Quality craftsmanship sometimes suffers that same fate as Rodney Dangerfield: it don’t get no respect. Rarely will a layperson walk into a room and think, “wow, those cabinets are really level!” or, “look at how square that window is!” or even, “that conduit sure does look plumb!” If those newly-hung cabinets look wonky, or if the window sits off-kilter, or if that conduit appears as if it got thrown together by random time and chance, you might wonder who the bum was that did the installation. I guess it’s just our nature to take quality for granted. Even still, as professionals who take pride in our work, we strive for excellence, right? Perhaps the indication that our work is excellent is that it does go unnoticed.
To achieve the kind of excellence that probably will go unnoticed, you’ll need a leveling device of some sort. Carpenters and builders have used bubble (or spirit) levels for hundreds of years, and plumb bobs for even longer. Because of their simplicity and usefulness, we’ll likely use those tools for the rest of our careers. Innovation moves ever-onward, and these days, we have access to more sophisticated forms of leveling. Today we’re looking at one example of this sophisticated leveling innovation, the newest Makita laser level. This self-leveling cross-line and point laser level will cast lines and dots on our work surface, which makes finding level and plumb super simple.
Let me paint the scene for you. We manage a fair number of properties in Auburndale, Florida, and we’ve recently started on some remodeling projects. Hanging new cabinets and light fixtures has been our top priority. With a few homes to renovate, it’s safe to say that we had a fair amount of work ahead of us. The upside here is that, with so much work to do, we were able to put the Makita laser level through its paces right away. The job might have been a little overwhelming, but this new level speeds up and simplifies the whole process considerably.
Red Vs. Green
The Makita laser level does all of its leveling in red. Generally, red lasers work pretty well and are the baseline for visibility. How well you can see red lasers depends on the amount of ambient light. Green lasers are more easily detected by the human eye, and there are some manufacturers who are capitalizing on this. However, green diodes tend to cost significantly more to implement and require more energy. Makita sticks with the old tried-and-true red. Makita claims that you can see the 635nm class II laser’s lines up to 50 feet, and the laser points up to around 100 feet. Since the majority of cross-line laser use is for interior work, that’s good enough.
Reference Lines and Spots
All of the self-leveling laser levels reviewed on these pages emit horizontal, vertical, and cross-lines (horizontal and vertical simultaneously). Like Klein’s offering, some of these self-leveling lasers even feature a plumb spot. This Makita laser level includes all of those tools, plus vertical level dots at the left and right points. The horizontal beam fans out 180°, and the vertical beam extends 120°. In doing so, this level covers all your bases, allowing you to cast most any reference line you could need.
The plumb spots are particularly helpful when centering a fixture over furniture, such as a light over a dining room table. Measure the center of the table, turn on the top and bottom dots, and line up the center of the table with the bottom one. You’ll see the exact center of the light fixture on the ceiling. Of course, there are loads of applications for these as well as the vertical dots, so you can get creative.
Self-Leveling Function and Accuracy
A laser level’s ability to self-level saves a good bit of time and effort, provided you confirm that the pendulum is properly calibrated at the outset. But “self-leveling” requires a little qualification – it’s not as if it will level itself sitting on a 20° sloped surface. Nearly all cross-line laser levels can right themselves within a handful of degrees. The Makita laser level’s tolerance is 4°, which it can achieve in 3 seconds. Once leveled, Makita claims the lines and dots are both a reasonably accurate +/- 1/8″ at 30 feet.
The integrated pendulum lock allows the laser to find an angle rather than level or plumb. It’s most convenient to attach the level to a tripod for this application. The pendulum lock doubles to keep the laser diode safe during transport and storage. This feature is also common on all laser levels.
Modes & Power Conservation
Most laser levels are fairly simple to operate but the Makita makes the sophisticated tool about as simple as can be. A two-button interface toggles the laser between its five modes. You’ll have the option of choosing a horizontal line, vertical line, cross-line, all four dots, or both lines with all four dots.
Finding the right setting couldn’t be easier. Just cycle through each of the lighting modes by pressing one button, and put it in pulse mode with the other button. Lock it down using the lever on the side – and that’s it. It’ll take you more time to attach it to a tripod than it will to have accurate lines and/or plumb spots anywhere you need them.
Makita also includes a pulse mode which will extends the runtime out to 35 hours. The pulse mode provides a somewhat underwhelming laser light show, just in case Pink Floyd comes on the ol’ classic rock station. That is to say, you can detect the pulse and it drops the overall brightness. You’ll want to use it in situations that there’s not as much light to work with so you can see still see the beam. An auto shutoff further conserves power.
Other Notable Features
The Makita laser level comes with a standard bracket that can attach to a tripod with a 1/4″ or 5/8″ thread. The bracket has magnets for attaching the whole thing to metal surfaces, as well as keyholes for securing it to wood or drywall. Since the laser self-levels within 4°, you don’t even have to be that accurate with your mounting!
Makita protects the laser with a rubber overmolding, which provides some impact protection. If it takes a knock to the floor, you’ll want to check the calibration. The overmold will help keep the accident from bring a total loss. Additionally, the Makita laser level carries an IP54 rating, which keeps it moderately safe from water and dust ingress.
The Bottom Line
Are there ways to improve the Makita line laser?
Sure, you can give it a green diode and make it run on the 12V CXT or 18V LXT battery platforms. You’ll also have to hurt your wallet quite a bit more to get your hands on it.
What Makita does really well is bring in a combination of lines and spots that cover nearly every situation for a cross-line laser, simplify what it takes to use it, and keep the cost down. That said, the Makita SK103PZ isn’t a cheap laser. Coming in around $310 puts it at a premium, but not way out in left field. From what we’ve seen of it so far, there’s a solid argument for shelling out a few extra clams for it.
In the end, the Makita laser level will help you achieve the kind of excellence that goes unnoticed more quickly than you can with standard levels. Time is money and you’ll find this Makita cross-line laser pays for itself quickly.
Makita Laser Level Features
- Provides all possible reference lines required in leveling, aligning, plumbing, and squaring applications for maximum versatility
- Line visibility range up to 50’ and Point visibility range up to 100’ depending on ambient light in working environment
- Accuracy – horizontal/vertical lines (+/- 1/8” @ 30’); points (+/- 1/8” @ 30’)
- Fast self-leveling time; stability is achieved in 3 seconds for increased productivity
- Self-leveling is correctable up to 4° of slope allowing operation on uneven surfaces
- Bright 635 nm class II laser for best-in-class visibility in moderate ambient light environment
- Laser line fan length spans well past 90° point position to provide 180° horizontal line and 120° vertical line for full reference line coverage in demanding applications
- Integrated pendulum lock enables slope incline applications for increased versatility
- Pulse mode conserves and extends battery life for increased operation time in low light environments
- Delivers up to 35 hours of continuous run time operation
- Five dedicated mode functions conserve power by allowing battery power usage only when needed to operate the necessary functions
- Recessed laser windows are highly protected from fracture damage in slot positions for increased durability
- Full oversized rubber over-mold for increased protection
- Pendulum lock offers added protection of laser diode during transport and storage
- Dust and water resistance with IP 54 rating for increased durability
- Simplified two button user interface for ease of operation
- Integrated bracket allows for attachment to a tripod with a 1/4” & 5/8” thread or to metal and wood objects
Makita Self‑Leveling Cross‑Line and Point Laser Specifications
- Item Number: SK103PZ
- Power supply: 3 AA batteries
- Line accuracy (at 33 feet) : +/- 1/8-inch
- Point beam direction: 4 points (up, down, left, right)
- Line-beam direction: 2 line (horizontal, vertical)
- Working range (line) : 50 feet
- Working range (point): 100 feet
- Laser diode: Class II, 635 nm
- Leveling range: 4°
- Operating time (hours) : 35
- Auto shut off: Yes
- Net Weight: 1.04 pounds
- Price: $310.78