Allot of of time is spent talking about the various features available on laser levels but very little coverage is given to Tripods, Rods (staffs) and other common accessories. So in this guide we are going to look at these various accessories, there uses, options available and features.
First we are going to look at tripods. There are a number of different styles of tripod each with their advantages and disadvantages,but first some basics.
Why do we need a tripod in the first place? This question may seem fairly obvious but its worth talking about. A tripod first and foremost provide a stable platform for you laser level to sit on. The more stable the platform the less time taken to self level (in the case of auto levelling lasers) and less time spend re-levelling due to the laser level moving. For manual levelling lasers its much easier and much more accurate when the device is on a stable platform. Secondly a tripod allows you to get the laser level to the height that makes sense to your application. For example why have the horizontal line on an inside wall 6″ off the ground when you want to check the levelness of a window a waste height. Similarly the performing general site levelling with a rotating laser you don’t want the receiver/detector waving around 3m off the ground where you can easily see the display or control its stability. Its much better having at a convenient height, generally about chest height. Some lasers and applications don’t need a tripod for, for example, an internal laser producing a ceiling cross for setting out downlights. In this example the laser level may be able to be put directly on the ground, assuming it is relatively level and stable.
Laser level tripods come in two attachment thread sizes, standard survey thread 5/8″ 11tpi and camera style tripods with a 1/4″ camera thread. Pretty much all rotating laser levels have a standard survey thread built into them, where as line lasers sometimes have a survey thread, sometimes a camera thread and some models even have both.
So the first thing to take into consideration when looking for a tripod for your laser level is what thread size does the laser accommodate.
Tripods with standard survey thread
There are two main types of tripod you can buy with a standard survey thread.
- Heavy duty survey style tripods
- Indoor elevating tripods
Heavy duty survey tripods are designed predominantly for outside site levelling/grading work. The tripods have spikes allowing them to be anchored into soft ground to provide the most stable of platforms to mount you laser level to. These types of tripod are regularly used with Rotating Lasers, Outdoor Line Lasers, Optical Automatic Dumpy levels and survey equipment such as theodolites and total stations. Traditionally these tripods where wood in construction but the majority these days are aluminium. Some survey equipment users still prefer wood or even fibreglass but pretty much all laser levels and dumpy levels use aluminium.
These types of tripod can come with either a flat or a domed top to them, so which one to buy? As a rule of thumb if you have an auto levelling laser level then a flat top tripod is the way to go. If you have an optical dumpy level or manual levelling laser then a domed top tripod allows you to roughly level off the device on the dome before you tighten up the locking screw. This rough levelling is quicker than doing all you levelling using the adjustment screws on the device. Many auto levelling laser levels will fit onto a domed top tripod but there is no advantage in using one as these lasers have a large self levelling range you don’t need to get them roughly levelled first.
Survey style tripods can come in a few different configurations. They all tend to have telescopic legs which you pull out and then lock into position. Some models have a leg clamp mechanism to do this some have a locking screw, Ive even seen some with both. Which you get is personal preference, Most a clamp style these days and work fine. Sometimes you may need to adjust the tightness of this clamp, but most people prefer this quick release mechanism. The locking screw version are possibly more secure but more time consuming to set up. Some of these tripods are taller than others and some have elevating sections to get the laser level up to 3m off the ground. Which you buy will depend on the types of application you are using the laser for. If you are earth moving and want the laser high in the air above machinery and workers on site then a tall elevating model will be best.
Next style of tripod is the indoor elevating tripod again with standard survey thread 5/8″ 11tpi. Tripods are very similar in construction to you better quality camera tripods except they have the survey thread and they do not, generally, have a pan and scan attachment.
As the the name suggests these tripods are designed for indoor applications, or outdoor applications on stable surfaces such as concrete or compared ground. These tripods are not as heavy in build as the survey style tripod and so make more sense for internal lasers being moved around from room to room. They normally have rubber feet which makes them stable on solid surfaces but some can be adjusted to provide a small spike if needed. Normally used with indoor line and dot lasers but can also be used by smaller rotating models. These tripods have telescopic legs to provide differing working heights and also feature an elevating section to make fine tuning the height you want far more accurate and fast.
Camera thread tripods
Most tripods with this sized thread are pretty much the same as a camera tripod and many even feature pan and scan capability. This can come in handy when a line laser level can be used in manual mode enabling you to set a line on a wall at a fixed angle. This can be handy for fixing handrails along stairs etc.
Rods or Staffs
A rod, or sometimes referred to as a staff or grade rod is a telescopic stick with measuring graduations on it. They are generally used in conjunction with an electronic detector/receiver for either rotating lasers, outdoor line lasers or optical dumpy levels. The idea is that you clamp your detector onto the rod, by sliding it up and down the rod to find the level point. You can then move around your site and can work out how much you need to cut or fill to make the site level. A more advanced rod for this type of application is a cut and fill rod these provide clearer information. With an optical dumpy level one person looks through the level and views the hight shown on the staff which is being held by a second person.
Your standard rod/staff are generally made of aluminium, but they can also be purchased in fibreglass. Fibreglass is preferred when working around power lines for obvious reasons, but most are aluminium. Rods vary in height the average ones being between 2.4m and 5m fully extended. Now you don’t really want a receiver waving about 5m off the ground so these longer staffs are handy for applications such as trenching, so you can stand at ground level and have the bottom of the rod in the trench and have the receiver at a handy working height. The graduations on the rod also vary, metric and American feet and inches but also in the pattern such as 5mm block patterns and mm grading, some have two different scales, one on each side. You will also find “E” patten staffs these are generally used with optical dumpy levels and with some survey equipment. There are some other with a barcode type pattern and these are used for specific equipment.
One thing to bear in mind when using a staff is for the best accuracy they need to be held exactly upright and some models come with a detachable bulls eye vial for this purpose. You will also find laser level detectors with build in spirit vials again to help with this.
Wall Mount Brackets
For some indoor applications it better to have your laser mounted on a wall mount rather than a tripod in the middle of the room, an example of this would be suspended ceiling installation, where ideally you want the laser mounted at ceiling height rather than on a tripod closer to the ground. Most wall mount brackets will feature 5/8″ thread but some will also have 1/4″ thread but its work checking before you buy.
These are a single telescopic pole that jams in between a floor and ceiling, so again for interior fit out work. The idea of the monopole is that you can slide the laser platform up and down the pole to pretty much any height you want making it very flexible for jobs such as tiling an other installation work.
So hopefully this guide has been of some help, if you have anything to add please comment at the bottom of this post. I have added a number of links to purchase some of these accessories. Clicking through to these links and purchasing an item may earn myself a small commission.