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cutntrim 02-08-2004 09:32 AM

Basic grade/level info
Hey there - another basic question for residential installation projects <$10,000.00.

For grading of patios/walkways/driveways on these smaller jobs would a laser level be worthwhile? Or just measure off of string lines with a line level, or some other method?

What method(s) do you use? What method(s) would you recommend?

If a laser level is a viable option - what type/price level would I be looking at, and in-a-nutshell how do they work?

Thanks boys.

scl 02-08-2004 11:52 AM

A Laser is the cats meow. I'd be lost without mine and I'll honestly tell you that I suck when it comes to strings and little hanging levels. I have no patience for stepping over, walking around and resetting lines. A laser makes that little beep and off you go.
Expect to pay >$1k for a good one, and get a good one! Mines a Laser Pro and its been through hell. Still working good and in tolerance. We actually had a wind storm so bad one day, gusts to 60, and it flipped it right over on the tripod.
This is one of the most valuable tools in my arsenal!

Bill Schwab 02-08-2004 12:13 PM

I'm with scl on that one, but I also have to add...A well rounded crew leader can get things pretty darn close simply using his eye and skills.

Have a guy like that, you set up the laser, he purposly does not use it, and you go check hom and he will win the bet of being every time!

Stonehenge 02-08-2004 01:42 PM

If you want to check out a laser, go back an issue or two in Pro - I put a short article together on using one to do grading work.

But for patios and walls and such, if they are under 500 sqft (pavers) and don't involve lots of elevation changes, we just use stakes, strings, levels and line levels. It's when you get into tricky elevation changes, or greater distances that we like to use lasers.

But if you do any grading of lots for seed or sod, the laser is indispensable. One man can do all the work (where a sight level requires 2 men) and it's extremely accurate.

For a basic laser set-up, including laser, laser detector, tripod and direct-read rod, expect to start at $1200 new. Go for some of the fancy stuff Paul uses (dual slope, etc) and you'll end up closer to $5K.

This discussion has been included in the site beginner's brick paving page.

HRLand 02-08-2004 03:30 PM

It may not be the best, but I bought a Lasermark LM30 complete kit for around $450.00 at home depot. I've only used it a few times to measure jobs by myself but it works great.

Anybody use these for setting up your string?

chesie 02-08-2004 05:00 PM

Here is what we use:

Makes me mad though.....they have come down in price in the last 2 years. I suggest getting a second rod and receiver so that 2 different people can work 2 different grades.


dan deutekom 02-08-2004 05:48 PM

A laser level is nice to have and I personally use a dumpy because it is still in good shape but for most smaller jobs where you are doing a walkway or stairs or even a drive I find that I use the dumpy once to set my grades and even many times it dosn't come out of the truck because in most existing subdivisions your grades are set up already. You have an existing door at the building that you have to work to, the walk has to meet up at a existing driveway or if doing a drive, the garage door is set and so is the curb at the road. A few strings to check for even grading usually does it. I find it faster to do it this way than setting up and leveling the transit and having my helper having a hard time trying to figure out how to read it. (I know it is simple but new guys/parttimers always have a hard time with it:rolleyes: ) ) When doing a larger job or when grading lots for drainage then the Dumpy comes out to be used. For most small jobs a 4' level and the occasional string line suffices.

diginahole 02-08-2004 05:57 PM

Well yet another year has passed that I got by with my old dumpy. There are a lot of start up expenses the first year and the right deal never showed up. I'm sure I'll move into the future this year and get a laser.

Great idea chesie. I hadn't considered that I could have 2 guys setting grades just by adding a second reciever. That makes a laser that much more attractive.

To answer your question cutntrim, we use the dumpy (contractors site or ??sight?? level) to set string elevations. Base materials are filled to the string. For most simple patios and walkways we don't even need to get out the dumpy as the elevations are pretty much a given. We still use strings to ensure a nice glass flat surface.

You will not regret buying a laser but is it a must. I don't think so. You can get by without it. A saw and tamper are must haves before the laser. I even chose to buy 2 saws before I get the laser. I'll start a thread on that come spring. I am going to be trying out my new Echo.

jwholden 02-08-2004 06:20 PM

Echo chop saw???

An innovator and not afraid to stand alone.

Bill Schwab 02-08-2004 06:29 PM

It amazes me that for years contractors used bader boards, string lines, and simple sight levels, they worked fine, and if you consdier the time taken to set those boards, and use the site level, then consider the cost of a low cost lazer, it would take 4 years to recover the cost of the lazer if you know what you are doing with the site level and bader boards.

We save about .25 man hours per 1000 sq ft of paving, and .10 man hours per 100 ft of wall base course. Do the math and you have quite a bit of time to save before the lazer pays fopr itself. Why we got one? I was at a Navy auction and saw a Leica lazer with case and tripod come over the block...Got it for $75.00.

Should have had one years ago, but, the old reliable method my uncle and grandfather used was just fine. Bottom line, make due with what you have, master it, and when you can afford an upgrade, go for it!

diginahole 02-08-2004 06:44 PM

I took the Echo on trade for a job for a supplier. Brave? Maybe but Echo has a pretty good reputation. If I actually had to pull the cash out of my walllet I'd have chosen another Partner.

PSUscaper 02-08-2004 07:07 PM

One of the biggest things I use my laser for is on estimates.

Whenever were doing a larger patio with grade changes/steps from the wall/drainage issues, I find the laser invaluable.

You can set it up in minutes and take a few quick elevation shots. Therefore, you don't take guesses at what you will be doing if you get the job.

In my estimate, I can be assure that 6 steps are needed......not 7 or 8. I can also be assured that if I'm doing a raised patio I need to bring in 30 yards of QP......not 20.

Bringing the laser along can pay for itself in one estimate if you are involved in a larger project. Adding a extra course to that raised patio can add up FAST!

chesie 02-08-2004 08:51 PM

Pennscapes- you brought up the exact point i was going to. This is where it has saved us big $. It is invaluable in these situations of estimating.

cutntrim 02-08-2004 09:34 PM

I appreciate the replies. Being that I barely have any experience in setting grades period...I think I'm leaning towards embracing the most "up-to-date" methods/equipment I can.

Sounds as if most are either using lasers now, or gradually moving towards using them in the near future. Granted, as I mentioned, the projects I'll be accepting will be small, but it sounds as if a relatively inexpensive (yet still useful) laser can be found at places like Home Cheapo.

I've got a course at Landscape Ontario next week on Grading & Drainage, so I'm hoping to not only get more insight into "what" tools to use for grading...but also "how" to use them.

jwholden 02-08-2004 09:44 PM

What do the lazers that run 1200-1500 and over have that the lazers that run 700-800 don't? I'm sure MANY on the site would like to know what to look for in a lazer.

The basic ones seem to be a revolving lazer and reciever unit. Pretty basic. Does more bling get you more feautures, is it more durable, does it just depend on the brand?

Do you really need a remote control to turn a lazer on and off?

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