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December 2008
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Tape Measure Secrets #2

In our previous episode I explained some basic details about tape measures. There is more.
Two Scales
Here is our tape measure tape. We will pick on 16''. The top scale measures by the foot. This gives a measurement of 1 foot 4 inches.

The bottom scale measures by the inch. Here we have 16 inches. So you will be able to translate between feet and inches quickly. This is helpful when you need a quick calculation of how many feet you need for a series of cabinets, or how much space you need for 6 rows of 7 inch tiles. 

Tape Measure Symbols


On the left is the foot guide, with a black arrow and reversed lettering to see at a glance how many feet  you are at.

In the center is the standard 16'' O.C. (on center layout/framing guide) On
this tape it is red with two little arrows to distinguish it from the
foot guide. The majority of wood and light gauge steel framing for residential construction
is still based on 16'' centers, this is a very handy guide. 

Almost  everything written, designed and built uses 16'' on center
for structure to finish calculations, and the vast majority of panel
products from are based on a 4 foot design. Most of the panel products
are 4×8', from plywood to drywall. There are exceptions, but the majority of you will never need them.

On the right is one of the weirdest things found on tape measures.

On the right is a little diamond at 19 1/4'' which is a little used measuring system called Optimum Value Engineering. 

OVE was a framing system developed by the Forest Products Laboratory about 20 years ago. The theory was that you could  design on a 2 foot module scheme, using studs at 24'' and floor joists and roofing at 19 1/4''. This does save on structure materials like studs, joists and rafters, but because of spacing and other engineering issues, sheathing materials and drywall needed to be thicker resulting in higher sheathing material costs. 

It was pretty much a wash, and in the two projects that I worked on years ago, it didn't seem to be all that optimum. 

Even with today's drive toward a greener building style, OVE is not ready for prime time, and the average houseblogger and remodeler, will not find it useful.

Here are some resources if you want to know more.

Sustainable Building Sourcebook

Advanced Framing Techniques: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE)

Google Search

Tape Measure Secrets #1

The tape measure is the most important tool in remodeling. With the big box stores you can buy and use the same tools the pros use. They come in various lengths and blade widths.
The  most useful size is either a 25' or a 30'. Buy 2 at a time.

The dumb end


This is the dumb end. All tape measures have a hook on the end. This one has three rivets holding the hook in place.  All of the hooks move. Your tape is not broken! This is deliberate. The hook has thickness and the movement is to allow you  to measure  inside or outside with the same tool.

You want to check that the tapes you buy have the same movement. While you are at the store making your choices pull out 4 or 5 feet and put two tapes side by side to insure that they read the same.

Early in my drywall days, my partner and I were dry walling an apartment building. He was measuring, I was cutting. I kept missing the boxes and my lengths were off. I had just bought my new tape the day before. It started getting heated between us, until we put our tapes side by side and checked them.
Mine turned out to be around 1/4'' short over 4'.  So I was consistently missing the cutouts for the electric boxes and the plumbing. On 12' sheets with a lot of cutouts, there was a lot of extra work for the tapers.

Buy buying 2 at a time, your partner can be marking while you are measuring, and you don't have to fight over who has the dumb end:)

First Look at the Blade

Tapemeasure2Here is a standard blade that is marked in inches, with 1/16'' precision. For remodeling or rough carpentry this is as precise as you will need. 

What the marks mean

Tapemeasure3 The graduations on this tape have consistent spacing but different heights. The shortest lines denote a 1/16''. the next taller set are 1/8'' marks, next are the 1/4'' and finally the 1/2''marks. You will pick this up quickly and be measuring with confidence in no time at all.

Talking Numbers

Now that you can read the tape, let's get comfortable talking numbers. Your partner is  in front of a wall measuring for the sheetrock/plywood/paneling that you are standing in front of, waiting for her  to call out measurements. For example you have a 13' wall and there is a 36'' doorway centered 8 feet from the corner. Approx. 10'' (65 3/8 – 65 5/8'') from the left side of the door opening is a plastic romex outlet box for a light switch. The box is 2 1/4'' wide x 3 3/4'' deep centered at 48''.

1/8'' Shorthand – Strong and Even

When measuring using an 1/8'' shorthand is quicker and easier, resulting in fewer mistakes.

Here is a quick example. You are hanging your drywall horizontally, and measuring from the left. First you do your horizontal measurements, then you do your verticals.

Measuring from the left your partner calls out 65 and 2, 67 and 5 strong, 77 even. You mark your sheet, from the left as she calls out the numbers.

65 and 2, is the left side of the outlet box, 67 and 5 strong, is the right side of the box and 77 even is the left side of the door opening. When you add the outlet numbers it comes out to 2 11/16'' which is 3/16'' larger giving you a bit of room in case the box isn't square or the corner is not plumb. If everything works, you will not need a drywall repair guide.

65 and 2 is actually 65 and 1/4'' or 65 and 2 eighths. Why would you say that? You only need 7 numbers to call instead of 16. Less confusion. 

65 and 5 strong is actually 65 and 11/16'' which is 65 and 5 eighth and 1/16th. the 1/16th inch being the strong. Using Strong indicates that you need a 1/16th more than the 5/8ths.

77 even means 77'' and no bits.

Then your partner starts from the right measuring down from the ceiling. 13 and 6, 46 even. You mark you sheet from the right as she reads her numbers.

13 and 6, is the depth of the top of your door frame.

46 even is the top of the electric box.

You now have 1/16'' precision with 7 numbers and 2 words that do not sound even close reducing confusion and speeding up production.