Product Review 2021

PLS Line Lasers

Time really does fly by. How many times have we heard this… yet as is so often the case, the lesson is lost to the ignorance of youth.
Recently I was reminded of these truths while reflecting on my initial introduction to the world of laser leveling tools. Initially, there was really only one. Simple by today’s standard, they were large, awkward and fragile devices that had to be adjusted mechanically. The rotating invisible laser beam worked solely in the horizontal plane and relied completely on a handheld detector to “see” the beam. It was prohibitively expensive and produced in California by a company called Spectra Physics. The tool’s expense and physical limitations made it only practical for use on large, flat commercial projects.
Barely eight months into my apprenticeship, I was dispatched to a contractor building a 22,000-sq. ft. tilt-up structure. Large and flat describes the early stages of a tilt-up to a T. I still remember my first day on site, listening to the incessant noise these tools made, a constant stream of fast and slow “chirp, chirp, chirps” plus the occasional long “beeeep” as the detector zeroed in on the invisible beam.
Now fast forward. They still make the same sounds, but that’s where the similarities end.  Contrasting those with what is available today and the landscape is unrecognizable. Today there are primarily three types of laser tools: the rotary beam, the line laser, and the point laser. After owning multiple models of all three types, I have found the line laser to be the most versatile and useful in my deck business and my homebuilding business.
I recently had the opportunity to evaluate a pair of newly updated, competitively priced, high quality laser tools produced by Pacific Laser Systems, based in Everett, WA. After several lengthy discussions of all things laser, with Lewis Nelson, product manager at PLS, I concluded that the PLS 180 R and the PLS 180G would fit my requirements nicely. Several days later, I arrived home to find a superbly packed parcel on my doorstep.
The timing was perfect, as the following Monday we were starting a challenging new project, one that would require a foundation layout comprised of multiple radius arcs, many at different elevations. As it turned out, both tools served to increase productivity, accuracy and efficiency, but each also showed particular strengths and weaknesses.

The PLS 180 Red

The 180 R, as you might have guessed, is a line laser that produces a plumb and level reference line, approximately 180 degrees from its origin. The tool is self-leveling up to 6 degrees, produces a bright, crisp red laser line in both the “x” and “y” axis, and has an accuracy of 1/8” at 30’ and a useful range of 200’ when used with the PLS 60533 SLD Red Line Laser Detector.
It comes packaged in a gray, molded, soft plastic case and includes a Cordura nylon carrying pouch, magnetic wall mount bracket, tripod extender, and three alkaline batteries. The operating time is rated at 35 hours continuous, which after using it seems accurate. After following the manufacturer’s procedure for verifying the correct function of the unit, we set it to “outdoor” or pulsed mode and used it to set multiple ledger elevations and maintain each plane during fastening.
Next we used it to set the elevation of multiple pier footing forms so that the finished concrete columns that sit atop the footings would all finish at the same elevation. The benefit here is twofold; one, it makes framing more efficient by eliminating the need to measure each unique vertical member, relative to its starting elevation.
It also makes the underfloor structure appear more uniform, intentional and professional, including the concrete piers. While even with the heavy overcast and dark skies that are part of everyday life as a builder in the Pacific Northwest, we still always required the detector otherwise the beam was just not visible.
The only other issue we found was a sticker on the detector stating that the minimum distance it could be used at was 20 feet. This initially resulted in an unmeasurable band where the detector was of no use, and the beam was not visible. We came up with a workaround by setting up in such a way as to be more than the requisite 20 feet from any point of measure. A pain yes, but easily remedied.
Finally, PLS, which is now part of the Fluke Corp., offers the best warranty of any manufacturer out there at three years, which is an important consideration for any tool that is of such a demanding and technical nature. After a quick search of the internet, they have an excellent reputation online for outstanding customer service.

The PLS 180 Green

Our experience with the 180 G was very similar to what we experienced with its red brethren. The specifications for both units are virtually indistinguishable. Aside from the color of the beam produced there really were no significant differences, save one: operational time. Here they are vastly different.
The 180 G has a stated operational time of six hours vs. the 180 R at 35 hours. That amounts to A LOT of extra batteries. Our experience in use with both (vertical and horizontal) laser beams on and functioning, the operational time was closer to five hours, using the alkaline batteries provided as part of the package. The trade-off for using all that electrical power, was that at up to about 60 feet, on a typically cloudy day, the green beam remained visible, avoiding the need for a detector. This was very fortunate because the 180 G, which also has the “outdoor” or pulsed mode, requires the SLD Green Laser Detector that is available separately or as part of the PLS 180 Green System. We did try the Red detector with the green laser and the results were sporadic and inaccurate, which was somewhat understandable and yet still discouraging at the same time.
Nonetheless, the 180 G enjoys the same great three-year warranty and outstanding customer service as the 180 R. Just make sure you show up on site with a full sleeve of AA alkaline batteries. It might be worth it, though, because those green laser beams just look cool… I’m just sayin’.

As a side note, I am very interested in learning about the tools that the readership has an interest in seeing evaluated. Please send any tool review requests, questions or comments to me at and let’s work together for everyone’s benefit.


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