Earlier this year, I bought Stanley's FatMax laser measuring device — mostly because I liked its price. At $99 it costs a fraction of what most laser measurers go for. Even though it doesn't have the features or accuracy of more expensive models, the manufacturer's claim of +/-1/4 inch over 100 feet is accurate enough for estimating.
The tool has only four buttons, but each cycles through a few options. To begin you click the "on" button and aim the laser at the target. Once the red dot is correctly positioned, you click the on button again; the laser blinks and displays the measurement in standard or metric units. As with other laser measurers, you can also calculate square footage and cubic feet. A plus/minus button allows you to add or subtract from the previous measurement.
One of the benefits of laser measurers is that you almost never have to move furniture or obstacles when you're using one, because they can take a measurement within a space no bigger than the size of the laser dot.
When I first got the FatMax, I made a series of measurements and then checked them with a tape measure. Of more than two dozen measurements, only one was off (1/4 inch short over 6 feet). I suspect the discrepancy was caused by a reflection on the high-gloss painted trim, because all the other measurements I've taken were dead on.
Visibility. The laser dot is relatively bright; the only time I've had trouble seeing it was when the sun was shining directly on the target area. A pair of red laser-enhancing glasses helps.
Indoors, seeing the laser has not been a problem at all. You need a target at which to aim — as you do with any laser measuring tool — so it won't work for measuring to an outside corner, for example. But a scrap piece of plywood screwed to the corner makes a satisfactory target in these instances.
On one recent project I needed to measure a porch post. I almost pulled out the stepladder and my tape, but then I remembered my Stanley laser measurer. I set it on the porch floor and pressed the big red button — and bam! I had my measurement. It was at this point that I moved the Stanley to my toolbelt permanently. There's no shortage out there of higher priced units that are more accurate and have more features — but the FatMax does everything I need it to, and I'll feel a lot less guilty if I drop it and break it.
The $99 price tag includes a belt pouch and battery.
Sal Donato owns Business Shaping Associates in Hagerstown, Md.