Tape Measure

Does your tape measure up?

Taking proper measurements is key to getting a project completed accurately and on time. Thus, there are few tools more important than the tape measure, which will help any handyman get things right the first time. Simply put, the tape measure is a flexible ruler—those most used on home or commercial construction projects are of the self-retracting variety, which means they extend from a palm-sized aluminum base and can slide back in to save space.

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The tape measure has been around a long time—more than a century and a half. Most sold in the United States display inches and feet, although of course there are metric tape measures widely available, too.

Tips for Using a Tape Measure

While they really are quite simple tools, it's important for every amateur handyman or woman to understand how to read a tape measure precisely. Most home and commercial projects run on tight budgets, and even the smallest measurement error can have serious—and costly¬—consequences.

One thing you want to do when using a tape measure is to make sure the tape itself is straight. If you're measuring the distance between two points and the line isn't straight, it can result in an incorrect measurement. Fortunately, the tape of a retractable tape measure is sturdy and often made of metal, which is really helpful in taking straight measurements over longer distances. Depending on the project, a level can also confirm if you're measuring straight.

Another good tip is to use the hook to your advantage. Most tape measures come with a small hook at one end of the tape, and if you're working alone, this can be really handy in getting a proper measurement. Just loop the end of the hook around something, like a wall corner or solid marker, and extend the tape measure, ensuring the tape line is straight. If you're working alone and this isn't convenient, consider purchasing either an electronic tape measure or a laser tape measure.

Finally, record all measurements as exactly as possible—don't estimate and don't round. Try to measure each dimension right down to the smallest lines on the tape, because what seems like an insignificantly small difference in a single number can turn into significantly big problems once that number gets multiplied by other dimensions, especially if they, too, have been slightly rounded.