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How to Setup Total Station?

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A total station is an electronic/optical instrument used in modern surveying. The total station is an electronic theodolite (transit) integrated with an electronic distance meter (EDM) to read slope distances from the instrument to a particular point.


Setting Up Tripod and Levelling Total Station

This can be one of the most time consuming procedures in surveying, and one of the most crucial. Any error in setting up the tripod is carried through the entire survey. Generally small setup errors (1 or 2 mm) are not a problem because they are non-systematic, and the EDM on Total Stations have an error or 3-5 mm. We suggest the following procedure.

Step 1 : Setup tripod

Open up the tripod and extend the legs. Adjust the approximate height so that the total station will be at eye level. Set one leg on the ground. This will be the “anchor” leg, and should not be adjusted in the following procedure. Holding the other two tripod legs, and keeping the anchor leg in the same position, move the tripod until the plum bob (or optical plumit) is over the point. Do not worry about having the tripod level. When you are over the point, anchor the two remaining legs. You should still be exactly over your point. We suggest that you attach a tribrac to the tripod, and use one of the reflector posts – these contain an optical plumit.



  • Tripod legs should be equally spaced
  • Tripod head should be approximately level
  • Head should be directly over survey point




Step 2: Mount Instrument on Tripod

total station


  • Place Instrument on Tripod
  • Secure with centering screw while bracing the instrument with the other hand
  • Insert battery in instrument before leveling




Step 3 : Focus on Survey Pointtotal-station


  • Focus the optical plummet on the survey point





Step 4 : Leveling the Instrument

levelling the totalstation

  • Leveling the Total Station must be accomplished to sufficient accuracy otherwise the instrument will not report results
  • Make sure you can see all targets from the instrument station before going through the process
  • Adjust the leveling foot screws to center the survey point in the optical plummet reticle
  • Center the bubble in the circular level by adjusting the tripod legs
  • Loosen the horizontal clamp and turn instrument until plate level is parallel to 2 of the leveling foot screws
  • Center the bubble using the leveling screws- the bubble moves toward the screw that is turned clockwise
  • Rotate the instrument 90 degrees and level using the 3rd leveling screw


  • Observe the survey point in the optical plummet and center the point by loosening the centering screw and sliding the entire instrument
  • After re-tightening the centering screw check to make sure the plate level bubble is level in several directions

 Electronically Verify Levelingelectronic-levelling-stup

  • Turn on the instrument by pressing and holding the “on” button (you should hear an audible beep)
  • The opening screen will be the “MEAS” screen. Select the [Tilt] function
  • Adjust the foot level screws to exactly center the electronic “bubble”
  • Rotate the instrument 90 degrees and repeat




Step 6: Adjust Image & Reticle Focus


  • Release the horizontal & vertical clamps and point telescope to a featureless light background
  • Adjust the reticle (i.e. cross-hair) focus adjustment until reticle image is sharply focused
  • Point telescope to target and adjust the focus ring until target is focused
  • Move your head from side-to-side to test for image shift (i.e. parallax). Repeat the reticle focus step if parallax is significant
  • NOTE: When the instrument operator changes the reticle focus may need to be adjusted

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