Toolbox - May 2006

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DeWalt LaserChalkLine
by James Snow
s a cabinetmaker, I’m used to building things
square, but when I go on site to install cabinets
and trim, I also have to get them level and plumb. Square
is pretty easy, but extending accurate plumb and level
lines around the room is time-consuming when all you
have to work with is a spirit level.
For years now I’ve been seeing all kinds of laser levels
hit the market at different price points. I never could justify the cost of a big rotating laser level, and I didn’t know
enough about small self-leveling line lasers to feel comfortable buying one. But all that changed last fall, when
buttons; press the left one and the device projects a hori-
I received a DeWalt DW087 LaserChalkLine to review.
zontal (level) beam that is visible as a red line wherever it
The tool came in DeWalt’s standard black-and-yellow
hits something. Press it again and the beam turns off.
plastic case. When I opened it up, I was pleased to find
The right button, which works the same way, controls
that the interior was molded so that the level and wall
a vertical (plumb) beam. You can turn on the beams
mounting bracket won’t bounce around inside. The level
separately or use them simultaneously.
is very compact — small enough to fit in the palm of your
The LaserChalkLine is self-leveling and will project
hand. It has a magnetic, built-in swiveling bracket that
a steady beam as long as it’s oriented to within 5 degrees
hangs from a nail or screw in the wall; the magnets are
of plumb and level. If the device can’t level itself, it
strong enough to hang the tool from a steel stud or a
continues to project the beam but flashes to let you
metal drywall corner bead, or from the steel face of the
know it’s not level. If you bump or move the tool while it’s
wall bracket that comes with the tool.
on, it takes only a second for the pendulum inside to stop
swinging and for the beam to come to rest.
Modes of Operation
Level layout. The day after I received the DW087 I had
Although I looked at the owner’s manual, I didn’t really
an installation job, so I brought it to the job site and used
need to, because the controls are so simple they are self-
it to create level layout lines for wall-mounted cabinets.
explanatory. On the side of the tool are two on/off
I found the floor’s high spot and, measuring up from
there, marked the wall
where the top of the
DeWalt DW087K* Specs
Power: 3 AA batteries
Battery life: 20 hours
Self-leveling range: up to 5 degrees
Accuracy level: +/– 1⁄ 8" over 30'
Accuracy plumb: +/– 1⁄ 4" over 30'
Size (L x W x H): 43⁄ 8" x 23⁄ 8" x 41⁄ 2"
Weight (with batteries): 1.2 pounds
Street price: $200
DeWalt Industrial Tool Co.
*Includes kit box, batteries, and wall bracket
base cabinets would
be. Next, I went to the
other side of the room
and used a screw to
hang the laser’s wall
bracket from the wall at
about the same elevation
as the mark for the top of
the cabinets. Then I used
the magnets on the swivel
to hang the laser from the
MAY 2006 I JLC I 1
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l DeWalt LaserChalkLine
bracket and turned on the level beam. It
was clearly visible on the opposite wall,
but slightly below the mark.
two before the DW087.
According to him, the lasers are similar
in many ways. For example, both project
Fortunately, the steel plate on the
plumb and level lines that are bright
bracket is tall enough that you can raise
enough to see indoors but not outdoors
or lower the laser on it without moving
in strong sunlight. Too much ambient
the bracket. I slid the laser up until the
light washes out the beams.
beam hit the layout mark. At first I
But there are differences, too, he said.
worried about the magnetic connection
The PLS2 is smaller and comes in a belt
— that bumping the laser would move it
pouch, making it easier to keep with you
off the mark — but the magnets are very
all the time. Though twice as heavy and
strong; in fact, it takes some effort to
half again as large, the DeWalt is not so
move the laser on the bracket.
big that you can’t stick it in a nail pouch or
I was pleasantly surprised to find that
even though it was a sunny day and the
hook the built-in swivel over your belt, as
you would with a tape measure’s clip.
blinds were open, the laser line was easy
Wide-angle beams. The most impor-
to see. I installed all the base cabinets to
tant difference, however, is that the
the line and then, just to be sure every-
beams fan out from the DeWalt device at
thing was okay, I put my 8-foot level
a wider angle than they do from the PLS2.
across the cabinets. The bubble said they
Wide-angle beams make it possible to
were dead on.
use a line level in very tight quarters.
After making a mark where the uppers
If you butt the DeWalt to a wall and
would go, I moved the level higher up the
turn the plumb beam on, it’ll project
wall and used it to project a level line for
a faint line up the wall. But the line will
the cleat. Doing this with a laser was fast-
be clearly visible on the ceiling above, for
er and easier than doing it with a level.
about 2 feet out from the corner. If you
Plumb layout. Since the cabinet boxes
pull it 6 inches away from the wall, the
were square and set to a level line, I knew
beam will be clearly visible all the way up
the sides were plumb. Still, I wanted to
and about 3 feet out onto the ceiling. The
check out the plumb function of the
PLS2, by contrast, won’t project a beam
device, so I aimed the vertical beam at
to the top of an 8-foot wall unless it’s a
the edge of the cabinet. Sure enough, the
good 6 feet away from the wall.
red line aligned perfectly with the edge.
Two on/off buttons control the
DW087, one for level lines and
the other for plumb. In this photo,
the horizontal beam is on and the
magnets are holding the unit to
the wall bracket, which hangs
from a nail in the wall.
The DeWalt’s horizontal beam, too,
From that point on, I started using the
fans out wider than the PLS2’s, but the
laser to set head casings, wainscoting,
difference is not that great. If you put the
and just about anything else I could find
PLS model 2 feet off the wall and turn on
an excuse to apply it to. An electrician
the level beam, it’ll project a horizontal
friend of mine took it to a commercial
line about 6 feet long across the wall. Do
job; he stuck it to a metal stud at switch-
the same with the DeWalt and the pro-
box height and set all his boxes without
jected line will be a little over 8 feet long.
ever having to pull out a tape.
Other Features
DW087 vs. PLS2
Not only can the wall bracket that comes
I loaned the LaserChalkLine to a carpen-
with this tool be hung from a nail or
ter I know who has a PLS2 (see “Pacific
screwed to the wall — it can also be
Laser Systems PLS2,” Toolbox, 04/05),
clipped onto the edge of a suspended
This laser is about 6 inches off the
wall with the plumb beam on.
The vertical line is visible all the
way up the wall and about 2 feet
out onto the ceiling above.
ceiling track or any other thin material,
a popular laser that came
a year
or go
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l DeWalt LaserChalkLine
thanks to a built-in spring clamp.
The bubble was right between the lines.
Accuracy. According to DeWalt, the
Durability. Although I didn’t have this
At the end of the trial period, the only
LaserChalkLine can level with an accu-
tool long enough to determine how long
question left was how I had ever gotten
racy of plus or minus 1 ⁄ 8 inch over 30 feet.
it lasts, it struck me as very well-made.
along without the LaserChalkLine. It did
It’s less accurate for plumbing: plus or
Toward the end of the trial, I intention-
exactly what I needed it to do without any
minus 1 ⁄ 4 inch in 30 feet. That’s fine for
ally dropped it several times onto wood
extra bells and whistles to get in the way.
the size of room I work in, but you would
and concrete surfaces from about 5 feet
If you need a level that is compact, sim-
not want to use the tool if you needed to
up. That’s not how I normally treat tools,
ple, and affordable, you should consider
project much longer lines with a high
and I hated doing it, but I needed to find
this tool. I’ll definitely be purchasing one
degree of accuracy.
out what would happen if there was an
in the very near future for my toolbox.
The largest room I used it in was 30
accident. The laser worked just fine after
feet across; I set a long run of wainscot
the drop test; it was just as accurate as
James Snow owns Snow’s Custom Cabi-
paneling. When the work was done, I
netry in Hesperia, Calif.
checked the panels with a spirit level.
MAY 2006 I JLC I 3
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Bosch 14.4-Volt Impactor Cordless Impact Driver
by Marc Shapiro
like to think that I keep up with building trends and
starts when increased resistance makes it necessary.
new tools, so I was surprised to find a whole new
When I first got the Bosch, I hustled out to my shop
category of power tools that I was completely unaware
and ran a few 3-inch screws into some framing lumber.
of: cordless impact drivers. While they look a little like
They went in nicely, but not noticeably better than they
conventional cordless drill/drivers, these tools aren’t for
would have with my cordless drill; the biggest difference
drilling. They’re designed solely for driving screws and
was the racket the Bosch made.
At this point, I wasn’t so sure I’d like my new tool.
tightening bolts.
Like their larger cousin, the impact wrench, impact
However, first impressions can be misleading, so I de-
drivers use a rapidly rotating hammer and anvil inside
cided to use it on an upcoming deck project. I figured
the gearbox. The force created by the spinning hammer
that driving hundreds of deck screws would be an ideal
striking the anvil explains how a relatively low-voltage
way of putting it to the test.
impact driver can produce more torque than an 18-volt
cordless drill. That force is also what gives impact
drivers their distinctive rat-a-tat sound.
The 14.4-volt Impactor is a very compact unit, just
To see if a cordless impact driver was any better at
61 ⁄ 2 inches from the collet to the rear end. It weighs only
driving screws than my cordless drill, I recently tested
4 pounds and, in terms of power, ranks about midway
Bosch’s 14.4-volt Impactor for JLC. Like other cordless
in a line that includes 9.6-, 12-, and 18-volt models.
impact drivers, this tool doesn’t start impacting immediately; the impacting
Its collet accepts 1 ⁄ 4-inch hex-shank bits, which is
typical for impact drivers designed for general use. The
collet works smoothly; it releases and accepts bits with
a sliding ring, and holds them securely while allowing
fast changes from one type to another.
The tool has a metal gear case and produces a maximum torque of 1,150 inch-pounds.
Well-balanced and comfortable to use, the Impactor
boasts some really nice features. One of my favorites is
Bosch 14.4-Volt Impactor,
Model 23614
a spring-loaded belt clip that pops up when a pair of
buttons are squeezed. When you don’t need it, the clip —
which mounts on either side of the tool — can be left
Weight: 4.0 pounds (including
tucked into its housing.
Another nifty feature is the LED light located just
Maximum torque: 1,150
above the battery; it shines a beam directly on the bit
and fastener.
Rpm: 0–2,800
Impact rate: 0–3,200 blows
per minute
61 ⁄ 2
Other perks are a bit-holder at the rear of the tool and
Bosch Tool Corp.
a nice rubberized grip.
The kit model I tested came with two batteries and a
plastic case with extra compartments for bits and
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l Bosch 14.4-Volt Impactor Cordless Impact Driver
Tests and Results
My deck design included a double 2x8 girder supported on 6x6
posts and triple joists around the perimeter. These built-up
The Impactor features a unique horseshoe-shaped belt
clip (above) that attaches to either side of the tool. Made
from reinforced plastic, it slides into its housing when
unneeded. A yellow LED mounted above the battery
(above right) illuminates the driver bit and fastener for
better visibility in dark closets and basements.
beams, I reasoned, would provide a real test of the Impactor’s
strength and stamina.
When the tool drove in the 21 ⁄ 2-inch square-drive screws for
my girder, I was struck by how easily it did so and by how much
control the impact action gave me. The added control means
that you can set or countersink screws exactly where you want
them. In my case, I wanted to bury the heads, and the tool did so
My next test was with 3-inch screws and the triple joists.
Again, driving the screws was effortless and comfortable, and
I could depend on the tool to drive them all the way. I was even
beginning to get used to the impact sound; there was a certain
comfort in knowing that the extra power had kicked in.
Perhaps the most revealing test was with the 5-inch
LedgerLok screws commonly used — as the name suggests —
for attaching deck ledgers. I needed them for some tricky
corners and joist intersections. Once more, the Impactor drove
the fasteners home without pilot holes or splitting. What was
amazing was how it applied so much torque to the bolt yet very
little to my wrist and arm.
When I tried using my cordless drill for the same task, it
completely stalled, with the LedgerLok halfway in.
The Verdict
I’m a fairly critical guy and hold my tools to a high standard, so
I generally have at least one complaint with any new tool. But in
At only 6 1⁄ 2 inches wide, the Impactor fits in spaces
too small for conventional cordless driver/drills.
And with 1,150 inch-pounds of available torque, it
can drive 5-inch fasteners into southern yellow pine
without predrilling.
this case, I have none. Zero. Zilch. In fact, the Impactor has
become one of my favorite power tools.
With a case and two 2.0 amp-hour batteries, it sells for $220.
Marc Shapiro is a general contractor; he owns Quality Woodwork
Construction in Alexandria, Va.
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l Work Lights l by Patrick McCombe
Mega Bulb for Mini Light. Believe it or not,
the Mini MagLite just got even better, thanks to TerraLux’s
after-market accessories. The neatest item is the MiniStar 2,
a replacement LED bulb that purportedly lasts for 100,000
hours; compared with MagLite’s conventional incandescent
bulbs, it increases battery life by six times and brightness
by 10. Friends in the hvac business tell me the bulbs
are well worth the $30 price.
TerraLux, 866/498-1564,
Circle #16
Looking to upgrade the flashlight that came with your cordless combo kit? Check out the
18-volt DC527 (shown) and the
High Beam. Just because
12- to 14.4-volt DC528 from
the sun goes down doesn’t
DeWalt. These fluorescent
mean you have to stop working
work lights boast rotating and
outside. The Bull Dog P14000W
telescoping hooks that hang
Power Tower produces 110,000
from 2-by stock, overmolded
lumens — enough to brighten
lens caps for durability, and a
109,000 square feet of outdoor
preheat function that prevents
space. A heat-dissipating cast-
the bulb from blackening.
aluminum housing and a tem-
DeWalt claims the 18-volt
pered-glass lens protect the
version ($49) will burn for
1,000-watt metal halide bulb.
3 1⁄2 hours on a full charge and
Height adjusts from 7 to 12 1⁄ 2
the 12/14.4-volt model ($45)
feet by means of a manual
2 3⁄4
hours. Neither price
includes a battery pack.
DeWalt, 800/433-9258,
winch with an automatic brake.
The light costs about $1,900.
Warner, 877/992-7637,
Circle #17
Circle #18
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l Routers & Accessories
Power Horse. Don’t let its small stature
fool you: The 1-hp variable-speed Colt palm
router from Bosch is much more than a laminate trimmer. This little tool can mortise
hinges, profile edges, and perform many
other common job-site tasks without
breaking a sweat. The newest version
of the router, the Installers Kit Model
PR20EVSNK ($265), includes fixed, tilting, and
offset bases; edge and roller guides; and a plastic
case. Its variable-speed motor adjusts from 16,000
to 35,000 rpm and features soft-start circuitry.
Bosch Tools, 877/267-2499,
Circle #19
Bulletproof Bit Storage. Why
keep hundreds of dollars’ worth of router
bits in a cardboard carton or makeshift
container when you can buy the MTM
Case-Gard R100 for less than $12?
Originally designed to hold highcaliber ammunition for sport
shooters, this polypropylene box
makes a great
router-bit case.
The holes are
perfectly sized for
1⁄ 2-inch
bits; with
Primo Plunge Base. Quite simply,
the Micro Fence Portable Three-Axis Mill
is a beautiful tool. The precision plungerouter base has a three-position depth stop,
a little help from short
a four-position LED work light, dust-collec-
pieces of vinyl hose, they’ll
tion hoods, and micrometer-style adjust-
accommodate 1⁄4-inch bits,
ments. Optional accessories include a
too. The R100 is available
high-quality edge guide, a circle jig, and
from sporting-goods and
an ellipse jig. The tool accepts trim-router
firearms dealers or online
motors from Bosch, DeWalt, and Porter-
from the manufacturer.
Cable, and rotary tools from RotoZip,
MTM Case-Gard, 800/
543-0548, www.mtm Circle #20
Dremel, and Proxxon. It sells for about $400.
Micro Fence, 800/480-6427, www.micro Circle #21
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