For the past five months my crew has been using the PLS 480, a laser that combines some of the best features of two PLS lasers we used in the past, the PLS5 and PLS90e. The PLS5 is a point-to-point model we used to create square layout, plumb tall walls, and transfer layout to the ceiling. The PLS90e—which we reviewed for JLC in 2007—projects a pair of vertical lines that are square to each other, and intersect below to form 90-degree layout. Getting this laser was a big deal because it allowed us to lay out foundations more quickly, especially ones that stepped down a hill.
The PLS 480 is similar to the PLS90e, but with a few added features. Like the PLS90e, it projects a pair of vertical beams that are square to each other, but they fan out more broadly so they intersect both below AND above the device. A line between those intersections is plumb, so the tool can be used in place of a plumb bob. The tool also projects a horizontal (level) line that crosses both verticals.
What We Use it For I work for a building company and our crew forms foundations, frames, and does exterior finish—and we use the PLS 480 all the time. We don’t use it to square footings (long tapes are fine for that) but we do use it to shoot square layout for the stem wall. The tools is fast and accurate, and a time saver on stepped foundations, where we can place the laser on a tripod at the lowest step, mark our way up along the projected line, and then connect the dots.
The PLS 480 is good for producing square on foundations for mudsills. It speeds up the work and makes for a squarer frame and better looking finish floors—we’ve had flooring contractors remark on how square our layout is.
The tool comes in handy for framing walls up to vaulted ceilings. We can align a vertical beam with the snapped floor layout and follow the beam up to where it hits the rafters. The projected beam across the rafters will be a straight and directly above (plumb) the floor layout. There’s no need to transfer layout to the ceiling. We can get up there and nail the plate so it aligns with the edge of the beam.
We use the horizontal beam to project level: for installing windows, shooting in deck posts and porch columns, and getting stud heights on uneven concrete.
Performance The laser can be set to “pulse” with the press of a button and used with an optional detector—which you’ll want if you plan to use the tool outdoors. I particularly like the universal adapter that comes in the kit version of the tool. A built-in screw can be used to clamp it onto forms and other solid items so we don’t have to worry about it moving or falling. We can clamp it close to where we want the beams to fall and then pivot the laser out to get where we need to be.
It can be difficult to make fine adjustments to where the beam falls from 50 or 60 feet away. A knob on the adapter is designed to rotate the laser (make left-right adjustments) in very fine increments of distance—and make it easier to do layout. The fine-adjust mechanism did not work as well in the beginning as I would have liked. I attribute this to the gears in the adapter being tight. They have loosened with use and it’s getting easier to make fine adjustments—to the point where with a laser and detector layout can be a one person job.
The Bottom Line The PLS480 makes for speedy and accurate layout, and I would recommend it to anyone does concrete formwork, framing, remodeling, finish work, or flooring (like tile).
PLS 480 Specifications
Accuracy: =/- 1/8 inch at 60 feet
Range: up to 200 feet
Self-leveling range: 6 degrees
Power: 3 AA batteries
Warranty: 3 years
Tool includes: laser, pouch, magnetic wall bracket, floor stand, carry case, and batteries
System (kit) includes: everything listed above plus the universal adapter and SLD detector
Country of origin: assembled in the USA
Street price: $450 (tool); $600 (system)