters will benefit from the greater precision and added features of a rotary, or 360 degree laser level. When measuring and installing baseboard and chair rails, precise measurement is of the utmost importance. The same is true of installing kitchen cabinets. The ability to ensure that all the cabinets are level is paramount to the success of the installation, and the reputation of the installer.
Building industry professionals such as General Contractors, landscape designers, structural engineers and architects will require the more sophisticated models that offer enhanced flexibility, durability and reliability. New construction projects, both residential and industrial, will require outdoor applications like pouring concrete and earthworks. Other outdoor tasks involving grading, such as building fences, decks and stone or brick patios require a great deal of precision. The best laser level for industrial use has to be just as versatile outdoors and it is indoors. That means the unit should have multiple speed selection as a standard feature – laser enhancement glasses are optional. There are only a few manufacturers of this grade of tool for professionals – Johnson, PLS, Berger and Agatec, to name a few – and they are all good. But for a top quality product at a reasonable price, one rises to the top of the list.
The best laser level for professional use that won’t bust the budget of any good project is the Bosch GRL250HGCK 800-ft Beam Self Leveling Rotary Laser Level (See Amazon Price). While it is called the 800-foot beam, it’s a misnomer. The maximum diameter range of this tool is actually 1,000 feet with a purported 1/8-inch accuracy, among the most powerful in its class. At this price point, the others don’t come close. This model runs in the construction grade price range and is a real bargain for all the punch it packs.
Designed for big-scale use, indoor and out, it also boasts a two-sided laser receiver, allowing for accurate leveling from either the front or back of the unit. It can be mounted on the wall or the tripod. The variable speed selection provides for maximum visibility in all kinds of lighting conditions, and the manual scan angles maximize flexibility. The self-leveling mechanism includes an audible beeping when the unit goes out of level or out of plumb.This model also includes a 90-degree plumb and layout beam for tackling interior corners. The design is smart too. The durable outer casing is made more damage resistant by 2 large carrying handles on the front casement. Easy to grab and move around, and harder to break, this is one tough tool.
The full kit of accessories includes the laser receiver, a full-function remote control device, a tripod, an 8-foot leveling rod and all-in-one carrying case for easy transportation of the whole package. The unit requires two D batteries and one 9-volt battery to operate, and they are included. The warranty is only for two years, but you may be able to purchase additional protection at point of sale. Just make sure you read the fine print before signing up for more fees.