Using line levels was the bane of my existence when I first started doing indoor construction projects with my dad. If I was working alone, I had to spend extra time trying to get everything perfect, and if I was working with my dad, I was reminded that I should be able to do the leveling part faster. I couldn’t win!
When I got my first laser level, it was a simple plumb design but it changed how I set up and worked with projects. Now I have multiple different levels for different jobs, and I couldn’t go back. Laser levels themselves are 10x more accurate than traditional spirit levels, and they’re just easier to use.
Let’s look at the different types of laser levels, what makes each unique, and why you’d want to use them.
What are the different types of laser levels?
- Rotary laser levels – these are the most common levels for the beginning of a construction project and are used to level foundations and planning brickwork
- Dot/plumb laser levels – often the cheaper, entry-level level, these project a dot on across the room to your surface, they’re highly accurate, and they’re easy to use
- Line laser levels – the most common type of laser level, these are used primarily to hang cabinets and other indoor projects
While each level offers pros and cons, each has a unique purpose, and especially for highly complex projects, you’ll want a level that is designed specifically with those needs in mind.
Rotary laser levels
Rotary laser levels project a 360 laser beam that allows you to see the actual plane on which you’re working, and it’s the best place to start when creating a brand new construction project. The most common use for this type of level is in construction, helping you establish a foundation and how it relates to walls, which also helps you plumb.
Dual-and-single-slope lasers help you establish gradient for masonry and walls but work exceptionally well when laying a foundation on which you expect to frame. They’re also perfect for establishing slope on things like driveways or docks.
Providing accurate measurements within 1/16th of an inch up to 50 feet, or 1/8 of an inch up to 100 feet, these levels are the ultimate method for planning out your construction job. Though they project a visible line, what’s happening with a rotary laser level is that a single dot of light is spun at over 1000 rotations per minute, giving the illusion of a solid line.
This allows you to work in 360 degrees, giving you level plane measurements but allowing you to dial in slope at the same time.
While rotary levels are fantastic for indoor use, they’re also great for surveying and outdoor work, assuming you have the proper accessories:
Rotary laser detectors
Though the beam that rotary lasers fire is highly visible, at certain distances and in the outdoors, it diminishes and in some cases cannot be seen. Using laser detectors, you can still accurately use your rotary laser level outdoors, even if it’s not visible to your eye.
For instance, if the visible part of your laser extends 100 feet, a detector can usually increase your usable range by 1.5, meaning an increase of about 50 feet, with some increasing it far beyond that range.
Rotary laser detectors are perfect for tilling, surveying, landscaping, installing a driveway, and many other outdoor applications.
In conjunction with outdoor leveling jobs, a grade rod helps you raise or lower the level to determine the depth of the surrounding land. This is very important for digging out a basement, leveling ground for a project, or other surveying projects.
Common uses for a rotary laser level
These types of laser levels are the highest grade of professional equipment you can buy in most cases. They’re great for setting up any construction project, particularly setting up a foundation and establishing where walls will be, in conjunction with the rest of the room. Being able to constantly see the “chalk line” while working takes that one extra step out of your necessary actions, making your crew more efficient and the overall job more accurate.
Rotary laser levels are highly useful for establishing gradient both inside and outside, leveling floors, and establishing reference points for interiors. For instance, in a kitchen where you’re trying to determine how each appliance, cabinet, and counter will fit with one another, a rotary laser level can help immensely.
As we discussed earlier, outdoor projects like driveways and major landscaping are much easier when using a rotary laser level, as long as you’re using the grade rods and detectors to establish level measurements even when the distance diminishes the visible part of the laser.
Pros of a rotary laser level
- The highest degree of accuracy over the longest distance of any type of level, increasing as you get more complex models
- Constantly visible leveling means you can work within the demonstrated planes of the room
- Works in real-time to deliver accurate and visible measurements without needing chalk lines
- Dramatically faster and more accurate than spirit/bubble levels – projects that take minutes to level and measure with a rotary laser level would take hours going the analog route
Cons of a rotary laser level
- These laser levels are highly complex and can be extremely expensive, though many hardware supply stores will offer them as rentals
- Because of the delicate nature of the pendulums and diodes that comprise the mechanism of these levels, they’re either very delicate or extremely durable, but added durability increases the cost as well
- These devices are far more laser than is necessary for many people, and rotary levels are the most complex. This is the type of laser level you would want for a crew or a professional business of some sort. This is because though they’ll work for the DIY crowd, they’re far beyond what most people would need for various home projects.
Dot/plump laser levels
When you’re setting up walls, you want to make sure that they’re level when oriented to the rest of the room, but it’s also crucial that they’re plumb, meaning straight up and down. Without plumbed walls, the rest of your construction won’t work out to be even, so this first step is utterly critical.
Traditionally plumbing walls can be frustrating and take a significant portion of time more than you might want to spend on the task. Plumbing in a traditional method requires a spirit level placed against the wall to establish the initial level. From there, you rotate 180 degrees and make sure the bubble remains where it is on the initial verification; if so, then you’re plumb.
While this isn’t extremely difficult, a plumb laser is far faster and easier. Simply hang your plumb laser level and project the laser. Since it doesn’t move and is in a fixed location, it frees you up to make marks, measurements, or adjustments as you need.
Additionally, plumb laser levels are accurate within 1/4″ over 100′ of measurement. This is a level of accuracy that a spirit level cannot touch. Traditional levels can be misinterpreted, misaligned, or damaged, all of which can provide an inaccurate reading very easily.
Common uses for dot/plumb laser levels
For electricians, a plumb laser level can help install light switches and outlets, as well as installing wiring. Contractors would get the most benefit from a plumb laser, using it to set up foundations, line up walls, set HVAC, leveling concrete, and many other applications.
Fencers and masonry workers can also use a plumb laser level, increasing the degree of accuracy in their work dramatically, and freeing them up to do more complex work.
Pros of using a plumb laser level
- Extremely accurate, and significantly more accurate than a spirit level
- Allows you to level and plumb multiple surfaces at once
- Easy to use and since measurements typically happen faster, it frees up your crew to work more efficiently
Cons of using a plumb laser level
- Laser instruments are delicate and should be taken care of extremely well when not in use. Additionally, the internal pendulum is easy to unseat or damage, so utmost care needs to be taken when using them.
Line laser levels
These types of laser levels project horizontal or vertical laser lines out onto surfaces within a 180-degree pivot. More advanced laser line levels can go 360 degrees, but most people will not need that level of functionality.
To use a laser line level, you’ll want to get it set up on the flattest possible surface. Though this can be achieved in most cases with a standing horizontal plane, a tripod is often the best method for ensuring total accuracy.
If your laser level is manually operated, simply adjust it until it’s level, but some levels are done automatically with internal pendulums, so make sure you know how yours operates. Make your marks and when you’re done, ensure you turn the level off, especially if it’s an automatic level, as the pendulum that adjusts it is extremely delicate and should not be left on longer than necessary.
Laser line levels are perfect for ensuring accurate leveling when you need to work in a 360-degree environment. This means for anyone installing anything that runs the length of a room, floor-to-ceiling, or both.
Common uses for a laser line level
Installing cabinets or running carpet, installing a handrail, or any other project that wraps around a room. These types of applications require a constant level measurement throughout the space, and a laser line level projects accurate, visible leveling around the room.
Nearly any room in your house where the installation or completion of a project requires measurements concerning other horizontal or vertical surfaces will benefit from the application of a laser line level.
In particular, if you have a tripod and need to set up cabinetry in a room where there are counters, islands, etc, a laser line level will continuously project the accurate planar level information so you can finalize your measurements before you start working. This is particularly useful for anyone trying to do a job alone, as spirit leveling on multiple planes requires two people in most cases.
Pros of laser line levels
- Faster and more accurate than a spirit level
- Allows you to map out a project on two planes while maintaining relationships between the various surfaces within the space you’re working.
- Simple to use and take up less space in your truck or bag than a spirit level
- Free you up to do more work with less measuring
Cons of laser line levels
- For basic level needs, these types of levels are far more expensive and intricate than is necessary
- Manual laser levels are robust but automatic levels – with their internal pendulum systems – can be delicate and require gentle care
Ultimately, laser line levels are fantastic devices for working in 360 degrees of space where you need multiple planar surfaces to match concerning one another. Outside of this type of work, they are probably overkilling and won’t necessary.