By Ande Waggener
How can a laser level help with DIY projects? Let me count the ways. You’ve probably heard of using a laser level for hanging pictures, but if you’re not sure how to use a laser level or if you don’t know any other laser level uses that would help you out, you may be wondering whether it’s worth it to buy a laser level. And if it’s worth it, do you need a fancy one or will a simple one do? These laser level tips will help you decide which laser level would best suit your needs and it will show you how to use even a basic laser level to make your projects easier and more fun.
Choosing a Laser Level
Laser levels differ in their complexity and use. Which one is right for you depends on the types of DIY projects you routinely do. For most DIYers, a manually aligning, adjustable laser with attachments will be sufficient for your projects.
If you’re curious about your other options, however, here’s a brief description of the laser level choices available.
- Manually aligning laser levels are the least expensive laser levels. With this type of level, you use a leveling bubble to get the tool level, and then you flip a switch to project a line. Some of these levels require that you move the tool itself to change the trajectory of the projected line. These levels cost around $20. Some manual aligning levels still require you to use a bubble to make sure they’re level, but they have dials that let you set the projected leveling line at any angle. They also have attachments that make more complex tasks easier. These levels are about $30. (The level in the photo above is such a level.)
- A step up from manual aligning laser levels are self-leveling, cross-line laser levels. Selling for between $60 and $80, these make your leveling tasks easier because you don’t have to look at a bubble to level the laser.
- A more specialized level is a laser level square, which you can get for anywhere from $15 to $40. As its name suggests, this level incorporates a laser level into a carpenter’s square. This level is handy if you’re going to be laying tile or doing projects that require a lot of 90-degree angles.
- If you do projects that require you to align points on separate planes, like one on the floor and one on the ceiling, you might want a 3- or 5-point laser level. A 3- or 5-point laser level is arguably the best carpenters’ level. These levels project points instead of lines, and they take a bit more finesse to use. They’re higher end laser levels that cost between $100 and $200.
- The most expensive laser level (between $300 and $500 or more) is the rotary laser. These lasers are used for big outdoor projects like setting elevations for foundations or leveling posts for decks.
Now that you know how fancy you can go with laser levels, let’s take a look at some laser level uses you can do with a basic laser level.
Before we go on, be aware that eye damage can result from looking directly at a laser light. Be very careful not to point your laser light toward a living being, and that includes a pet. Also, be aware that the glasses that come in laser level kits are not safety glasses. These glasses are designed to help you see the laser line or dot better in bright light. They will not protect your eyes from damage.
Hanging Basic Wall Art on One Wall
When you’re hanging just one picture on your wall, you don’t need a laser level. But if you want to line up two pictures evenly or if you just generally hang a lot of wall art, a laser level can come in handy. Here’s how to use a laser level to hang pictures and other wall art.
If you simply want to line up your pictures on one wall in a straight horizontal or vertical line, hold the laser level against the wall, either align it manually with the bubble aligner or allow it to self-align. Project your line and mark the spots where you want to hang your pictures.
If you’re doing projects by yourself, it comes in handy to have a tripod on which you can mount your laser level. You don’t have to buy a special laser level tripod for this. Most laser levels either come with a threaded hole that will work with any standard camera tripod, or they come with a detachable base that can be attached to a standard tripod.
Using a level on a tripod allows you to set up the level, align it, project your line, and be free to mark the spots where you want to place your pictures or any other wall installations.
If you don’t have a tripod, you can place your laser level on a level surface that’s opposite the wall on which you’re projecting your level line.
If your laser level comes with a leveling base, you don’t need a level surface for your laser level. You can simply place the base on any surface and adjust the leveling base to get the laser level.
Note that if you’re projecting a line on one wall, you can aim your laser level up or down to get your line projected in the right spot. You can’t do this, however, if you want to align art on two walls.
Hanging Wall Art on Two Walls
If you’d like your wall art to hang level on more than one wall, you need to project a level line that will bend around the corner of the room and project on multiple walls. To do this, you follow the procedures for hanging art on one wall, but you have to aim your laser level straight ahead. If you tilt it up or down, it will skew the line, so it won’t be at the same level on both walls.
If you want to place your line above where you’re able to aim your laser-projected line straight out from the laser, you can still get it there. Just leave the straight laser line set up and measure up from that line to where you want your art to hang.
This is still more accurate than measuring up from the floor or down from the ceiling. Floors aren’t always level, and many ceilings slant.
You can also use the above methods to align art on either side of furniture or any other three-dimensional object. (If you already have hung things this way and you get a laser level, go back and check to see how close you got when you had to level the old-fashioned way. You’ll probably find that things aren’t quite level because measuring up from a floor or down from the ceiling isn’t nearly as precise as a laser level line.)
Installing Objects on a Diagonal Line
If you need a diagonally ascending or descending progression in a DIY project, you don’t have to do a bunch of math calculations if you have a laser level. Just use the level to project a diagonal line and mark the spots where you want to make hang things or make connections.
This technique is great for diagonal art formations on a wall. It also is the way to install a wall-mounted stairway handrail. Just project the line at the angle at which you want the handrail to sit and mark the spots where you want to place the handrail hardware.
Putting Large Heavy Objects on Walls
One of the advantages of a laser level is its ability to help you follow the stud line when you’re installing something heavy. This is true especially if the heavy object is three-dimensional, like a decorative wall-mounted shelf, storage box, or a kitchen cabinet.
To use a laser level to stick to a stud line, first find your stud, using a stud-finder if you have one. Mark the spot so you easily see it.
Line up your laser level line with your marked spot and project the line vertically along the stud. Now you can install your heavy object or cabinet and know that you’re going to drill into it right along the stud line.
Install Hardware on Cabinets
To install cabinet hardware at the same level on each cabinet, set up a laser level either on a tripod or on a level surface on one side of the room. Project a line along the cabinets, and mark the spot on each cabinet where you want the hardware to be placed.
Do you see how a laser level can make your DIY efforts a lot easier? All of the above leveling tasks were done with a manually adjusting level. They’d be even faster with a self-adjusting level. And the above examples are just a few ways a laser level can help you out; they’re intended to give you enough of an overview that you’ll instinctively know how a laser level could be used in other projects.
Hopefully, you now have a sense of whether or not you want to invest in a laser level, and if you already had one but weren’t sure how to best use it, you now feel confident to use it with abandon. Have fun leveling up your DIY projects.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Ande Waggener