Laser Level Buying Guide
Welcome to our complete laser level buying guide. Whether you're a professional contractor or just a weekend warrior who likes to keep your projects nice and square - a laser level is one of the most time-saving tools you can add to your arsenal. This laser level buying guide is intended to help you navigate your buying decision, to make sure you select a tool that does everything you need, without overspending on bells and whistles that you'll never use.
In order to find the best laser level to suit your needs, you'll need to consider several factors - your budget, the jobs you intend to do, the size of your workspace(s), and more. We've laid out all of the most important factors in the laser level buying guide below, along with some general guidelines to help you narrow down your choices. Keep reading, or use the links below to jump to any section:
How Will You Use Your Laser Level?
This is the first question you need to ask. In a nutshell, what do you want to do with your laser level? Considering the jobs and projects where you will use your laser level is the best way to make sure you get all of the options you'll need without overspending. Give it some thought, read through the lists below, and read the rest of the laser level buying guide that follows.
Single Line Applications
Some jobs only require one line. If the majority of the work you're going to do falls into this category, consider yourself lucky. Single line laser levels are the least expensive laser levels on the market. But just because they're cheap doesn't mean they're not extremely useful... Here are a few examples of jobs where one line is typically all you need:
- Hanging Wall Art
- Installing Wall Fixtures
- General Woodworking
- Installing Shelves
- Random Handyman DIY Projects
Next up, we have jobs that require two perpendicular lines at the same time. This is extremely useful and time-saving when you're building or installing projects where multiple elements need to be perfectly square. Here are a few examples of common applications for cross-line laser levels:
- Suspended Ceiling Installation
- Tile Installation
- House and Wall Framing
- Custom Cabinetry
- Custom Closet Installation
- Installing / Aligning Pipe and Conduit
Rotary Laser Applications
Finally, some jobs require an extremely accurate line to be projected across an especially large area. For jobs like this, a rotary laser is the best tool. Rotary laser levels are commonplace on municipal-scale jobs, but smaller independent builders and contractors can also justify their cost for structural work, landscaping applications, and even big framing and wiring jobs. Here are a few examples of good rotary laser level applications:
- Municipal and Industrial Excavation
- Lot Leveling
- Landscape Architecture
- Machine-Mounted Control
- Commercial Building
- Large-Scale Residential Framing
How Big Is Your Biggest Job Site?
After you've decided which type of laser level will work best for your applications, the next step in the laser level buying guide is to determine what range you need. How big is your typical job site? And, more importantly, how big is the biggest job site where you will need to use your laser level?
Keep in mind that all a laser level does is project a concentrated beam of light. So it follows that lasers levels are very easy to see in dark settings, but can be quite difficult to see in bright locations. Glasses can help you to see the line in bright conditions, but if most of your work takes place outdoors in bright daylight you will definitely want to consider using a laser receiver/sensor. Some lasers come with a receiver, and others have them available as separate accessories. If a receiver is a requirement for you - make sure that you select a laser that has a receiver as an available accessory - preferably from the same manufacturer so that you don't need to worry about compatibility issues.
Here's a brief overview of laser level operating ranges. You can refer to this guide from the National Association of Homebuilders to determine average home and room dimensions in your area. Range varies by manufacturer and model, so be careful to double check and make sure that the laser level you select meets your personal range requirements. Be careful not to underestimate - this is one of the most important questions in this laser level buying guide.
Range with Sensor
Single Line Laser Level
10 - 25 feet
Cross-Line Laser Level
25 - 100 feet
150 - 250 feet
Rotary Laser Level
250 - 500 feet
1000 - 2500 feet
Laser Level Buying Guide - Continued
What Is Your Margin Of Error?
Obviously, some jobs require more perfect measurements than others. If you're laying tile or building out custom cabinetry, you need to be pretty precise. On the other hand, if you're framing a wall or building a chicken coop - nobody's going to notice if you're off by a quarter of an inch.
When it comes to the accuracy of a laser level, you basically get what you pay for. Some of the low range single line laser levels might be off by a half inch at 10 feet. This is probably fine if you're just painting a stripe on a wall. Cross-line laser levels are typically more accurate, with many popular models claiming accuracy to about one-eighth of an inch at about 30 feet. Rotary laser levels are the most accurate of all, with some models boasting accuracy within one-sixteenth of an inch at 100 feet.
Don't forget that there is some maintenance required to maintain maximum accuracy. Some laser levels have a calibration function built in that you need to run periodically. Some laser levels come with an annual calibration service that requires you to take the tool to a service center. If pinpoint accuracy is a concern for you - make sure you select a model with a reliable calibration option. Now, on to the next section in the laser level buying guide... ease of use.
Ease of Use
Do You Hate Reading User Manuals?
No matter which type of laser level you select, there can be some pretty big differences in the operation of the tool. Some laser levels are amazingly simple, with only one or two buttons. Others are packed with optional features and require you to configure settings every time you use the laser. If you find the tool difficult to use, that will certainly affect your overall satisfaction - which is why we've included this factor in our laser level buying guide.
For Whatever It's Worth
My personal rule of thumb is that I prefer tools which have as few buttons as possible. This way, there is less for me to remember. And this rule means that I choose the tools with the fewest bells and whistles which are likely to break down the line. It's a personal philosophy, and it might not suit your style. I just thought I would share it with you... for whatever it's worth.
Some of the factors you should take into account to make sure the tool you select works well for you include: self-leveling functionality, out-of-level-indication, power level indicator, manual override for custom slopes and angles, automatic pendulum locking, and power source (see below).
Lithium, Nickel, Alkaline, or 120V AC?
This one might not sound like a big deal, but it's definitely something you should consider - especially if you do most of your work at remote job sites.
Many contractors are accustomed to using a standard rechargeable lithium ion battery. For some people, the batteries that power their tools are one of the most important factors in deciding which tools to purchase. For example, some people will only buy tools that accept Bosch's 12V or 18V batteries; others have standardized on Dewalt's 20V model. Unfortunately, you're probably not going to find a laser level that works with your standard power sources. We included this as a factor in our laser level buying guide so that you won't overlook this when you're shopping for a laser level.
Standard Alkaline Batteries
The most common power source for today's laser levels is the traditional alkaline reuseable battery. Many popular cross-line laser levels use AA batteries. Rotary laser levels use AA or D. This can be quite an inconvenience if you're not used to hauling around backup D cell batteries.
Check to see if the manufacturer provides any information about the expected battery life, and compare that information against the length of your typical job. If you're going to eat through batteries day after day, it probably makes sense for you to invest in a set of rechargeable batteries just for your laser level.
OEM Rechargeable Batteries
A few laser levels are available with rechargeable OEM battery packs, typically nickel cadmium (NiCd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). While this might be your preference for other tools, keep in mind that these batteries are not interchangeable with your other tools, so your normal supply of backup power won't do you any good. If you do opt for a laser level with an OEM rechargeable battery, consider purchasing a second battery pack so that you don't run into down time if your only battery pack needs to recharge.
120V AC Power
We've only seen a few laser levels that offer a standard AC power supply for plugging in. Depending on the type of work you do - this might be a great option... or a terrible option. If this is a feature you're looking for, be sure to get solid information from the manufacturer about how the configuration works. Some models offer an AC power supply as an accessory, but don't advertise that you must purchase the rechargeable OEM battery pack in order to use the AC power supply.
Laser Level Buying Guide - Final Thoughts
Safety First, Ladies and Gentlemen
Generally speaking, laser levels are very safe to own and operate. But there are a few considerations that you might need to think about - especially if you work on projects where children will be present in the vicinity. The safety factors will be very similar for any of the levels on the market today, but we included this in the laser level buying guide to make sure you're aware of the potential for danger.
The only real concerns for you as the owner of a laser level involve direct contact of the laser with eyes or skin, and risk of fire. Lucky for you, a couple of international standards organizations have made it very easy to gauge how dangerous any particular laser is. Most of the laser levels on the market today are Class 2 or Class 3, which means you're pretty safe.
Additional Information About Laser Safety Classes
If you aren't familiar with Laser Safety Classes, you can find a simple explanation that includes everything you need to know on our FAQ Page: Laser Safety Class and Power Rating.
Fire risk doesn't become a concern until you get into the high end of the power spectrum in Class 3, up around 500 mW. Lasers this powerful can potentially ignite a fire. If you're operating a Class 3 laser, you simply need to exercise care to ensure that the laser is never pointed directly into a flammable or combustible material for any length of time. The same rules apply to any Class 4 laser.
Skin contact shouldn't be an issue, as long as you use common sense and don't go looking for trouble. Lasers in Class 1 and Class 2 are not likely to cause any injury as a result of skin contact. Having said that, we are talking about tools that produce radiation of infrared or ultraviolet light - and basic safety precautions should always be followed. If you expose your skin to a laser, symptoms can range from being similar to a mild sunburn all the way up to serious burns and permanent scarring.
Skin damage isn't mentioned in the ANSI/IEC laser classes until you get into Class 3, which can range from 5 - 500mW. At the high end of class 3, light skin burns can result from prolonged direct contact with a laser beam. Direct contact with any Class 4 laser is a danger to skin and can result in serious burning. I haven't ever seen a laser level that uses a Class 4 laser; Class 4 is used in industrial and medical applications, and additional safety precautions are required for tools and machines that use these powerful lasers.
Any time you're talking about lasers, you always need to err on the side of caution when it comes to your eyes. This is true for your own eyes and the eyes of anyone else in the area - especially children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The rules are simple - never, ever allow any laser to make direct contact with an eye. This is probably the single most important piece of advice in this laser level buying guide.
Lasers in Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 are only considered to be safe because of the blink reflex most people have which forces them to close or divert their eyes immediately when bright light enters. Even these relatively low powered lasers can do permanent damage if they make contact with your retina for longer than 0.25 seconds.
Other things to consider are that you should never view a laser beam with any optical device like a microscope,a telescope, binoculars, or even a magnifying glass. If you have any questions, see the section in our FAQ about Laser Safety Classes.
Durability and Warranty
Do You Break Things? A Lot?
Just like any other electronic tool in your arsenal, laser levels are fragile instruments with some very sensitive components. A few manufacturers advertise that their products can survive a drop of 3 feet without affecting the accuracy of the laser. Take that claim with a grain of salt. You should handle your laser level with the same care you would exercise with a laptop computer or tablet, a digital camera, or a cell phone. If you drop it, don't be surprised if it's broken.
Because this is one piece of electronic equipment that's definitely going to see some tough conditions, there are a few considerations you should keep in mind. First and foremost is the manufacturer's warranty. Be sure to purchase a laser level that comes with a warranty that stands up to the abuse you're going to dish out. Whether that means Bosch's 2-year warranty, Topcon's 5-year warranty, or Hilti's 20-year warranty... well, you know better than I do how tough you are on your tools. We can make recommendations, but no laser level buying guide will help you if you're too tough on your tools.
Finally, take into consideration the conditions you run into on your typical job site. Are dust and moisture everyday occurrences for you? If so, then you'd be wise to select a laser level with an IP-rated enclosure (see our FAQ on IP Ratings). Working indoors in a clean workshop with a dust extractor is a different story. If this describes you, you probably don't need to worry as much about your enclosure. But, if your work involves rain, mud, drywall dust, or other gunk - play it smart and get a rated enclosure.
We hope this laser level buying guide has been helpful and informative. If you think we've overlooked something, or if you have more specific questions, check our laser level FAQ page. And, of course, feel free to get in touch with us directly using our contact form. Thanks!
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