Have you seen the light? - Woodshop News

Have you seen the light?

Laser measuring and templating solutions that sure beat the old ways
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Next time you see a guy in a toga with his forearm resting on a cabinet, don’t assume he’s on his way home from a frat party. He may in fact be an ancient Roman doing some measuring. They used the distance from their elbow to the tip of their longest finger as a unit of length, and called that a cubit.

There’s a new version of the Cubit now. It comes from a company called Plott (letsplott.com/cubit), which has offices in Dover, N.J. The new Cubit looks like a traditional tape measure but it has a camera, a laser and a design tool on board. Plus, it connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and transmits all kinds of information in real time. There’s a downloadable app that functions as a design center, letting a cabinetmaker take photos of an actual space and then use ‘mixed reality’ to get the feel for how a final project will look. One can even add photos of features with actual background dimensions – details such as cabinets, windows, doors and more. The images can be easily manipulated and used to give clients an accurate idea of what a space will look like after the work is done. Cubit is very precise, requires no math and uses two lasers to measure up to 100’ in two directions (height and width) simultaneously. The company also makes a next generation measuring wheel for larger projects.

Stanley’s TLM99. 

Stanley’s TLM99. 

A little less sophisticated but still stretching the tech envelope is the Rollbot from iGaging (igaging.com). This is a mechanical tool that uses a serrated ring around its circular edge to roll like a wheel across surfaces, and the measurements appear in a digital readout on the front of the ‘tape’. It can measure linear dimensions (the length of a board), area (the square inches of a board face), board feet, round areas and even the diameters of cylinders such as turning blanks. It can also measure from one end of an inside shelf to the other simply by adding its own dimension to the measurement. The Rollbot can handle dimensions up to 144”.

General Tools & Instruments (generaltools.com) has an interesting two-in-one 50’ laser tape measure called the LTM1 that takes over-the-counter batteries. Equipped with a digital display, it looks every bit like a traditional tape measure, and indeed it is exactly that, plus a bit more. One can use the 16’ physical, metal tape for shorter measurements, and the 50’ laser for long distances. Measuring just 3-1/4” x 3”, and just 1-3/4” thick, it’s the perfect size for a belt hook or a toolbelt pocket and the fairly large digital readout is a handy way to avoid the hazards of aging eyes. It’s available through the company’s online store for $29.99.

A similar product, the DTAPE, seems to be difficult to find in stores other than Amazon. Listed at $35.97, it gets good reviews and offers both the physical tape measure (16’) and a 131’ laser range finder. Its Li-Ion battery is USB rechargeable and the housing is IP54 waterproof. The DTAPE can run at full power for up to five hours.

Then there’s the eTape16 (etape16.com) from inventor Stephen Crane. It combines a traditional tape with a digital readout, which converts to inches, centimeters, feet and inches, fractions and decimals at a touch of a button.

Templating solutions

Woodshops primarily use high-tech measuring devices for templating countertops, measuring rooms and walls for cabinets, and ocassionally locating shop-built features (arches, gazebos and the like) in outdoor locations. Sometimes, the same tool can be used for both indoor and outdoor work, and it’s just paired with different software for each. It may, for example, be able to measure the layout for a foundation outdoors, and then be used to input data indoors to create an accurate map of a countertop.

The Cubit.

The Cubit.

TackLife TM-L01.

TackLife TM-L01.

Stanley’s 16’ laser tape.

Stanley’s 16’ laser tape.

One of the more familiar names in this field is the Swiss manufacturer Leica Geosystems. A woodworker can use any Windows device to operate the company’s 3D Disto measuring device. The Leica app automatically carries out complicated calculations and supplies relevant information. One also sees directly what has been measured, either as a live image supplied by the integrated camera, or as a 3D model. The device can also be integrated with software such as Cabinet Vision to do point-and-click room measurements. It can then automatically create machine ready G-Code for CNC flat table routers, point-to-point machines, panel saws, drill and dowel machines, chop saws and other specialized CNC machinery.

The Leica utility within Cabinet Vision is an easy to use dialog box that walks you through each point measurement to take in the room. Simply point the laser at the desired location, then click on the button in Cabinet Vision to take that measurement. As measurements are taken, Cabinet Vision automatically draws the walls and places doors, windows, light switches, electrical outlets, and other items. By eliminating the task of manually entering data, the seamless link saves time, eliminate errors, and ensure that measurements are correct.

Another high-tech Leica device, the BLK3D, captures 3D measurements from 2D photographs using stereo-photogrammetry and edge computing. It lets a woodworker take a picture on the jobsite and then take measurements from that back in the shop when the drawings are under way. The company also offers small handheld devices for all kinds of woodshop measuring including the Disto D2 and a number of apps.

Woodworkers who already own a Leica measuring device can enhance its performance by adding Measure Manager software from ETemplate to create a complete measuring system. The company (etemplatesystem.com) in Raleigh, N.C. offers Measure Manger 3D, which creates ‘intelligent’ CAD/BIM models that are friendly to CAD solid modelers, cabinet design software, and other design software solutions. And the 2D option is widely used for countertop templating. It automatically draws a digital template as the space is being measured. The user predefines standard specifications as defaults in the software that may be modified as needed based on customer specifications.

Rollbot from iGaging.

Rollbot from iGaging.

Laser Products Industries (LPI) in Romeoville, Ill. offers the LT-2D3D laser templator, which automatically draws countertops as points are measured. From there, fabrication can be done manually with a plotter or digitally to a CNC. LPI offers both onsite and online training.

Multifunction lasers

DeWalt (dewalt.com) offers a wide range of laser-based measuring devices including the new DW0330S Tool Connect. This handheld captures distances up to 330 feet and its large color screen makes it easy to view measurements and calculate area and volume. This device is compatible with the company’s Tool Connect app, which lets a woodworker capture measurements, mark up photos, and create and export projects.

Leica’s 3D Disto.

Leica’s 3D Disto.

Among the large family of Blaze laser measuring devices from Bosch Tools USA (boschtools.com) is the GLM 40 X. It receives very high user review ratings and will not only measure distances, but also calculate area and volume. Its handy pocket-size design makes it easy to use and carry anywhere. And its rectangular shape means that the unit will remain steady while on any flat surface. This device delivers accuracy to roughly 1/16” in a range of up to 135 feet. It will store up to 10 measurements and runs on two AAA batteries.

The TLM99 laser distance measurer from Stanley (stanleytools.com) allows one person to take measurements without assistance. This tool measures up to 100 feet and provides accurate readings to about 3/32”. It measures distance, area and volume, has a continuous measurement tracking function, does addition/subtraction, and also runs on two AAA batteries.

LT-2D3D from Laser Products Industries.

LT-2D3D from Laser Products Industries.

Offerings from Tacklife (tacklifetools.com) includes the two-in-one tape model TM-L01. It combines a 131’ laser measure with a 16’ tape measure. It has a self-calibration for distance (you can choose to measure from either the front or back, to include the dimension of the tool in an inside measurement). Tacklife also offers a couple of very inexpensive laser measures, including the Classic (196’) for $49.99 and Pro (165’) for $36.

Other brands worth researching for laser-based and digital measuring devices are Acegmet, AdirPro, Aomaso, DBPower, ieGeek, Lexivon, Lomvum, MiLeseey, Mulwark, and Suaoki.

For shop owners considering a laser-based templating option, revist the “Do we still need to measure twice” article in the October 2018 issue of Woodshop News that explores the options in a little more detail. Search for “measure twice” at woodshopnews.com

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.

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