Words: Gal Wollach, VP of Business Development, Kapro Tools
Photos: Kapro Tools
With laser prices becoming more affordable and with more IP65-rated models available than ever before, laser levels have become a mainstream tool for professionals in the masonry construction industry. A laser level projects laser lines or dots along a horizontal and/or vertical axis, letting the user align their work to these reference lines or dots. Some laser levels combine lines and dots.
Why Use a Laser Level?
A self-leveling laser level is more accurate than a spirit level. It is also quick and easy to adjust, less prone to human error or jobsite inaccuracies, and lets a single person do work that would normally necessitate two people. Most laser levels also offer many more options compared to a bubble laser, such as crossbeams, 90°, 180°, and plumb dots.
Laser levels are used for leveling and aligning vertical, horizontal, square, angle, grading-slope, and point-transferring applications. They can be also used for aligning ceiling joists, flooring, rafters, doors, and windows, as well as transferring marks from floor to ceiling. When a user is building a wall, a laser could be used to project a line on the floor, making sure that the wall is going straight along the floor, and if it is lifted, it can ensure that laid blocks and bricks are leveled or square and help maintain plumb walls with vertical applications.
If a mason needs to find the high and low spots on a floor, they can just set the laser directly on the floor, projecting a beam across it. Then, they can make a quick sketch of the floor plan, pick the spots, and extend a tape measure to the floor. Then, they can just note the measurement where the laser beam crosses the tape and mark this on the sketch.
Which Laser Level Type Should You Choose?
The most basic laser features a laser diode attached to a bubble level. These manual lasers are not self-leveled and use the bubble to align them. This makes their potential accuracy relatively low, thus manufacturers recommend using them at close range jobs where high accuracy is not of an essence or as a pointer rather than as a level.
The second category, which is one of the most popular choices today, consists of pendulum-based self-leveling lasers. These lasers emit leveled horizontal and vertical lines and/or dots. They self-level so users do not need to worry whether the lines are correct. They indicate by a visual and an audible signal if the laser is out of its self-leveling range. The lower the self-leveling range is, the more accurate the laser is. These lasers work well for projects with areas of 50 to 165 feet and offer very high accuracy of up to ±0.0002″/1″ (1/8″@50 feet).
The pendulum is the most sensitive part of this category. In order to protect the pendulum, users should make sure that whenever the laser is not in use, the pendulum is in a locked position. For instance, all of Kapro’s laser levels incorporate an on-off switch and locking mechanism to prevent users from forgetting to do so. This locking mechanism also lets users operate the device in manual mode for angular layout/tilted marking.
The third category is for electronically self-leveled rotary laser levels. Lasers in this category are based on an electric motor and rotating a laser diode. These instruments are limited to a 360° horizontal line. Advanced models let users tilt the level by 90° to project a vertical line by adding an additional side thread. The advantages of rotary lasers are their range of up to 1,000 feet (using a receiver) and their extreme accuracy of up to 0.0001″/1″ (1/8″ at 50 feet). Some models let users manually slope the line on the X (right to left) and Y (up and down) axis and set their rotation speed and scan angles.
Rotary lasers are typically positioned in the center of the jobsite and can project a 360° beam, creating a reference line for setting elevations for foundation footings, determining the specific grade of an area, ensuring that the foundation a user is working on is level, or close to level before they lay out their first course. This makes the Rotary laser level perfect for large outdoor projects.
How Visible are the Laser Beams?
Laser levels vary in range. While basic lasers range may be limited to 15 to 20 feet, professional self-leveling laser level beams could reach up to 100 feet and could be detected by a receiver up to 165 feet. Rotary lasers have range up to 1000 feet using a receiver.
Laser visibility is highly affected by the surrounding lighting conditions. While a laser beam may be seen at 150 feet indoors, sunny lighting outdoors could significantly limit the same beam’s visibility to 30 feet. The good news is that while the laser beam is less visible to the human eye, it is still out there. Users can still detect it up to the laser’s maximum range using a receiver, also known as a detector. Using a receiver is very intuitive. Just turn it on and whenever its center is at the beam’s height, it will beep. For long-range use, we recommend attaching the receiver to a grade rod. To make the initial reading, place the rod’s tip on the ground and gradually extend it until you hear the beep and then lock the rod. From now on, whenever the receiver beeps, the rod’s tip indicates the reference plane.
Red or Green Laser?
Different wavelengths in the visible spectrum produce different colors, and the human eye is better able to recognize colors on the green spectrum, so a green laser is more visible under bright light conditions. It would seem logical, then, that all lasers would be green, but there is a catch to green laser levels; they are more expensive to make and green laser diodes consume more energy, so the laser will run out of battery quicker. There’s an inherent tradeoff that if a user wants a cheaper laser, mainly for indoor jobs, red is still the best, but if the user wants a laser that is more visible under a wide variety of lighting conditions, they will need a green laser.
Should I Choose an IP65 rated laser level?
IP (Ingress Protection) rates the laser’s casing degree of protection against the intrusion of dust and water. The first digit refers to solid particles and the second to liquid ingress protection. Most laser levels are either not rated, IP54 rated, or IP65 rated. IP65 indicates that the laser is “dust-tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. IP54 indicates limited ingress protection against dust and protection against water splashed from all directions. We would recommend not exposing a laser level rated below IP54 to dust or water, even light rain.
Are Lasers Difficult to Learn?
Lasers like the ones manufactured by Kapro are very intuitive to use. Turn the laser on, press the button indicating which beam to light – vertical, horizontal, 90° vertical, etc. and another switch shuts this beam off. There is a separate button for manual mode and another for pulse mode (for using with a receiver). The rotary laser has a bit of a learning curve for more advanced functions, such as manual sloping and controlling the rotation speed and scan angles.
How to Check a Laser Level
Not sure if a laser is still calibrated? Here’s an easy way to check:
- Set up the laser on a tripod or on a solid surface at approximately five feet from a wall that is about 16.5 feet long.
- Unlock the pendulum and press the button to project the horizontal and the vertical cross beams towards the wall.
- Mark point a1 on the wall in the middle of the horizontal line at the left edge of the horizontal beam.
- Turn the laser level counterclockwise until the right edge of the horizontal beam reaches near a1, mark a point a2 on the wall in the middle of the horizontal beam.
- The distance between a1 and a2 should not be more than 0.05 inches.
In my experience, every professional in the masonry industry that has started using a laser level hasn’t looked back since. After the first job, many ask themselves why they didn’t start using one sooner.
About the Author:
Gal Wollach is the VP of Business Development at Kapro Tools, a leading manufacturer of spirit levels, laser levels, layout tools, marking and measuring tools. Gal has more than 25 years of international business development, marketing, and sales experience across several different industries in the manufacturing sphere. He earned an MBA degree from the University of Haifa and owns five patents.