I needed to rehang a whole room of pictures and wanted it to look like it wasn’t done by a monkey with a hammer. This meant I needed a way to mark the bottom of the frames so they lined up nicely with each other. Sure, I could have done it by eye, or with a level and some tape, but I wanted to try out one of the many homeowner laser levels on the market. I choose one of the least expensive options: the Ryobi AirGrip Laser Level.
The Ryobi AirGrip is designed to stick to wall by continuously running a vacuum pump, but there are times when the non-marring rubber base won’t make a good seal with the wall. Ryobi includes a mounting aid for these occasions, a foam rubber ring that you place under the vacuum base to make a better seal.
The body of the AirGrip has two bubble vials, one for vertical level one for horizontal. These vials help you align the laser beam so it is level or plumb on the wall. The laser itself has a stated accuracy of 1/2″ at 20 ft, and the beam should travel at least 30 ft before diffusing too much to be usable.
Both the laser and the vacuum pump are powered by the same 2 AAA batteries, which can be replaced by removing the front shroud. If you look close enough, Ryobi thoughtfully molded the polarity of the batteries into the plastic.
I know the AirGrip Laser Level has gone through at least one iteration, the older, bulkier version is shown above. There is also an old Ryobi blue version of the current model that you can still find hiding in a few places, but as far as I can tell the specs are the same as the current model.
The old AirGrip was built on an oval vacuum mount and required a rotating laser turret to position it. The new AirGrip’s circular vacuum mount allows you to rotate the entire unit on the wall, eliminating the need for the turret. But this can make adjusting the angle of the laser tricky on a surface where it has a marginal grip.
You can pick up the neon green AirGrip Laser Level for $20 at your local Home Depot.
Buy Now (via Home Depot)
Will It Stick?
This was my biggest question before buying the Ryobi AirGrip Laser Level: what surfaces will it stick to, if any? I had read several reviews saying it didn’t stick to the customers’ walls, that it was too loud, and other horror stories. So I decided to create a simple chart of the surfaces to which the AirGrip will stick to:
|WILL Stick||Stick with Ring||WON’T Stick|
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it should give you a rough idea where the AirGrip will work and where it won’t. Generally, it should stick to non-porous surfaces, and you might have some success with some porous ones. It won’t have an easy time sticking to very porous or textured surfaces.
How Long Will It Stick?
Another question that I wanted to answer was: “how long do the batteries last?” The manual claims that the vacuum can last for 2.5 hours of continuous use and the laser will last for 1 hour.
Using Kirkland-branded AAA alkaline batteries for the test, I stuck the AirGrip to the wall and started the timer. Every 15 minutes I’d take it off the wall and replace it in a new location. After 15 minutes, it was performing normally. After 30 minutes, the laser dimmed noticeably and I had trouble getting the AirGrip to stick to the wall again. After 45 minutes, I couldn’t get the AirGrip to stick to the wall at all.
I’m not exactly sure how Ryobi tested for 2.5 hours of continuous use, but maybe they used an ideal least-porous surface and never moved the AirGrip, but that doesn’t seem like a real world test. Still, 30-minutes with a couple of moves and constant use of the laser should be plenty enough for many around-the-home projects.
How Loud Is It?
As mentioned, I had read several reviews saying the AirGrip was too loud. While we were hanging up the pictures, my wife said the Airgip was annoyingly noisy, but since I’m used to working with dust collection running, the noise didn’t bother me.
I used the same Sound Meter app on my phone that I used on the Ryobi Vacuum Review post to get an idea of how loud the AirGrip really was. Keep in mind this isn’t a calibrated SPL meter, it’s only really accurate enough to get you a ballpark measurement.
The AirGrip starts out louder, but quickly settles down to around 60dB. On the other hand, my 8 year old son registered about 75 dB when he tried talking to me when I was taking readings.
Although the AirGrip Laser Level did help me get all the pictures hung at the same height, the buzzing sound annoyed my wife. While I didn’t run out of juice for that particular task because I used it sparingly, the longevity testing showed that it just doesn’t have the battery life for a longer project.
My dog ate the mounting aid/ring, so I’m out of luck if I need to use the AirGrip on any of the surfaces that needed its assistance. I really don’t like the idea that you need an easily lost accessory for the product to perform properly on some common household surfaces.
So for small projects where you’re working by yourself and don’t have another set of hands to hold a level for you, the Ryobi AirGrip might have a place. If you need a guide line for tiling your bathroom, I’d invest in more expensive tripod laser level.