Master the Tape Measure Using These Simple Tips

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Why one should never use more than one tape measure or ruler during a specific project.

Everyone has heard the old carpenter’s advice about measuring twice and cutting once. Nevertheless, one can still measure wrong and waste materials if they haven’t mastered the tools they are using to take those measurements. In this article, I want to concentrate on the ubiquitous tape measure. The tape measure seems like a simple enough tool, right? Nevertheless, what you may not know is that all tape measures aren’t created equal. I have learned a few things through years of experience that may help keep you out of trouble when using the simple looking tape measure.

If you are anything like me, you have several measuring tapes in your toolbox that varies by manufacturer as well as by length. That can spell big trouble for you if you try and use more than one specific measuring tape on any one given projects. The markings on tape measures and rulers tend to vary from one manufacturer and another as do the accuracy of the markings on them. Like fingerprints, no two are ever exactly alike. So tip number one is, and this is one of the most important, use the same ruler or tape measure throughout a project. You never want to switch horses in the middle of a stream and you never want to switch rulers or measuring tapes in the middle of a project.

Contrary to what many people believe, that little metal tab on the end of the metal tape is suppose to slide back and forth. Many people think that this movement is a sign of poor construction but it’s actually the sign of proper design and manufacturing. If the metal hook didn’t slide on the tape, either your inside measurements or your outside measurements would be incorrect. Therefore, rule number two; don’t alter the tape to keep the hook from moving.

Reduce the chance of error when marking a work piece by turning your tape on edge. Tape measures are normally cupped, so there is a margin for error unless you twist the tape so the edge presses against the work piece. Tip number three; position the tape so there isn’t a gap between the markings on the taper and the surface to be marked.

Did you know that you could use a tape measure to divide a work piece equally without measuring? Tip number four; place the tape measure at an angle across the work piece with the 0 aligned with one edge and another number that divides equally by the number of pieces that you want to divide the piece into. For example if you have a workplace that is 1 ½" wide into two pieces align the 0" and 2" markings with the edges and then scribe a mark at the 1" mark. Perfect division every time. Similarly, if you wanted to divide the piece into three equal pieces align the 0" and 6" mark and then scribe marks at the 2" and 4" marks.

Tip number five, whenever possible, cut to fit and not to size. I never cut out all the pieces to any project using the dimensions given on a cutting list because the actual dimensions that I need may differ because of slight difference in dimensional lumber that I’m using. For example, if I’m building a cabinet, I always take the inside measurements with a known accurate tape before cutting the shelves to length. Trusting the dimensions given on a cutting list can make for sloppy craftsmanship.

Tip number six, two step for accurate inside measurements. The stiff metal tape will never fit tightly against an inside corner, so take the measurements in two steps. First butt the metal hook tightly against one corner and then place a mark an inch or two from the opposite corner. Then butt the metal hook against that corner and measure out to the first mark, adding those two measurements together to get the exact inside dimensions.