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December 2008
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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.

4 comments to Tape Measure Secrets #1

  • Z

    I don’t know where I found your blog, but I wanted to let you know that it’s been a great (in my top 5) source for remodeling information, general tips-n-tricks, etc. I’m remodeling my house myself since I can’t afford contractors and I’m too g-d picky about stuff to let someone else screw it up. As my dad always says “Might as well try doing it yourself, you can always pay someone to fix it if you can’t”.

    This post about tape measures is a prime example of why I really like your writing. Illustrative, demonstrative, useful, concise and clearly written about an extremely simple procedure. Tips’n’Tricks posts completely fascinate me as they’re glimpses into the methods that highly skilled/experienced people have devised to make their repetitive tasks faster, easier, better.

    Anyhow, keep it up, you’re doing a wonderful job. If you were only closer to DC, I’d love to work with someone of your skill and intelligence…

    And if you’re ever in DC, beer is on me. I owe you at least that for all the random stuff I’ve learned from you.

    Thanks again,

  • Z,
    Thanks for stopping by and the kind words.

  • Kent

    I gave up on American measurements with tape measures several years ago for my occasional carpentry work, and switched to metric.

    It’s FAR easier to measure and say “165.73” and “166.85” than to code/decode and measure stuff like “65 and 2″ and “65 and 5 strong”.

    And if you need to cut it exactly in half? “166.85 divided by 2 is .. half of 16 is 8 .. half of 6 is 3 .. 4 .. 2 and a half equals 83.43.” Much easier than “half of 65 is 32 and … let’s see a half in sixteenths would be 8/16ths, and add half of 11/16ths is approximately 5/16s, so 8 + 5 is 13, equals 32 and 13/16ths.”

    Perhaps there’s some esoteric reason why metric would not work for professional carpenters, but my dad and I just built a 320 sq. ft screened-in porch this summer using metric. When the project started, he kept trying to use American measurements, but it didn’t take long before metric became the dominant tool for the job. It greatly aided in precision, and reduced calculation errors.

  • Wow dude, this is really helpful information, much appreciated.