Tape Measure – Secrets, Tricks & How-to

We showcase features of the tape measure you may not have noticed in the course of your normal usage.

One of the many maker YouTube channels we follow is Leah Bolden’s See Jane Drill. Leah is a seasoned building contractor and educator who has taken to YouTube to teach people how to make and fix things. The show’s stated mission is “to take the mystery out of all things mechanical, so that people can fix, renew, and restore their own stuff. Her latest episode showcases features of the tape measure you may not have noticed in the course of your normal usage. We break it down for you.

1. Slot in the Hook = A Nail Grab

Pull a tape measure out and the first thing you will notice is a slot in the end hook area. This is not a design but a feature. That slot is there to grab on to the head of a nail or screw and secure one end of the tape. The nail grab comes in handy when you don’t have anyone to hold the other end of the tape.

Picture courtesy: DIY House Help

2. Serrated Edge in the Hook = A Scribing Tool

Have you noticed the serrated edge at the bottom end of the hook on your tape measure? Well, that’s meant to be a scribing tool. If you’re using the measure and don’t have a pencil at hand, you can press this edge into the surface, scrape it back and forth, and make a mark.

3. Back & Forth Movement of the Hook = True Zero Feature

Many people want to fix a bad tape measure because the end of it is loose. Well, it’s like that for a reason. You’ll also notice that the first inch on the tape measure is not a full inch. Its shorter by a sixteenth of an inch or so. This is in order to account for the thickness of the hook. When you butt the end of the tape against a wall for an inside measurement, that hook is compressing by the thickness of the hook itself. Conversely, when you hook it onto something for an outside measurement, it’s expanding by the width of the hook. So always make sure to pull the tape taut when making an outside measurement to make sure the end hook is fully extended. And hey don’t get fancy and try to fix the ‘loose’ end, since then your tape would only work for one kind of measurement, at best.

4. Case of the Tape Measure = Inside Measurement Aide

The base of a tape measure’s case always has a number on it indicating the exact length of its base. Knowing this, you can use the case itself while taking inside measurements instead of having to bend the tape into a 90-degree angle and then guessing the exact measurement. Just take the case all the way to the corner, make a note of the visible measurement on the tape and add the length of the case to it.

Other Pro-tips

Courtesy: Home Improvement Blog

a. The End of the Hook:
The hook end of a measuring tape can get bent over time, and it’s easy to fix that by using a pair of pliers. They are designed to be adjusted, but should you break off the tip, it’s probably time to get a new tape measure.

b. Improving the Tape Measure’s Longevity:
To avoid having to recalibrate all the time, don’t allow your tape measure to retract at full speed and smack the hook against the case. Develop the habit of stopping the end against your thumb instead of the case itself, which is a good incentive to slow down before you take your finger off.

c. Burn an Inch:
If you are transferring measurements between people using different tape measures for precision work, and you haven’t had time to calibrate each of the tapes, you should burn an inch or a cm, or more. This is also useful when you need to measure something that you can’t hook the tape measure onto. To burn an inch, you just line up one end on the 1″ mark (or 10″ or 1′ depending on your preference) and then measure the span from that point. Then be sure to subtract the extra from your measurement or be consistent and burn the same amount everywhere.

d. Measuring Long Spans:
When you need to measure a long span it can be hard to tell sometimes if you have the tape straight, and just a slight angle can add inches to a measurement. The solution to that is to hook the dummy end, then sweep the smart end up and down and find the point where the measurement is the shortest… that’s your true measurement.

e. Using the Nail Grab to Scribe a Circle:
The Nail and Screw Grab can also be used to scribe a circle. Because the slot in the grab feature can turn on a nail or screw head, you can use it to act as the center-point when scribing a circle. If you hold the end hook grab on a centered nail or screw head and hold a pen, pencil, or scribe against the far end of the tape measure, you can draw out a circle at a desired radius.

f. Mark Your Measurements with a V:
When you make a measurement, and especially when you mark it, make sure the side of the tape is flat against the surface where you mark it. The tape is naturally cupped out from the surface, so just give it a twist to get one edge flat against the surface. Also mark your measurement on a board with a V point since you can be sure that this point is correct. Without the second line and the point, someone could use the wrong end of your mark and cut the wrong length.

g. Reading Upside Down:
When possible, try to keep your tape measure right side up. When that’s not possible, realize that the 59″ you just measured may have actually been 65″, so double check. This goes double when you are adding on fractions of an inch, if you’re upside down, maybe you should be subtracting them?

h. Accurate Inside Measurements:
When you are measuring between two inside corners, you can’t get the tape all the way into the corner for a good measurement. Many people will bend the tape into the corner as tight as they can and then guess what’s left. The easier way is to take two inside measurements. On one side, measure out a few inches and make a mark. Then measure from your mark to the other side and add the two measurements together. For example, measure 6″ from one side and make a mark. And then measure from the left side to your mark. Then simply add 6″ to the measurement to get the final result.

i. Marking Lines for Cutting:
See this Q&A extract on how to mark your measurement for accurate cuts:

Q. In theory, to cut a 350mm piece out of a longer board, I would have to mark the line at 350mm + half of blade width. So if I have a 2mm hand saw, the line would be drawn at 351mm. How does that work in practice? Should blade wiggle be taken into account? Is it even reasonable to expect such precision in home conditions?

A1. Yes, you might want the highest precision possible – for example when you build furniture which benefits greatly from precise cuts. The most convenient way would be to draw the line that will signify the edge of the piece you want cut so that the blade cuts the line and whatever material is on the far side of the raw board. Something like this:

 |the detail you want|line|remaining material| |                   |blade cuts here|

This is quite easily achieved with power saws even without a guide and will be more of a challenge with hand saws.

A2. You’re looking for a precision cut, with a non-precision tool.

It’s better to cut the piece slightly larger than what you need, and sand/plane to the final dimensions. This will allow you to compensate for blade wiggle, blade bevel, human error, chip out, etc.

The old adage should go Measure twice, cut once, sand to fit.

j. Inch Marks:
All those lines between the inch mark are measuring fractions of an inch. That longest line in the middle, that’s a half inch. The next longest line, between the half mark and the ends of the inch are the 1/4 and 3/4 marks. Between the 1/4 and 1/2 mark, the next longest would be the 3/8 mark, since the 2/8 is 1/4 and the 4/8 is 1/2.

k. Studs & Diamonds:
A lot of tape measures will have marks for measuring studs at 16 and joists at 19.2. Studs are typically spaced 16 OC (that’s on center or from the center of one stud to the center of the next stud, not the gap between the studs). Note that the second stud in the wall is installed 16 from the end of the wall, not from the center of the first stud. Also note that you may have additional studs at other points, like the opposite end of the wall, doors and windows, and where other walls intersect.

Studs are 16″ OC (Picture courtesy: Home Improvement Blog)

Joists are 19.2″ OC; see the black diamond (Picture courtesy: Home Improvement Blog)

Lesser known than the studs is the 19.2 joist measurement. Like studs, they are spaced with OC measurements. The reason for this odd 19.2 measurement is similar to the reason for the 16 stud measurement; it divides evenly into an 8 span, which is typical for American building materials. A 4’x8 piece of plywood or OSB will span 6 joists, and a 4’x8 piece of drywall will span 7 studs (or 4 studs if you’re hanging vertically). If the math looks funny to you, make sure you remembered to count the first stud/joist at the 0 mark.

For those wondering what studs and joists are, do check this video:

l. Converting a Tape Measure for use as a Plumb Bob Holder:
Surveyors and others checking for plumb know how frustrating a tangled plumb bob string can be. An old, retractable measuring tape can come to the rescue and be converted for use as a plumb bob holder. A weight used to measure plumb, or vertical straightness, is attached to a string that can become easily tangled. Pull the measuring tape all the way out and remove it from its attachment hook while holding firmly to the hook to prevent it from retracting. Tie the plumb bob string onto the hook and allow the mechanism to retract. Your plum bob string is now organized and protected and ready for its next use. (Hat tip: eHow)

m. Tape Measure Age Trick:
You can calculate age from year of birth or the reverse without the use of mathematical computation. All you need is a measuring tape. Watch how.

n. Just for fun:
You may want to try these some time.

Nimish Adani

I am the founder & CEO of Engrave. I started off in 2011 with a workshop that engraved photos for customers on to wooden plaques. Soon, we were making plaques, nameplates, canvas prints, decals and dozens of other products for thousands of customers. To help us make these items, we engaged a group of dedicated craftsmen. By 2015, 3 of our dedicated craftsmen had built their own workshops, employing between 6-10 people. By showcasing their skills on a digital platform, these craftsmen had turned into successful entrepreneurs. This success motivated me to transform Engrave in to a platform which could help thousands of Indian artisans and craftspersons - and this lead to the launch of the maker's market in 2015.

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