Tools & Materials
Ultimate Tape Measure Guide
Our one-stop guide to all things tape measures, from product recommendations to tradesman tips and tricks.
A built-in pickup tool
Tiny, powerful “rare earth” magnets turn your tape hook into a handy grabber, a nice feature at no extra cost. But it’s not for those who like to carry their tape in a nail pouch. Every time you grab your tape, a cluster of nails comes along with it. You’ll find magnetic hooks on tape measures from many popular brands, including this one from Klein Tools.
Make a tape measure notepad
It’s not easy to remember two or three measurements at once. Here’s a handy way to record them. Stick a piece of masking tape or even a sticky note on your tape measure and use it as a notepad. You can even make little dimensioned sketches for cutting complex plywood or drywall shapes.
Big hooks are better
Larger hooks grab better and can catch on all four sides of the hook. They can also catch where you don’t want them to, like inside vinyl siding channels, fencing, and even on your tool belt, and they’re clumsy for measuring into corners. Despite that, big hooks work great for many types of work like framing and masonry.
Some tapes make you squint
Some tapes are marked in 1/16-inch increments, some in 1/32-inch increments, and some have a combination of both. For most jobs, 16ths are precise enough—and a lot easier to read.
How to measure ceiling height
Here’s a handy way to measure the exact distance between the ceiling and the floor. Start by cutting a board to exactly 5 feet or 6 feet, whichever is closer to your eye level. Now hold the board vertically while you measure to the ceiling. Add the two measurements to get the exact ceiling height.
TIP: If you’re building a wall with top and bottom wall plates and are measuring for stud height, stack two scraps of 2×4 under the board, then measure to the ceiling. Add the measurements for the exact stud length.
The greater the “stand-out” (the distance a tape can extend without folding) the greater the measuring reach. But even for shorter measurements, a long-reach tape is easier to use. Because the blade is stiffer, you can handle it faster and with less care than you could a flimsy tape. Most pro-grade tapes list the stand-out on the packaging. We found most of those claims to be accurate andsometimes even understated. Manufacturers make the blade a lot stiffer by making it just a bit wider. Most blades in the 16-feet or over category are 1 inch wide. Stiffer blades are 1/16-inch to 1/4-inch wider than that.
Nothing wrecks a tape measure faster than working in dirt, water, and sand. All it takes is a little mud or grit and the innards get jammed up and the blade won’t slide in or out. Always keep a shabby old tape on hand for down-in-the-dirt jobs.
There’s a place in your shop for a peel-and-stick tape measure. Just remember that there are two kinds: left-to-right and right-to-left (like the one shown here).
The hook is supposed to be sloppy
We’ve heard that some pros hammer down the rivets on a tape measure to hold a hook tightly in place. This is a bad idea. The hook needs to be able to slide in just a little when you push it against something for an inside measurement and slide out when you hook onto something. That movement compensates for the thickness of the hook itself. It’s smart design, not a manufacturing defect. This extra-thick magnetic hook has elongated slots to allow for extra movement.
Fat tapes need a fat holster
If your not using a long reach tape right now, make sure you have a place in your pouch where it will fit. If you don’t you may have to add a separate pouch like this one.
Wrap a diameter tape around anything circular and instead of the circumference, you get the diameter. Even Pythagoras couldn’t do it that fast.
You already know that the highlighted numbers (16, 32, 48…) are for laying out studs, joists or rafters every 16 inches. But what’s the deal with those little diamonds or triangles? They’re “truss marks” for 19.2 inch layouts (which save on framing materials). Never heard of that? Don’t worry. Lots of carpenters haven’t either.