Shopping for (and Using) a Laser Level

Laser levels are a convenient productivity booster. Here, installers share experiences. November 28, 2011

I'm looking to get a laser level for interior installations. I will probably also use it, very infrequently, for outside work. I am looking at the PLS180 and the PLS360. I am open to other brands, types, and ideas. How useful do you find the additional plumb line of a tool like the 180 is? How well do they travel? Are some more prone to damage and misalignment? (Thinking air travel, not in my truck.)

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
I bought a Robotoolz about 5 years ago with vertical and 3 speed horizontal spin. I hate to admit it, but I have abused the thing and it still reads on the nuts. Within 30', anyway. Probably has 100k miles on it, tossed in with the rest of the install tools. All in all, very satisfied with it.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Do you find the vertical useful? Do you use it a lot, or could you just as soon live without it? Seems it might be useful going from wall to ceiling or floor but only if set up at exactly 90* to that wall and in line with where you need the mark?

From contributor J:
The vertical is no big deal, used once since I had it to center a range hood below a 30' vault. Otherwise pull out the brass plumb bob (rarely). Secondly, the vertical beam serves to blind you while manually adjusting leveling screws. Vertical could be handy in windy situations outside that would be difficult with a standard plumb bob.

From contributor D:
If it's not self-leveling, then don't bother buying it. Like contributor J said, the vertical doesn't see much action. I use mine to find high spots and to get a straight line. I maybe use it 10 minutes, then its job is done. I got a cheap Craftsman, but it's plenty accurate for what I use it for. Tripod is a must.

From contributor M:
I have a Hilti. Great tool. Like others, I don't use the vertical very much. I do know that PLS makes a good laser, but I don't know how well it is built. There are a couple guys that work at my shop that use (or did) PLS lasers, but they don't have them anymore (or don't use them) because I think that they no longer work.

Look for a laser that can lock the pendulum when it is in off position. I was told that it was the #1 problem with lasers. If not locked, it bounces around during transport. Also you might want to check Bosch. They now have lasers (I think Home Depot), but I don't know much about them.

From contributor S:
I use a $99 Black and Decker that I purchased from HD 4 years ago. It is self leveling, has horizontal and vertical, independent and in conjunction. Main use for me is initial layout for floor and ceiling heights.

On install I use it to confirm high spot on the floor. From there I use my 6' Stabila. I find it is very helpful, especially finding the low spot on the ceilings. I don't abuse the unit, and have never changed the battery. That said the next time I turn it on it should be dead.

From contributor B:
We have used a PLS2 for around 3 years. We install cabinets. It is very accurate after this amount of time, so it travels well (we take care of it). The vertical line is okay to have, but we don't use it much - maybe check walls for plumb or to plumb up/down from the ceiling. Another thing I like about it is that the bracket it mounts to has two strong magnets to hold it in place. Even works on metal corner beads on drywall.

From contributor R:
We have a line laser and the robo laser. After getting the line laser, we rarely if ever use the robo. The robo is more accurate than the line laser we purchased. But the line laser is good enough for all but the largest kitchens.

We rarely use the vertical. To use it with anything of more thickness/depth than wall tile, the laser would have to be in the same plane as the object... too time consuming.

A line laser is just so much faster since we can level left-right and front-back (at each end/front/back) at the same time. We find we're using it to set even one cabinet, say a vanity, as it's easier than wrestling with 2 or 3 levels on the cabinet at once. Knowing all of this, I would spend more money than on the one I did, and get the transport lock.

We have the laser jamb. The one with magnets sounds interesting if it will work off of corner bead. Just a month ago had an install in a room with 15-16' ceilings. So I clamped the laser jamb to toolbox. It worked, but if I could have just stuck it to the corner bead... Happened on this job to have a corner jutting out... That would have been quick!

From contributor N:
We have used the laser levels for a couple of years now. We own two David Whites that we have been pretty pleased with. I think we paid about $180 apiece. We also just recently got in a pinch (4 or 5 months ago) and needed a third. We bought a Dewalt, which has also served us well. None of them has the locking gimbal which I think would be a very good option.

We typically keep ours in the plastic cases they came with to protect them as much as possible but they still take their fair share of abuse. One time we got in a rush to put everything in the gang box and get headed out at the end of the day. We came back the next morning to a broken lens because the laser had just been crammed in the box with everything else, unprotected.

As far as the usefulness of the plumb line, it all depends on what you use it for. It sounds like a lot of guys don't use it very often, but we use it as much as or more than the level line. We do a lot of custom door installs as well as cabinet installs. I find on a door install I can get a good read on the trueness of an opening by setting my laser on the ground and shooting it up one side of the rough jamb. The models that we have will shoot all the way around the opening and down the back side of the opposite jamb to within about 12" of the top of the laser. We recently were on a commercial job where we installed a lot of jambs in a concrete opening and then installed doors on Rixson pivots inside the jambs. The vertical laser line saved us an incredible amount of time in getting a square and plumb line on all four sides of an opening in order to set our jambs to. I couldn't live without the plumb line.

From contributor O:
Use to have a little $200 David White, until all of a sudden I had to reset a kitchen's worth of toekick bases on a Sunday because I relied on it to set a global around the room. Then I found out that it can't be serviced.

I've got a PLS180 and love it. Bright, clear line. And the 180 is far superior to the other cross-hair lasers on the market. Though I don't need the vertical function as much as the horizontal, it is a huge time saver when identifying out-of-plumb conditions (walls, doors, etc.) for layout/install.

From contributor R:
How do you use it to check plumb on walls? Do you set it roughly parallel to the wall and measure top/bottom at various points? I haven't thought about using it that way. Thanks for your insight.

From contributor C:
PLS. Self levels, plumbs and 90. No brainer.

From contributor O:
Yes, I often try to get it fairly/closely parallel to its target in order to quickly read the wall conditions. Today I used it to track the centerline of some pocket door hardware and reference my casework to it - because of framing/blocking, I couldn't take a straight measurement. The laser saved me a ton of time by extending measurements into space.