Tools & Materials
Ultimate Tape Measure Guide
Here’s our one-stop guide to all things concerning tape measures, from product feature recommendations to tradesman tips and tricks.
Which is the best tape measure for you?
There’s more to your tape measure than you might guess. And there are more options available that you should know about before buying your next one. Keep reading to learn all about one of our most used tools the tape measure. You’ll also pick up a few tips and tricks as well.
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 Husky, Kobalt, Lufkin and other brands.
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
They grab better and catch on all four sides of the hook. But 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. But 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-in. increments, some in 1/32-in. 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 ft. or 6 ft., 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-ft. or over category are 1 in. wide. Stiffer blades are 1/16 in. to 1/4 in. wider than that.
Nothing wrecks a tape measure faster than working in dirt and sand. The innards get jammed up and the blade won’t slide in or out. So reserve a shabby old tape for down-in-the-dirt jobs. Thankfully, modern tapes like Milwaukee’s STUD tape measures are getting more and more resistent to dirt, debris, and drops.
Remove the belt clip
Lots of pros immediately unscrew the clip when they get a new tape. A clipless tape slips smoothly in and out of your tool belt.
The hook is supposed to be sloppy
We’ve heard that some pros hammer the hook rivets to tighten them. Bad idea. The hook needs 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.
Wrap it around anything round and instead of the circumference, you get the diameter. Even Pythagoras couldn’t do it that fast. Search online for “diameter tape measure”
Just measure the overall length with the upper scale, then go to that same measurement on the lower scale to find the halfway point. No need to divide fractions! Search online for “self centering tape measure” to find lots of models ($10 and up).
You already know that the highlighted numbers (16, 32, 48…) are for laying out studs, joists or rafters every 16 in. But what’s the deal with those little diamonds or triangles? They’re “truss marks” for 19.2-in. layouts (which save on framing materials). Never heard of that? Don’t worry. Lots of carpenters haven’t either.