I hate to admit that I’ve been around construction since old-growth trees were just trees, and during all that time I’ve been using a conventional tape measure.
I tried a first-generation laser distance measurer several years back, and found it far too inconsistent and inaccurate to be of much use. So when I undertook a recent review and comparison of five different laser distance measurers, it was with a bit of intimidation for the long learning curve and low hopes for the results.
I was wrong on both counts.
All of the laser distance measurers tested (someone could come up with a less cumbersome name) were given the same basic tests, and were compared against the same conventional tape measure. Each one was perfectly accurate, and they all gave exactly the same readings.
All five had pretty similar basic features. Besides the obvious ability to measure, each one has the ability to store, add to, and subtract from the measurements you’re taking. Each one also has the ability to do mathematical calculations for you as you go.
In one mode you can measure the length and then the width of an area, and the unit will give you the square footage. In another mode, you can also measure the height and it will calculate cubic footage. Another function is the ability to calculate measurements of areas you can’t see directly, such as the height of a tall building. All the units except the Dewalt had this feature.
A back-lit screen for low-light situations is another common feature, and all of the units except the Bosch included that. All included a protective belt holster, of which the Craftsman and the Dewalt seemed the easiest to use. Dewalt and Bosch also include a handy wrist lanyard.
Dewalt and Craftsman get kudos for the non-blister-pack packaging, and Ryobi gets a demerit for its instructions that come on one huge sheet of paper like a fold-out road map.
From there, it’s a matter of accuracy and a couple of other important features, which you can see in the individual reviews. They’re listed below in order of retail price.
At the end of the day, my tape measure still has a home. But given the speed, features and consistent accuracy of these tools, it’s definitely time to make room in the toolbox for a laser measurer.
Craftsman Laser Measuring Tool and 10-Inch Digital Level Combo (Model 79582, $129.99): This is the only combo kit in the bunch, and includes a multifunction digital level that I didn’t review. The laser measuring tool itself is the largest of the five, and the only one to place some of the operating buttons on the front and some on the side.
It has a mode button that allows you to choose to measure from the bottom of the unit or from the top. It measures up to 150 feet, with an accuracy of 3/16 of an inch. It operates on two AA batteries.
Dewalt Laser Distance Measurer (Model DW030P, $129.99): This is probably the most rugged of the group, with a tough but comfortable outer casing rated for a 6-foot drop. It also has a large and easy-to-use belt-loop case. The buttons are large and well grouped. Unfortunately it only reads from the bottom of the unit and it doesn’t have an extension rod like next three units do, which limits its usefulness to some degree. Measures up to 100 feet, with an accuracy of 1/8 of an inch. Operates on two AAA batteries.
Ryobi Tek4 Professional Laser Distance Measure (Model RP4010, $149): Part of Ryobi’s Tek4 group of tools that use a small 4-volt rechargeable lithium ion battery. It’s a very well-designed tool with a lot of features for the professional and home user alike. There’s a tab at the bottom that flips down 90 degrees to hook over a counter or table edge for accurate reference point measuring.
The tab then flips straight out so the unit fits into a tight corner when measuring diagonals. A mode button tells the unit to measure from the top, the bottom, or the tip of the extended tab. The Tek 4 will measure distances up to 195 feet, with an accuracy of 1/16 of an inch, and offers about 2,000 measurements per charge. Includes the battery and charger.
Bosch Laser Distance Measurer (Model GLR225, $158): Bosch’s unit had the smallest profile, and is still packed with features, including seven different measuring modes. It was also the only one with a universal female screw fitting on the bottom so you can attach it to a tripod. It has a retractable extension pin at the bottom instead of a tab, for placing the unit into tight corners.
The Bosch has four different measuring reference point choices: measuring from the bottom, the top, the end of the extension pin, and the center point, where the tripod socket mount is located. This unit operates on four AAA batteries, with a life of approximately 30,000 individual measurements. Measures up to 230 feet, with an accuracy of 1/16 of an inch.
Milwaukee Laser Distance Meter (Model 2280-20, $179): Compact, solid, and easy to use, the Milwaukee has all the features you’re likely to need, especially for the professional user. It has a flip-down tab for hooking over edges, and it flips down again for fitting into corners. The measuring reference mode allows selection of bottom, top and end-tab measuring points. The case has rugged rubber over-molding for extra protection.
The Milwaukee is also light and easy to handle, and offers all the necessary measuring modes, including area, volume, indirect measurements, and more. The Milwaukee laser measurer operates on two AAA batteries, with a life of about 5,000 measurements. The range for this unit is 200 feet, with an accuracy of 1/16 of an inch.