Originally created 12/13/04

Laser tools zap inaccurate household measurements



Forget eyeballing straight lines to level wallpaper, pictures and sundry other projects. Let lasers do it.

Laser levels, once the expensive little helpers of construction professionals, now cast a bright red light on myriad home and hobbyist uses. And laser tools may be just the ticket if you're on the prowl for a gift.

In addition to the well-known laser line generators, many power tools are the beneficiaries of laser accuracy, from circular saws, jig saws, and miter saws to the venerable drill press and tile cutters.

According to one tool industry veteran who has seen the category tilt toward consumers in three short years, lasers are fast becoming an indispensable item in most home toolboxes and workshops.

"Lasers for everyday home use have come out of nowhere in a short period of time," says Craig Webber of Lowe's. "As with a lot of professional grade tools, most end up in the hands of consumers. But there's a pretty broad market for lasers because most people can use them right out of the box."

By far the easiest to use are the simple line generators. These hang on a wall by a nail, adhesive device or suction cup and cast a level line along a wall. These devices, for under $20, are ideal for hanging art, bathroom tile or chair rails.

Part of the popularity too, according to Webber, is consumer-friendly pricing. "When these first came out at about $60, I wondered how they would sell," says Webber. "Now I know. Consumers love them, and these will continue to be the mainstay of laser usage." Strait-Line and Black and Decker's Bulls Eye make many of the more popular line generators. In some cases, the tools also work as electronic stud finders.

Some inexpensive lasers less than $30 also cast diagonal lines. This is helpful for hanging art along stairways.

For $50 to $130, homeowners can step up to more versatile self-leveling box lasers. These cast vertical and horizontal lines and are best suited for large-scale tasks such as hanging wallpapers and borders. Related to box lasers are stick or "torpedo" levels. Torpedo levels project a line or "dot" on a horizontal or vertical plane, helpful if you need to run conduit or a pipe from the floor to a specific spot on the ceiling.

At the top of the laser heap are rotary lasers. These attach to a tripod or sit on a flat surface and cast a beam completely around a room. At $150 to $1,000, rotary lasers are still largely a tool for professionals.