The Ultimate Guide to Tape Measures
Our one-stop guide to all things tape measures, from product recommendations to trade tips and tricks.
Do you want a magnetic hook?
Tiny, powerful "rare earth" magnets can turn your tape hook into a handy grabber, which is a nice added feature at no extra cost. Magnetized hooks are not for everybody, though, especially pros who like to keep their tape in the same pouch as nails or screws. Constantly having to brush stowaway metal bits off of your tape's magnetized hook can quickly turn this feature into an annoyance. 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, so 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. It's much more efficient to take the time to record measurements once rather than hoping you won't forget anything on the way to the saw. You can even make little dimensioned sketches as a reminder when cutting complex shapes out of plywood or drywall.
Big hooks are better
Larger hooks grab onto edges and lips better and can catch on all four sides of the hook. Of course, 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 of less detailed tasks found in the framing and masonry trades.
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. But for most jobs, 16ths are precise enough—and a lot easier to read. Unless you are planning on doing incredibly detailed work, take it easy on your eyes and look for tapes that have the standard markings at 1/16th-inch increments.
How to measure ceiling height with a tape measure
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. Now all you have to do is add the two measurements to get the exact ceiling height.
If you're building a wall with top and bottom wall plates and are measuring for stud height, stack two scraps of 2x4 under the board, then measure to the ceiling. Then, like before, add the measurements to find the exact stud length.
It's obvious that the greater the “stand-out” (the distance a tape can extend without folding), the farther you can reach to measure. 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 can a flimsy tape. Most pro-grade tapes list the stand-out on the packaging. We found most of those claims to be accurate and sometimes even understated. Manufacturers can 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.
Watch out for tape wreckers
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. That's why you should always keep a shabby old tape on hand for down-in-the-dirt jobs.
Remove the belt clip
Here's a secret: most tape measures aren't ready to use right when you buy them. In fact, the first thing you should do when you open the package on a shiny new tape measure is immediately unscrew the clip from its plastic housing. The clip on a tape measure, designed to clip onto standard belts, is completely redundant if you have a tool belt around your waist. A clipless tape slips smoothly in and out of the pouches of your belt without getting snagged on other tools or small objects.
The hook is supposed to be sloppy
We've heard horror stories that some people 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.
It shouldn't be a surprise that standard tape measures don't bend very well thanks to their aforementioned stiffness. That's where diameter tapes come in.Wrap a one of these tapes around a circular object and instead of the circumference you get the diameter. Even Pythagoras couldn't do it that fast.
You already know that the highlighted numbers on your tape (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? Turns out 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.