Laser tools have been getting a lot of attention in the construction industry for many years. They have revolutionized many of the leveling and measuring tasks on construction sites of all sizes, but their high cost has kept laser-equipped tools pretty much for the pros only.
However, in the last couple of years, several manufacturers have started introducing laser-equipped tools with the homeowner in mind. The result has been a new group of tools with lower price tags, and while they unfortunately still lack pro-tool accuracy and versatility, they do offer homeowners some tool capabilities they didn’t have access to before. And hopefully, we can look for more tools with greater capabilities and accuracy to come on the market in the very near future.
BULLSEYE FROM BLACK AND DECKER
One tool that should prove a useful aid for the home handyman looking to perform certain tasks is the Bullseye Laser Level and Studfinder (Black and Decker, about $50). As the name implies, the Bullseye is actually two tools in one – an electronic stud finder and a laser level – and separate on-off controls for the two functions make it possible for one tool to do both tasks.
As an electronic stud finder, the performance is very good, although the tool is a little bulky to hold. As you move it across the surface of the wall, a series of four red lights on the face of the tool light up in sequence from bottom to top, indicating that you are approaching a stud. When you actually reach the edge of the stud, a fifth light – green – lights up. Mark that spot, move the tool until the green light goes out, mark that spot, split the difference between the marks, and you’ve found the center of the stud. The tool will also help you locate pipes and other obstructions concealed in the wall.
In laser mode, the tool projects a bright red laser line horizontally to each side. Using the included pin attachment, you need to pin the laser tool to the wall so that it hangs straight, and the two laser beams will project level lines to each side. It’s a very useful tool for hanging shelves, aligning pictures, installing moldings, etc., but it cannot be used to project a vertical line. You can also lay the tool on the floor to project a straight line for laying out flooring.
The tool comes with a very nice fitted, padded case, two pins for securing it to drywall or softwood, another insert that allows it to hang from a nail, and another insert that sets the tool away from the wall to increase the projected length of the laser line.
Strait-Line, another well-recognized name in the tool industry, has introduced a couple of new tools in recent months. One is the Electronic Stud Finder ($20), a small, lightweight, and easy to use tool that slips into a shirt pocket or tool belt. Like the Bullseye, it uses a series of small lights to alert you as you approach and then reach the edge of the stud, and contains a built-in marker pin that you can press to quickly mark the location.
Their hand new laser level (around $38) looks something like a traditional tape measure on steroids. To use it, you first position it on the wall, level it with the built-in bubble level, then press down on the two built-in pins that will lock it to the wall. This only works on drywall or softwood, and leaves two small pins. After it’s secure, simply lift the laser cover to activate the laser and project a beam onto the wall. The beam only projects in one direction, so ideally the tool needs to be placed near the bottom or edge of the surface you’re marking.
For floor layout, just set the tool on the floor, align it to where you want to start your layout, and activate it. The resulting laser light beam projects out about 20 feet, and gives a nice, accurate layout line for marking floor tile, vinyl seam, etc.
You can also add a detachable base (around $12) that the laser level snaps into. The base is held in place with adhesive strips, which eliminates the holes in the wall and also lets you attach the level to harder surfaces such as metal, brick, and tile. The other advantage to the base is that is pivots and rocks, which simplifies leveling the unit and also lets you pivot it to project a line in another direction.
DIRECTIONS AND PRECAUTIONS
All of these tools utilize a bright laser beam, so be sure and follow all of the manufacturer’s precautions about protecting your eyes. Also, the directions that come with the tools follow the current trend of printing them in multiple languages, which reduces the size of the print, limits the amount of illustrations and details, and generally results in a sharp reduction of their general usefulness.
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