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Pacific Laser Systems Level - What A Range!

What did we do before lasers? Perhaps the lack of them explains some of the slightly dodgy angles I come across when I am around doing various jobs? We just don’t have the excuse any longer for sloping doorways, windows not quite at right angles or rows of tiles that don’t line up.

But there always seems to be room for another item in the very competitive market for laser products hence the new range of products distributed by Topcon GB, which is based in Berkshire.

As the name implies, the Pacific Laser Systems lasers are based in the USA, and the products are designed and assembled there, so should pass the quality threshold in the minds of doubters. What is perhaps more relevant is that Pacific Laser Systems grew out of a company of professional contractors who decided that they needed to use their fifty plus years of experience to design a series of laser tools for interior and exterior use by builders, framers, tillers and plumbers.

To get a complete overview of PLS product range visit www.plslaser.co.uk

There are literally dozens of tools in the PLS range, but I was sent a PLS4 System, a fully self-leveling vertical and horizontal laser that is a generalist tool, suitable for use by many trades on the building site.

PLS prides itself that the tools they designed themselves will be compact, tough enough to survive on a building site and very practical. Not a bad set of criteria!

The PLS4 System comes in a custom fitted plastic case that is certainly strong enough to withstand the back of a white van. The loop handle of the case could be lockable with a padlock for security if necessary.

The laser itself has a bright yellow casing and looks like a bigger box on top of a smaller box. But angular looks aside, the case is very well made and put together.

Three AA batteries are inserted into a lidded compartment on the side.

The two laser projectors are housed behind a strong and clear glass lens cover. These are well recessed for protection from dust and impact, but it is also possible to clean them if that (it will at some time) becomes necessary.

Looking at the laser projectors (not when they are on!!!) they have been mounted on a gimbaled self-leveling mechanism that is very sensitive, and will ensure that the correct level is found quickly.

On the underside of the casing is a brass inset for the necessary tripod screw.

The switchgear is as straightforward as it could possibly be. On the top of the level is a sealed panel with a three concealed switches. No need to worry about dust getting in. The on/off switch selects the vertical points lasers and the “LINES” switch pressed once will start the horizontal laser, another press will switch on the vertical laser and a third press will turn them both on. A fourth press will turn them both off.

As this is a self-leveling laser, a red light indicates that the level is not properly achieved, while a green light indicates that the level is within tolerance. If the level goes beyond more than six degrees out, the lasers are automatically turned off. The tiny third switch when pushed, causes the lines to pulse should the user need this mode.

So far, so simple. This laser level is clearly easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of setting up.

But the PLS4 System kit has a couple of very useful extras. A strong U-shaped alloy extrusion with captive screw is used as a floor or flat-surface stand for the laser. This increases the footprint of the laser so that it can sit stably on a flattish surface. The U-shape means it can be held on the edge of a scaffolding plank for example.

Perhaps more useful for many users like plumbers or carpenters, is the L-shaped magnetic bracket. This attaches to the bottom of the level and the strong inset circular magnets offer a secure fixing to scaffolding poles, radiators etc. Two small holes also mean a quick tack to a plank with a couple of small nails is also possible.

Working indoors with lasers is usually quite straightforward, since the laser lines are easy to see. However, outdoors in bright sunshine, users need another solution. The PLS4 kit comes with quite a sophisticated laser detector. This has a clamp system that will hold it in either a horizontal or vertical mode to detect the laser lines and an audible signal will inform the user. The laser detector means that the effective distance the level can be used is a very respectable 60 metres (200ft)

The accuracy specs of the PLS 4 are pretty good too. The cross line accuracy is +/- 3mm at 10 metres and point to point accuracy is +/- 2mm at 10 metres.

The main laser device has a padded black nylon wallet into which it can be packed for protection. It certainly means that you can leave the whole case in the van if all you need to use is the main laser.

We all expect from laser devices these days to be simple to operate, with decent instructions and able to take a few knocks in the course of the work on site. It seems to me that the PLS4 kit is all of the above. It is clear that the people who designed it knew a bit about the business they were in and designed a practical device that is versatile enough to suit a number of trades.

But there is also the fact that the PLS4 System is a product from a company that has a huge experience of using and designing lasers. There is sometimes safety in big numbers!

Kapro Laser Tools from Draper

Straight Down the Line

Remember when lasers were the coming thing in the trade? Some predicted that they wouldn’t be up to the job, but so many great devices have appeared on the market in the last five or so years that it is a no-brainer not to expect to use them. Increasingly, they are incredibly well priced as we follow the usual pattern that the more that they are adopted, the cheaper they get.

Draper has been quick to adopt a range of laser tools into their range and, with usual Draper thoroughness, there is quite a range of tools to choose from, depending on what trade or function you need them for.

One of my favourite laser tools is the laser distance measure. Named the Kaprometer K3 (Stock No. 22124), it is made by Kapro and sold in the UK by Draper Tools. The Kaprometer is a “proper” laser distance measure, not a sonic distance measure that has a laser pointer. Used properly, the Kaprometer has an accuracy of 2mm in 50m – which is pretty impressive, bearing in mind you would probably get more inaccuracy using a tape measure.

Long gone are the days when a laser measure would only measure a simple distance from A to B in a straight line. The technology and software now exists in the Kaprometer that enables the user to measure distance, area, volume and height without having to climb a ladder or stretch a tape.

Clearly, the amount of time that a surveyor, builder etc can save is so great that the cost of the laser measure is soon covered.

All this technology is housed in a small plastic body that is only 10cm long, 5cm wide and 3.5cm deep. It is easy to handle because of its lightness and the grooved rubber overmould on the sides.

The 9volt battery is easy to fit in the compartment underneath, where there is also a standard thread to attach the measure to a tripod. For really accurate measurement, the laser measure needs to be held in a tripod and used at 90 degrees to the distant surface being measured. Used freehand, it is very easy to hold the measure at an angle and thus the measurement will be inaccurate.

A small spirit level near the dial is used to ensure that the user’s aim is true.

The new generations of laser tools are designed for easy use – you don’t have to be a qualified mathematician to use them. Thus, the Kaprometer has only ten operating buttons. Each one has a self-explanatory symbol on it so it is quite possible to be competent using the Kaprometer within ten minutes of getting it out of the box.

One of the most common measures a plumber might have to do is to calculate the volume of a room to find out how many and what size radiators to fit. To do this takes only a couple of minutes.

Switch on the device, select the volume and area button. The device then tells you to take a measurement. A flashing line on the cube model in the display will remind you of what to do. Once the three measurements are taken, simply press the = sign and the Kaprometer will calculate the volume for you. And it doesn’t matter whether you are metric or imperial – a press of the “U” button will convert to your preferred system.

The whole kit is pretty comprehensive too. The instruction sheet with very clear explanations of all the functions can be tucked into the flap at the back of the black nylon protective carrying case, so it is ready for instant reference if needed. The case comes with a carrying strap and, also included, is a clear silicon rubber protective sleeve. This provides a good measure of protection from wind, weather and shocks. There are apertures for the necessary functions to be accessed, e.g. the spirit level and tripod adaptor

What really strikes me is just how easy this little device is to use, how light and easy to handle it is, and if you need to do any distance measuring at all, then you should treat yourself to one. You will probably never use a tape measure again, except maybe if you are cutting planks.

I am not the world’s best at laying tiles by traditional methods – i.e. using a plumb line and square, but since using a laser square I feel a lot more confident, and the results are a lot neater too. The Kapro Laser Square (Stock No. 22119) is a simple and well-made device that looks as though it could do a few rounds in a builder’s bucket. It does a very simple job – it projects two powerful laser lines at right angles to each other. In bright light, the lines are visible at about ten metres, but with a laser target (supplied in the carry case) the accurate distance can be increased to about thirty metres.

The device is run on two AA batteries that fit into a compartment behind the laser projectors. There is a small bubble level to ensure that the level can be placed accurately when necessary and the two laser projectors sit in two well-protected mini-towers, one of which has a spirit level in it as well.

Again, laser technology has made the job of laying out floor or wall tiles easy. The user can assume that the laser lines are at right angles, so all he or she needs to do is to decide how the tiles/flooring or whatever, are going to run, and then set up the laser square to project the laser along these lines.

The laser lines are quite bright close to, and will project over obstacles in the way of the line so that it would be possible to continue the line up a couple of steps for example.

There are a couple of triangular apertures on each arm of the triangle of the device and these can be used to hang it should you want to use it vertically when tiling walls.

What strikes me most about both of these devices is just how easy to use they are. There is simply no excuse for duff measuring or untidy rows of tiles anymore. A half-decent tradesman would almost certainly use these sorts of devices routinely, and to be honest, they are well within the reach of DIYers too. I urge you to have a closer look at these two Kapro devices from Draper Tools.

DEWALT Laser Level-Toeing the Lines

I guess we all managed quite well before the arrival of laser levels. A plumb bob and spirit level are capable of giving good results in the hands of people that know what to do. For myself, laser levels have been nothing short of minor miracles. They are quick to set up, usually accurate (unless you have a habit of mistreating them) and reliable. And so versatile too – anything from levels for courses of bricks, setting out tiles on floor and walls and hanging up kitchen cabinets, to name but a few possibilities.

A few years on too, the prices of laser tools have also plunged as they have been adopted for use by all manner of trades and professions. I am tempted to paraphrase an old Prime Minister from the 1960′s, Harold McMillan, who declared that “we have never had it so good.”

The DEWALT DW089 is a recently launched multi line laser level, that I am sure will become a favourite with building professionals of all kinds on the basis of my tests.

First impressions are very positive since the whole package looks very robust and compact. For example, the laser level and lens projectors are well protected by a cast alloy screen that looks as though it would withstand a frenzied attack with a club hammer. Behind this screen is a clear plastic box that contains the lasers and self-leveling mechanism. From what I could see this plastic box would be effectively dust proof and moisture proof (within reason).

The rest of the laser housing and other bits is in the classic DEWALT yellow and black livery. It is covered with a slightly grippy plastic/rubber compound that promises to not only absorb small shocks but also to be reasonably dust proof too.

Attached to the top of the level itself is a magnetic bracket that is another piece of well thought out design. The bracket is fixed to the level by one screw that enables the laser level to be pivoted nearly 180 degrees from left to right, so it should be possible to get the laser pretty well targeted on wherever you want the laser to project. This single screw also enables the vertical laser line (and by extension the other two lines) to be micro adjusted to exactly where the user wants the laser to project – for example on the edge of a wall or line of cabinets.

For those users lucky enough to have a sturdy tripod, there is a standard tripod screw thread under the level close to the battery housing.

The magnetic bracket can also be attached (the magnets are very strong – I nearly pinched my fingers) to any magnetic vertical surface or to another bracket supplied as part of the DW089 kit. This is another well-designed piece that is again very strongly made in black plastic. It can be attached to slim projections like a metal stud via a spring-loaded clip. Or there are holes, top and bottom, where it can be screwed to a stud wall or hung from a nail or screw.

I know from other laser levels I have used that many of them have similar sorts of devices to enable the easy and accurate use of laser leveling, but what impresses about the DEWALT is the robustness of the parts and the clarity and precision of the design. Clearly, whoever designed these had a very good idea of what users need.

Getting started with the DW089 was straightforward- the four AA batteries are loaded into the battery compartment under the level – and then it is ready for use.

Like most other laser levels the DW089 has a built-in failsafe for users. The level will self level as long as it is not on a tilt of more than four degrees. If there is more tilt, the laser will flash, so the user knows to find a more level spot (or use a tripod, bracket etc) on which to place the level.

There are three switches down one side of the laser casing. The first of these activates the vertical laser, the second the horizontal laser and the third operates the second vertical laser that is at 90 degrees to the first vertical laser. This is a very handy system in that each laser is individually controlled. Some other levels have a three-way switch that switches each laser on in sequence, so there is always a small hassle to switch it off. With individual switches you save battery power (however minimal that might be) and also have the convenience and efficiency of choosing which laser and switch you want to each time.

When I had set the laser up I used it to measure how accurately the cabinets in my kitchen had been hung. I was pleased to see that they were pretty well all vertical where necessary, with light fittings and radiators similarly all horizontal – but then I did buy the house from a plumber who had done all the improvements.

The laser projection is another critical feature, and since the DW089 is a Class 2 laser it has sufficient power to project quite large distances. In the dark, it projected easily down my garden to the back wall 25 metres away, so my guess is that indoors on a building site it would be more than adequate.

Over a distance of 5 metres the line projects at a smidgeon over 2 mm thick, so is easy to work to. Of course in all three modes, the laser line projects top and bottom, so the vertical line for example will project along the floor, wall and ceiling of a room, enabling all vertical elements of a room to be laid to.

The DW089 comes in a strong custom moulded carry case that provides genuine protection in building site and back-of-white-van conditions. But as befits a professional quality device, the instructions have detailed notes on how to recalibrate the laser should it lose accuracy from being dropped, for example.

My only regret with this review is that I didn’t have a real building job on which I could have used the DW089. From my tests, I think it would a first class device to use on a building site, and would save huge amounts of time and hassle for almost any trade.

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