Buying Guide

Laser Level Buying Guide

Laser Level Buying Guide to what type of laser level suits what type of application.

SITE LEVELLING & CONCRETING

First up in this laser level buying guide is general site levelling.  If you are just doing basic site levelling on a house or commercial block then you don’t need too many fancy features. A basic self-levelling rotating / rotary laser level is the way to go, how much you spend will depend largely on how much you are going to be using it. If you are planning to work on a small house block or small projects then you can consider one of the many line lasers with receivers which are now available.

Outdoor Line and Rotating Laser Levels Laser Level Buying Guide

If you are levelling for a self-build and probably only going to use your laser tool one in a blue moon after then you don’t necessarily need to spend too much money. Reasonable quality entry-level models can be purchased for under $400 USD ($500 AUD, £250, €350) these days. If you are a regular user such as a concreting contractor then I would recommend something more substantial around the $900 USD or more ($1100 AUD, £600, €850).

In both cases you will get a self-levelling laser (either pendulum or electronic operation) an electronic Receiver with staff clamp, some models will use standard batteries and some will come with rechargeable batteries and charger. You may need to buy separately a tripod stand and a staff, although you can get away with using a piece of timber or aluminium as an alternative to a staff if you are just setting level.

If you are planning to do more than just site level, such as site layout or setting grades or slopes then you will need to consider a laser level with more features, see following guides.

Suggested Further Reading;

Topcon RLH 4C
General Purchasing Guide
How to use a Rotating Laser

PLUMBING & DRAINAGE

Next, up for this laser level buying guide is Setting Slopes or Grades.  For these types of application, the overriding feature required of a laser level is the ability to set grade or slope.  Again we will require a rotating laser but with this additional feature, but first what I shall look at is what does a grade laser actually do?

A standard laser produces a level plane this becomes your datum to level the ground to  A grade laser slopes this level plane on one or both axis to a desired grade, this means that when you are using your receiver on or parallel to the axis that the grade has been set on when the receiver shows level its not actually level it shows the correct height for the grade to be consistent.

Laser Level and Grade

Types of grade laser

Grade rotating laser comes in three forms, the most basic is a manual grade or manual grade match system.  With this method the laser first automatically self-levels, then the user will measure out a distance from the laser to where they are holding the staff and receiver (this is done along the axis that is going to be sloped).

The user finds level, then makes a calculation to set the required grade so for example if the grade is required to be 1 in 60 the user could measure out 6m from the laser to where they are standing with the receiver.  They can then slide the receiver 10cm up or down the receiver, then using the remote control if available or a second user slope the laser plane to meet the new position of the receiver.  Once the receiver is showing level again the laser is now set to this grade on this axis and will be constant anywhere along this axis.

The second method of setting a grade is an electronic digital grade, the laser levels that can do this are more costly but if you are setting grade day in, day out then its well worth it.  With this type of laser, you simply position the required axis in the direction you want to set the slope then enter the grade as a percentage into the keypad or remote control.  For example a 1 in 60 grade would be entered as 1.667 %

Auto Grade Match Tracking

The third method is an automatic grade match.  Here you want the laser level to automatically set the grade to the height of the receiver, so similar to the manual grade match as above but this time no mashing of up and down buttons on a remote or shouting to a colleague the laser and receiver talk to each other and does it in seconds.

Grade lasers Laser Level Buying Guide

Grade Laser Conclusions

So the overwhelming factor in determining how much you spend on a grade laser is how much you are going to set grades.  This will to a certain extent determine what methods of grade setting you get.

Reasonably good manual grade match lasers can be purchased for about $1200 USD or above ($1500 AUD, £800, €1100).  Quality Digital Grade and Grade match laser start at about $1800 USD ($2300 AUD, £1200, €1700)

The other thing you may consider is if you need a machine mounted receiver unit.   At this point in time, most receivers of this type work only with red beam lasers. So this is something to consider when looking at the different laser level options available.

Suggested Further Reading;

Topcon RLH 4C very basic grade
Grade/ Slope conversion Ap for iPhone
Basic purchasing guide
Geo Fennel / RedBack Laser Digital Grade with Auto Match

SITE LAYOUT & SQUARING

Laser levels have become an essential tool in levelling for construction.  However, there are some laser levels that are ideal for site layout and squaring.  Traditionally site layout involved using the geometric principle of a 3, 4, 5, triangle.  Tthe principle being that any triangle with this ratio has a right angle.  In practice, it means using tape measures and string lines and potential human error.

345 Triangle

Types of Laser

There are three basic types of laser tool that can do site squaring.  The first being a rotating laser that can operate on its side to provide a vertical rotating beam and has a dot laser at 90 degrees.

These lasers are not ideal for this type of application but they can do it.  The biggest drawback to this method is lining up the dot laser visually on-site.  As visual laser dots outside only have a limited range.  Also to align it requires manually moving the body of the laser left and right until in the correct position.  Once this is achieved then its simply a matter of using the receiver on its side to pick up the rotating vertical beam.  You then have your square.  Some laser levels with vertical rotation also have an electronic feature of shifting the beam to left and right.  This makes the left or right adjustment that bit quicker and easier.

Rotating laser square

Another type of laser that can do this is an outdoor line laser with multiple vertical lines at 90 degrees.   These outdoor line lasers come with an electronic receiver much like rotating lasers to pick up the lines outside.  These type of lasers are much more suitable for site layout for a few reasons.  Firstly they generally have a plumb dot down allowing you to precisely align the position of the laser over the squaring point.  Secondly to align the first vertical is simply a matter of putting the receiver on the ground at the point it needs to be.  Then adjusting the laser level left to right until the receiver beeps and tells you it is aligned.  So no visible dots this time to try and physically see.

Line Laser with receiver

Automatic Site Squaring

There are now some automatic sight squaring laser levels on the market.  One of these is much similar to the one outlined above.  But, instead of manually twisting the body of the laser to find the receiver it has a two may communication receiver.  This communicates with the motorised base which rotates onto the receiver and locks onto it.  This is the fastest and most accurate site layout method I’ve seen.

Geo Fennel FL80

Again which type of layout laser you purchase depends on how much you are going to use this feature.  If it’s very occasionally then a basic rotating laser with vertical mode will do.  If it’s a regular job then an outdoor multi-line laser.  Finally,  if you want the quickest method then the automatic site squaring laser.

Suggested Further Reading;

Johnson Level 40-6662, Geo Fennel FL55, RedBack CX440

More Application both Indoors and Outdoors to come.

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