In the world of laser levels, when it comes to functionality there are a lot of options and price points. Some offer squaring on sloped surfaces in addition to lines and dots, like the PLS 480 and the PLS90E that we reviewed in the past. Sometimes you only need something as simple as a plumb bob and plumb and level lines.
In 2003 we bought our first laser plumb bob. It was the first PLS5 and had the ability to shoot plumb up and down, side to side and a dot out of the front. We used it all the time to plumb walls, transfer layout, and shoot square. After our second one died, we tried out a Stabila laser that shot a level line and a vertical dot. It was also rubberized, so it was rugged. That model worked very well for quite some time, but it has been discontinued. Back in 2014, I reviewed the DeWalt DW0822 laser, and we really loved that tool. It recently died, and DeWalt doesn’t make this laser any more. I asked Tools to send me a newer model from Stabila, the LAX300, so that we could give it a try.
Features. This little laser is self-leveling, shoots plumb dot up and down, and has plumb and level lines. It uses a red laser and pulses, allowing us to use our PLS detector to find level. It also has a pendulum lock, which is a necessary feature. I wouldn’t buy a laser without a pendulum lock, because it would break as soon as you dropped it. It’s inevitable that laser levels get knocked over or fall out of a windowsill, so they need to be able to withstand these things. As it is, it seems we get only about two years out of these kinds of tools because we use them so often.
Stabila claims that the beam is visible up to 60 feet and we found inside that it was plenty visible inside in larger rooms. Outside, the lines aren’t as easily visible, but if a receiver is used, it can be detected up to 300 feet. Since it is accurate to ?” at 100 feet, I wouldn’t use it for long distances like foundation work. This laser is good for framing, finish carpentry, siding, and even concrete work, where most distances are less than 100 feet. At distances less than 50 feet, like when you're setting windows and cabinets, the line is plenty accurate at these tolerances.
This unit has a stout, black “framing” base that can be screwed on so the unit stands off the floor for plumbing walls. It also has a little built in base that can extend the laser up a couple of inches. We found that it was wise to use the more stout base; with the built-in base made it top-heavy, so it knocked over easily. The unit comes equipped with two powerful V-grooved rare-earth magnets on the back that stick the laser to the included wall bracket or other ferrous objects. The kit comes with a target plate, framing base, pouch, and wall-mount bracket.
The wall-mount bracket is pretty slick because we can tack it to the wall and then use the magnet on the laser to mount the laser. This lets us shoot a nice level line with minimal set up when we set a row of windows.
We use this laser almost every day when we are framing. It makes plumbing and aligning easier and often makes it a one-man job. We use it to plumb standard 8-foot walls, on up. It hugely simplifies layout on stepped foundations or even locating brackets on pier pads when we build decks. I recommend this laser. It combines the features we use most often, level and plumb lines with plumb dots – all in a durable housing. Amazon has it for about $300.
Tim Uhler is lead framer for Pioneer Builders in Port Orchard, Wash. and a contributing editor to Tools of the Trade