Surveyors tools are basically any device that doesn't necessarily require a specialized skill set to use. A total station is a very sophisticated device that takes extensive training and knowledge to operate with the degree of precision required to meet the standards expected by either legal restrictions and regulations, the client, or both.
Given the distinction, there is a difference between the strict definition of a tool and an instrument; both will be examined. One of the reasons is the blurring of the line between the tool and the instrument with the advance of technology. Stadia rods – also called boards – are now very sophisticated prism reflectors or direct-reading laser boards and no longer simple calibrated measuring sticks.
All 50 states in the USA require surveyors to be tested and licensed. The actual license is not achieved until the apprenticeship program – usually four years – and at least a bachelor's degree in surveying or closely-related academic degree, are completed and a second test administered to determine if the licensee is qualified. The licensed surveyor is the one who uses the instrument. The apprentice – also called the “chainman” as a vestige of the old profession – is the one who uses the tools.
There are a number of traditional tools that are needed by the surveyor, and will continued to be needed in the foreseeable future. They include stakes, sledge hammers, drills, and the usual familiar hand tools required to keep things in operable and serviceable condition. Basically, any tool used by a forester will also be part of the chainman's tool kit. This includes a number of brush cutting and clearing tools to ensure a clean line-of-sight to the surveying instruments.
Surveyor-specific tools include: levels of several types, including mechanical and optical; transits – including pocket transits as well as optical and laser styles; the plane or map table with several different alidade types; theodolites – both optical and laser; electronic distance measuring equipment, Global Positioning System, electronic data collectors, hand-held calculators – including computerized data collectors; computer and satellite radio and GPS interfaces; prism and mirror reflectors; rods and stadia boards; surveyor's measuring tapes; plumb bobs – including low-light or miner's plumb bobs as well as laser plumb devices, and a variety of recording equipment from the simplest chalks and keels, to pencils and notebooks. Not to be overlooked are trig tables, slide rules, mapping tools, and other text or paper-based media when the machines fail for one reason or another.
Computer hardware and software is becoming more and more prevalent in the surveying business. It is not uncommon to see instruments with Bluetooth wireless enabled interfaces. Older RS-232 – otherwise known as the serial or parallel ports on legacy computers – technology for data download and transfer are available, however, there may be specialized software required. Some of the more expensive total stations have special cables, however, they are supported by a number of MS Windows operating systems. Before considering the significant capital investment in a total station solution, ensure there is a modern and user-friendly interface for your preferred or specified laptop computer. If the application is going to entail rugged conditions and marginal terrain, a wireless solution is highly desirable.
Expense is always a consideration. Many long-time licensed professionals prefer to use their own equipment, however, the chainman or journeyman will usually use what is provided by the employer. In the case of the Geodetic Survey Service, for example, instruments will be provided by the government that simply are not available to the average land surveyor. Some third-party government contractors will have the instruments and tools specified in the contract which must be used in order to stay in compliance with the terms of the contract.