Outdoor Use

Since my company builds a lot of decks, I prefer lasers that have a pulse function, which allows us to use a detector to locate beams outdoors, where they're often too faint to be seen. Several of the tools we tested have this function, but only the CST Berger ILMXTE meets the price criteria for this article when purchased with a detector. Purchased separately, a detector will cost $140 or more. If you buy a separate detector, make sure it's compatible with the laser you own, because some detectors only work with certain lasers.

Sloped Layout

Most of the layout we do is plumb, level, and square, but we occasionally need to project sloped lines – for stair rails, angled tile, and the like. All of these lasers can project sloped lines, but some are better at it than others. It's mostly a matter of convenience – how much trouble it is to disable the self-leveling function so the beeper doesn't sound or the beams don't flash when you tilt the tool. Though harmless, this beeping and flashing can be extremely annoying.

With about half of the lasers, overriding the self-leveling function requires toggling through multiple mode settings. That approach works, but there are easier ways to do it.

The Leica has a pendulum lock, and if you turn the tool on with the pendulum locked, it will project sloped beams. The CST Berger CL10 has a lock button on the back; turn the beams on, hit the button, and you are good to go. And the Johnson models have override buttons: The button on the 40-6625 mutes the warning beeper and prevents the beams from flashing; the one on the 40-6602 turns the tool on in tilt mode. Fan Angle

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Every tool in the test can project sloped lines, which are handy for laying out stair rails, angled tile, and anything else that must be straight but not plumb or level.

Credit: Credit: Chris Kennel

A line laser's beams are designed to fan out at the widest possible angle. Though it varies by model, this angle is typically about 160 degrees for the vertical line and 130 degrees for the horizontal. If the fan angle is narrow and the vertical beam points straight forward (instead of forward and slightly up), you may have trouble sending a line to the top of a wall. You can usually fix this problem by positioning the tool farther back from the wall, but sometimes the room is too narrow, or the laser ends up being in your way.

Four of the tools we tested have such good vertical beam spread that they can be placed in contact with the wall and their lines will carry up the wall and some distance out onto the ceiling. The beams from the Bosch GLL 2-50 and the ILMXTE will come about 12 inches out onto an 8-foot ceiling, while those from the PLS180 and the DW087K will come several feet out.

The fan angle is less of an issue with the horizontal beam, because it's easy enough to pivot the laser and put the line onto another part of the wall, or place the tool close to the wall and project a line down the length of it. Two models stand out for their horizontal coverage: The CL10 projects a 360-degree line, and the PLS180 projects a full 180 degrees.

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The PLS180 projects a particularly wide horizontal beam and is being used here to lay out shelf cleats in a closet. It's supported by a magnetic bracket that's stuck to the metal corner bead.

Credit: Credit: Chris Kennel

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The Johnson 40-6602 has three vertical beams - two more than the other lasers tested. In addition to projecting plumb and level lines onto walls, it can project square layout onto the floor.

Johnson's 40-6602 stands out for a different reason: It has three vertical beams instead of the usual one. One comes out the front and the others come out the side. These lines are perpendicular to each other, so the tool can project square layout across the floor and carry it vertically up the walls.

Mounting Bracket

Every laser in this article comes with some kind of mounting bracket. Although I don't often use them, these accessories can be very handy in situations where there is no good place to set up a tripod or put down the tool. A bracket may allow you to hang the tool from a pole or wall, clip it to a suspended ceiling track, or use a magnet to stick it to a pipe, steel stud, or metal corner bead. The magnet should be strong enough to support the weight of the laser, and the bracket should have keyhole slots so it can be lifted on and off fastener heads.

The Bosch GLL 2-50's bracket is particularly nice; its rack-and-pinion gears allow you to micro-adjust the height of the laser. I also like the Leica bracket and would be willing to buy it as a separate accessory. It folds up very small, has magnets and keyhole slots for hanging, and can be used as a mini tripod. The included mini ball-mount head makes it easy to project sloped lines.

Favorites

My favorite model is the CST Berger ILMXTE, because it has all the features I need. It has a good case and a versatile bracket, and is the only laser in this price range that comes with a detector.

My next choice would be the Bosch GLL 2-50 or the PLS180. Both tools have good beam spread (especially the PLS180) and can be used with a detector – though the detector would have to be purchased separately and would add to the price. In my mind, the GLL 2-50 edges out the PLS180 because it's significantly less expensive and comes with a far better bracket.

I also like the Johnson 40-6602, even though it's bigger and heavier than the other models tested. With three vertical beams (instead of the usual one), it can project square floor layout that extends up the walls and onto the ceiling above. There are other lasers that can do that, but they cost more than this one does.

Greg DiBernardo owns Fine Home Improvements of Waldwick in Waldwick, N.J.

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Bosch GLL 2-40

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams can be set to not flash by toggling to slope mode (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 4 degrees
Operating temperature: 14°F to 122°F
Street price:$150
Includes: Soft belt pouch; magnetic bracket
Country of origin: China
Comments: Palm-size tool with a rubberized housing; extremely compact – will easily fit in a pouch or pocket; activated by a sliding switch that also serves as a pendulum lock; functions controlled by a single raised sticker button; stabilizes quickly enough but not as quickly as other models; included magnetic bracket sticks to metal but is awkward to use when mounting to wood; a good basic laser; attractively priced

Bosch GLL 2-50

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): Yes
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beam flashes slowly when switch is set to lock position; only one beam at a time on in this mode
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/4" at 100'
Self-leveling range: +/- 4 degrees
Operating temperature: 14°F to 122°F
Street price:$190
Includes: Hard case; soft belt pouch; magnetic wall bracket with tripod mount and fine-adjustment mechanism
Country of origin: China
Comments: Compact laser with an exceptional mounting bracket; bracket functions as a tripod, wall mount, and magnetic mount and has a rack-and-pinion for fine-adjusting height; tool works with optional detector; blow-molded case is overly large for what it contains; better-than-average vertical beam spread projects all the way back to a point on the ceiling directly above the laser; bracket and pulse function make this tool worth the $40 premium over the price of the other Bosch in the test

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CST Berger ILMXTE

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): Yes
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly; indicator lamp turns red
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams can be set to not flash by toggling to manual mode (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 3/32" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 5 degrees
Operating temperature: 32°F to 104°F
Street price:$300 with detector; $180 without
Includes: Hard plastic case; adjustable metal bracket that functions as a mini tripod; detector with rod bracket
Country of origin: China
Comments: Medium-size laser that's solidly built with a thick rubber protective shell; raised sticker controls are intuitive and easy to use; one of the more expensive models tested but only one in this price range that includes a detector; can also be purchased without a detector; adjustable bracket can function as a mini tilting tripod, magnetic mount, pipe mount, and wall-hung mount with keyhole slots for fasteners; hard plastic carry case is just the right size; best kit in this price range for outdoor use

CST Berger ILMXTG Green-Beam Laser

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly; indicator lamp turns red
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams can be set to not flash by toggling to manual mode (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 3/32" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 5 degrees
Operating temperature: 32°F to 104°F
Street price:$295
Includes: Hard plastic case; adjustable metal bracket that functions as a mini tripod; rechargeable batteries; charger
Country of origin: China
Comments: Medium-size tool has same heavily rubberized housing as ILMXTE but less vertical beam spread; the only green-beam laser in this price range; even though green beams are supposed to be easier to see, we didn't notice any great difference in visibility; beams not separately controlled – both are either on or off; tool stabilizes more quickly than many other models; includes same excellent mount/tripod as the ILMXTE; a lesser value than the ILMXTE because it does not work with a detector

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CST Berger CL10

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level 360 degrees, plumb less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams turn off
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams stay on if lock button is activated (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 20'
Self-leveling range: +/- 4 degrees
Operating temperature: 41°F to 104°F
Street price:$210
Includes: Soft belt pouch; folding bracket
Country of origin: China
Comments: Compact laser with a vertical form factor; only model tested that projects a true 360-degree horizontal beam; vertical beam spread is less impressive; stated accuracy is less than that of other models tested; horizontal beam is 41/2 inches from the bottom and cannot be brought closer than that to the floor; intuitive controls; sliding on/off switch also functions as a pendulum lock; folding rack-and-pinion bracket feels flimsy and has no magnet; bracket does not store in the pouch

DeWalt DW087K

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly
Out-of-level indication: Yes; but beams flash rapidly
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 4 degrees
Operating temperature: 20°F to 115°F
Street price:$150
Includes: Hard case; combination wall/suspended ceiling bracket
Country of origin: China
Comments: Compact tool that's a bit too large to be considered a palm laser; heavily rubberized housing feels very durable; exceptional vertical beam spread; nice integrated bracket with strong magnets and a single keyhole hanging slot; bracket can be used as a belt hook; simple two-button control, one button for level and one for plumb; low-battery indicator; compact blow-molded case; an older design that lacks the ability to project sloped lines without the beams flashing; simple, rugged, and attractively priced

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Johnson 40-6602

Beams and approximate fan angle: Four beams – one level and three plumb; all less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): Yes
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly and laser beeps
Out-of-level indication: Yes; manual mode prevents beams from flashing (indicator will flash red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 3 degrees
Operating temperature: 14°F to 113°F
Street price:$275
Includes: Foam-padded semisoft case; wall bracket/tripod adaptor; laser glasses; target
Country of origin: China
Comments: Larger and heavier than a palm laser;
only model tested with three vertical beams; can project square floor layout; loud beeper alerts user if unit is bumped out of level; the five control buttons are easy to navigate; switch and pendulum
are operated by twisting bottom of the housing; unusual mounting bracket cups bottom of tool; bracket is not magnetic but can be hung from the wall or placed on a tripod; included cross-hair can be used to align tool with layout marks on floor; foam-padded case holds parts firmly and is easy to pack

Johnson 40-6625

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams flash rapidly and laser beeps loudly
Out-of-level indication: Yes; mute button mutes beeper and prevents beams from flashing
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 35'
Self-leveling range: +/- 5 degrees
Operating temperature: 14°F to 113°F
Street price:$160
Includes: Belt pouch; magnetic wall bracket; target
Country of origin: China
Comments: Larger and bulkier than other similarly equipped lasers; heavily rubberized body; pendulum lock doubles as an on/off switch; beams not separately controlled – both are either on or off; audible alarm alerts user to out-of-level condition; alarm can be muted when tool is used to project sloped lines; magnetic bracket has keyhole slot and is tapped for both 5/8-inch and 1/4-inch tripod mounts; includes belt case, but it would feel odd to carry a tool this size on your waist

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Leica Disto Lino L2

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): Yes
Out-of-level indication: Beams turn off
Out-of-level indication: Yes; if pendulum is locked, beams stay on (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 4 degrees
Operating temperature: 32°F to 104°F
Street price:$230
Includes: Soft case; magnetic bracket/mini tripod; ball-head tripod mount; target
Country of origin: China
Comments: Compact, but a bit too large to be considered a palm laser; beams are crisp and bright but wider than others at longer distances; tool has a pendulum lock; clever aluminum bracket folds very small; bracket is magnetic, has keyhole for hanging, and can be used as a mini tripod; included ball-head tripod mount makes it easy to project sloped lines; laser is good, but bracket is better; housing only lightly rubberized

Pacific Laser Systems PLS180

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both 180 degrees or more
Pulse function (for use with a detector): Yes
Out-of-level indication: Beams turn off
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams stay on when tool is set to tilt mode (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 6 degrees
Operating temperature: 0°F to 122°F
Street price:$285
Includes: Hard case; soft belt pouch; magnetic wall bracket
Country of origin: Assembled in U.S. from globally sourced parts
Comments: Small and compact – a true pocket laser; only model tested that projects a full 180 degrees in both directions; vertical beam can project to a point well behind the tool; produces almost 360-degree coverage when placed with its back against the wall; housing not rubberized; can be carried in soft belt pouch with included magnetic mounting bracket; bracket works great with metal studs but poorly on other materials; a versatile tool

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Pacific Laser Systems PLS2

Beams and approximate fan angle: Two beams – level and plumb; both less than 180 degrees
Pulse function (for use with a detector): No
Out-of-level indication: Beams turn off; indicator lamp shines red
Out-of-level indication: Yes; beams stay on when tool is set to tilt mode (indicator will shine red)
Out-of-level indication: +/- 1/8" at 30'
Self-leveling range: +/- 6 degrees
Operating temperature: 0°F to 122°F
Street price:$185
Includes: Soft belt pouch; magnetic wall bracket
Country of origin: Assembled in U.S. from globally sourced parts
Comments: One of the smallest tools tested; fits easily in a pocket or tool pouch; simple to operate; an older design – beams do not fan out as wide as on other models; housing is not rubberized; comes with same magnetic bracket as the PLS180; more expensive than similar models tested