Accuracy: 1/8 inch at 30 feet; 3/8 inch at
Outdoor range: 100 feet
Power supply (laser): three AA batteries
Power supply (detector): two AA
Street price for kit: $400
Pacific Laser Systems
About a year and a half ago, I tested the PLS2, a line laser
from Pacific Laser Systems (see Toolbox, 4/05). It
worked very well indoors, but the line was hard to see in
bright sunlight — a common problem with line
To make the tool more usable outdoors, the manufacturer
introduced the PLS2E. This laser, when combined with the PLS LD
laser detector, can project level and plumb lines in bright
sunlight at greater distances than were possible with the
I tested the kit version of the PLS2E. It comes in a plastic
carrying case and includes the laser, the detector, a belt
pouch, and mounting brackets for both devices.
The laser appears to be identical to the original PLS2, but if
you look closely you'll see that the company has added a second
button — labeled "Pulse On" — to the back. This
button controls the pulse function, which is necessary for use
with a detector. The main button — labeled "On" —
advances the laser through the same modes that were on the
Press the main button once and the laser projects a level line.
Press it again and it projects a plumb line. If you press it a
third time, it projects plumb and level at the same time.
The laser is self-leveling in these first three modes —
provided the tool is positioned within 6 degrees of level and
plumb. If the laser can't come to level, a tilt mechanism
prevents it from projecting a line.
Pressing the main button a fourth time disables the tilt
mechanism, allowing the tool to project a pair of 90-degree
intersecting lines even if the unit is out of level.
You can use this mode to project right-angle reference
Using the Detector
To use the laser outdoors, you select a mode and activate the
pulse function. You can't actually see the pulsing action, but
it's visible to the sensor on the detector. There are three
buttons on the front of the detector: an on/off switch, a
volume control, and a sensitivity adjustor.
If the detector is lower than the laser beam, the unit
beeps slowly and an upward arrow appears on the screen. If the
detector is too high, the beeps are faster and the arrow points
down. When the detector is aligned with the beam, it emits a
continuous tone and a horizontal line appears on the
To locate a level line, you raise or lower the detector until
the pulsing laser beam hits the sensor, causing it to emit a
series of beeps. The idea is to get the beam to hit the center
of the sensor, which is marked on the face of the detector with
an index mark. (There is a second index mark on the back edge
of the detector.)
The sensor is a couple of inches tall, so when the detector
starts to beep you know you're within an inch of the
If the sensor is above the beam, the detector chirps rapidly.
If it's below the beam, it chirps more slowly. Once you get it
to the right elevation, it emits a steady tone.
At this point you can mark where one of the index marks hits a
surface, or note where it reads on a grade rod.
The kit includes a bracket for clamping the detector to a
grade rod or to a piece of lumber. These carpenters are using
the laser and detector to check the grade of some
Since it's not always convenient to bring a grade rod along, I
often use the bracket to fasten the detector to the edge of a
2x4 and then measure up from the bottom.
The flat area on top of the detector is exactly 2 inches from
the reference marks, so you can create a level reference line
by tracing along it; the line you make will be 2 inches above
the projected beam.
Volume. The volume button has three settings: silent, medium,
and loud. The medium setting is loud enough to be heard on a
job site, even with circular saws and compressors running
nearby. In silent mode you take visual readings off a small LCD
screen on the detector.
Sensitivity. The sensitivity button allows you to determine how
closely aligned with the beam the detector has to be to
register plumb or level.
There are four levels of sensitivity. At the highest setting,
you have to get within about 1/16 inch of the beam. At the
lowest you have to get within 1/4 inch of it.
I mostly use the highest setting, but every now and then I
lower it if I have to take a quick measurement in circumstances
where it's hard to hold the grade rod steady.
Finding plumb. You can also use the
detector to find out where a plumb beam hits a wall.
To do this, you turn the detector sideways (long edge parallel
to the ground), hold it against the wall, and move it
horizontally until it starts to chirp.
When the sensor is aligned with the beam, the detector emits a
continuous tone, at which point you can mark the wall where one
of the index marks hits it.
Since you need two points to make a line, you repeat this
process higher up the wall and then snap a line between the two
marks you made. The line between the marks will be plumb.
According to the manufacturer, the PLS2E is accurate to within
plus or minus 1/8 inch in 30 feet.
That kind of accuracy is fine for most of the work I do. With
the detector, the laser has a range of at least 100 feet, but
at that distance the accuracy goes down to plus or minus 3/8
I would have no trouble using this device to set landscaping
grades or the slope of a long drain line, but I'd probably opt
for a more accurate piece of equipment to lay out the
foundation of a large custom home.
The Bottom Line
I have used many other laser and optical leveling devices, but
what I like most about this one is how versatile it is. It's
small and light, and sets up quickly.
Indoors, it's a simple-to-use line laser; outdoors, it can be
used over moderate distances as a replacement for a rotary
laser or optical level.
The portability of this tool is hugely beneficial, too.
I can walk the site with the PLS2E kit, a lightweight camera
tripod, a hammer, and some stakes, and do fairly serious layout
Victor Rasilla is a working supervisor for
Brinton Construction in San Leandro, Calif.
That Red Drywall Lift on
eBayby Norm St.
My contracting business focuses on small renovations and
handyman-type work. Since I don't employ any helpers, I need a
lift when I hang drywall. In the past I rented one, but at $50
per day it was an expensive undertaking. Plus, I live in a
rural area and each trip to the rental yard wasted two hours of
So I decided to buy my own drywall lift.
I started by shopping my local lumber dealers. The best price I
could find was $649 for a Telpro PanelLift. Unwilling to spend
that much cash on a tool I'd use only occasionally —
think of all the other tools I could buy with that money!
— I ventured onto eBay.
At first I was looking for a used Telpro lift, but then I came
across a brand-new Contractor Line Professional Tools drywall
lift. Some $217 later ($118 plus $99 for shipping), I was the
owner of what eBay called a "Red Drywall Lift."
Similar tools — all of which probably come from the same
factory in China — are available every day on eBay.
Prices and shipping charges vary, so if you go this route,
review the offers carefully. And check the seller's feedback so
you know you're dealing with a reputable company or
If you don't feel comfortable buying on eBay, the same tool
— or one that looks exactly like it — is available
from other online sources.
Aside from the red paint, the Contractor Line Professional
Tools-brand drywall lift looks and operates much like the
Telpro PanelLift. However, the knockoff product's manufacturer
does sacrifice fit and finish for a price ($217) that's
significantly lower than Telpro's.
My unit arrived a few days after I placed my order. The package
looked fairly beat-up, but inside, everything was intact and
The lift was preassembled into its main components: a tripod
base (with casters); a frame assembly, including the winch and
telescoping sections; and the cradle assembly, with outriggers
for supporting longer panels. It was essentially the same setup
I'd dealt with when I'd rented the Telpro lift.
The instructions were surprisingly well-written for such an
inexpensive knockoff and contained helpful illustrations,
including a detailed parts list with an exploded drawing.
However, I couldn't find a company name, phone number, or Web
site for purchasing replacement parts or getting assistance.
This could be a problem down the road if any of the pieces
break or get lost.
Setup and Breakdown
Assembling the lift wasn't that hard to do alone, but I did run
into a couple of issues with "fit and finish." For example,
connecting the frame assembly to the tripod base was a
challenge. The "V" connections were just a bit too snug, and
getting them together took a little persuasion.
Disassembly was problematic, too; knocking the components apart
required a 3-pound hammer.
Nevertheless, over time these connections have loosened to
where they're no longer a problem. Basically, I view these
inconveniences as part of the trade-off for buying a
lesser-grade piece of equipment.
The manufacturer says that the drywall lift can raise a
4-foot-by-16-foot panel weighing a maximum of 150 pounds 11
feet into the air — 15 feet with the optional
The claim seems reasonable enough, but since I never go higher
than 10 feet and seldom work with sheets longer than 8 feet
(larger panels are simply too difficult to navigate solo
through an occupied house), I did not test the machine's
The support cradle can be lowered to a 34-inch height for easy
loading, and it can be either locked into the flat position or
tilted for installations on sloping ceilings.
Small feet on the tripod base help hold the lift stationary
The lift breaks down into three major components; the tripod
base folds for storage and transport. Disassembled, the whole
rig can be easily carried by one person and fits in a
decent-sized car trunk.
My first job with the lift was in a duplex I'm renovating: I
had to hang 34 4x8 sheets of 1/2-inch drywall on the
The lift worked exactly as it should have. The only real
performance difference I could detect between my knockoff and
the Telpro was in the winch's operation. On my lift, the
mechanism was a little choppy, and the wheel itself wobbled a
bit, like a bad bicycle wheel.
Still, I'm nitpicking; the problems weren't serious, and the
brake mechanism — the most important component —
seemed solid and worked fine.
One benefit of having the lift all the time is that I have
found another great use for it: I drilled holes in a
3-foot-by-4-foot piece of plywood and bungeed it to the lift's
cross arms. Since I hate toolbelts and puny stepladder trays, I
use the rig as a large elevated tool platform.
This is especially useful when I'm working at ceiling height
for extended periods.
The lift's winch is a little choppy, and the hand-wheel that
controls it is noticeably off-center. These problems don't
affect operation greatly, though, and the most important
control — the lift brake — works just
Would I buy this lift again? You bet.
Once I'd operated it a few times and understood its
idiosyncrasies, working with it became second nature. At this
point, I use it about twice a month; it's met my needs
perfectly. I figure the first job paid for it and everything
else is gravy.
If I were to need a drywall lift every day, the little problems
I've had with fit, finish, and smoothness of operation would
bother me. But for the $400-plus I've saved by opting for it
rather than a Telpro, I'm happy to live with those minor
I just hope I don't end up searching for the seller on eBay if
I need replacement parts down the road.
Norm St. Onge owns St. Onge Renovations
and Backyard Tractor Works in North Bennington, Vt.
offer portability and rapid setup, while pneumatic tools cost
less to operate and are more reliable. If you're looking for
the best of both worlds, check out the JacPac CO2 Power System
from Supplierpipeline. The tiny CO2 tank holds enough gas to
fire up to 500 nails and works with everything from framers to
pinners. According to the manufacturer, any store that sells
paintball supplies will fill the tank for about $5. The JacPac
kit — coil hose, regulator, and 10-ounce tank —
sells for about $120. Supplierpipeline, 800/567-0864,
Most metal-connector nailers evolved from
conventional framing nailers, but the Bostitch MCN150 Strapshot
is based on a completely new platform. Weighing in at 4.8
pounds, it's about the size of a 15-gauge finish nailer and
features a housing that's only 101/2 inches tall — a real
plus when you're working with 12-inch-on-center framing. It
accepts 11/2-inch paper-tape-collated fasteners from .131 to
.148 inch in diameter. I found it online for $260. Bostitch,
Step on the Gas.
When it comes to
high work and small framing tasks, it's tough to beat the speed
and convenience of a gas-powered framing nailer. The Max
GS683RH is a 21-degree full-head framer with an easy-to-load
magazine, a reversible belt hook, adjustable depth-of-drive,
and a niMH battery. The tool weighs about 8 pounds and sells
for approximately $350. Max USA, 800/223-4293,
Jack for All Trades.
It weighs a
mere 60 pounds, but the Ellis Bridge Jack can raise as much as
40 tons. And at just 13 1/2 inches tall, it's perfect for
structural repairs and shoring in crawlspaces and other tight
locations. The screw provides 6 inches of adjustment and can be
raised or lowered by hand; for additional leverage, a 1-inch
steel rod can be used. Visit the company's Web site for other
handy lifting and shoring products. The jack sells for $135.
Ellis Mfg. Co., 800/654-8311, www.ellisok.com
Outside of a sky crane,
hydraulic Tele-Booms are probably the coolest lifting devices
around. Available for most popular skid-steer loaders, they
extend from 81/2 feet to 20 feet for a total reach of about 30
feet (based on a typical machine's maximum vertical lift; for
maximum capacity, check the manufacturer's Web site, since the
amount depends on the boom extension and the machine).
Accessories include sheet carriers, pallet carriers, and tool
bins. Tele-Boom prices start at about $4,100. Sheyenne Tooling
& Mfg., 800/797-1883, www.sheyennemfg.com
Sheathing walls while
they're on the floor deck is a great way to save time —
but raising a sheathed wall can be a back-breaking exercise. A
pair of 16-foot TranzSporter Wall Jacks by Tie Down Engineering
can help. The jacks — which boast a 1,000-pound maximum
capacity — can lift sheathed walls of up to 70 feet long
and 101/2 feet tall. Features include replaceable floor plates
and cable assemblies; square tubing makes the jacks stronger
and easier to use than round-tube versions, says the maker. The
jacks are sold in pairs and come in 16-, 20-, and 23-foot
models for $700, $900, and $1,100 respectively. Tie Down