Cable Installation Gun (LaserLine)
Not many think shooting a gun can reduce labor costs. However, that is exactly the claim made by LaserLine, a tool for shooting pull lines over long distances. The company claims to make quick and easy work of a difficult and labor-intensive task, but is the product more gimmick than utility? In this note, we examine the gun to see if it delivers on the claim.
From the manufacturer's website, the LaserLine was developed by a cable installer seeking to find an easier way to run pull string over long distances. The resulting product was a modified paintball marker, designed to launch special foam projectiles up to 120 feet in a single shot. The LaserLine Gun, complete with aiming laser, line spool, and foam dart is shown in the image below:
The Bullet Points
Learning to load, prime, and fire the gun is a straightforward process, similar to shooting a BB gun. The manufacturer suggests wearing eye protection at all times when handling the weapon, and keeping the tool 'on safe' until ready to fire. Notable product specs include:
- Special Ammo: LaserLine shoots foam darts attached to matching 1200' spools of nylon pullstring. Custom dart is designed to play out nylon string without changing direction of fired dart.
- Common Propellant: Standard 12-gram CO2 cartridges provide 6-12 shots before reloads are needed.
- Easy to Aim: Laser viewpointer aids shooting lines over long distances.
- Soft Projectiles: Foam tipped projectile will not damage ductwork or other fixtures if struck by dart.
- Cost: The Unit costs ~$250 and includes replacement string, cartridges and darts. Replacement 1200' Nylon Spools cost $7.50 each, and replacement CO2 cartridges (commonly available at Sporting Goods stores) cost around $5 each.
Watch the interesting promotional video below:
Running cables in plenum, drop ceiling grids, or open trusswork is often difficult using traditionl installation methods like fiberglass rods and fishtape. Working to run cable overhead of machinery or storage racks can be especially hazardous, given the area immediately overhead is often blocked from access by ladder or lift. These obstructed areas can be simply bypassed by shooting the LaserLine's lead over them.
Additionally, shooting a pull line takes far less time and money than manually snaking or fishing a pull line overhead. When considering the cost of replacement materials, each shot of the LaserLine cost about $1.50 each, while the manual equivalent run could require up to 1 - 2 hours of manpower costing between $40 - $100.
Clearly, shooting LaserLine's dart in an open span takes skill. Even in this demo video, the dart does not make it the full length of the intended shot before hitting a beam and falling. The smooth bore of the gun, coupled with a slightly bent dart could send the pull line off in an unintended direction, and no method of adjusting the line once shot is possible. Correcting an errant shot means cutting the line and reloading the gun for another try, which can be costly and use up replacement supplies quickly.
Furthermore, the gun is not suitable to shoot into common pathways like EMT or conduit or around bends and path shifts. Unlike the 'hands on' manual method afforded by using pull rods and tape, LaserLine's path is uncontrolled after leaving the muzzle.
Every cable installer is faced with the issue LaserLine addresses. However several less expensive, and arguably more effective, methods of running pull string exist. For example, many installers attach pull string leads to tennis balls and toss them through overhead spaces. Other methods including slingshots [link no longer available], magnetic leads, conduit vacuum attachments, and telescoping pull rods may still be required for tight spaces or cable paths not suited for the LaserLine.
Admittedly, though, if you want to combine target practice and cable installation into a single activity, this is a compelling product.