Everything You Didn’t Know About the Trusty Tape Measure

The trusty tape measure has been a staple in homes, offices and workshops for decades. It’s most likely one of the first items you purchased after moving into your new home, or maybe it was given to you as a gift from an older relative.

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You probably have a tape measure on hand, even if you’re not a skilled carpenter. It’s one of the 12 tools you should have in your toolkit. I’ve had my Stanley 25 ft. PowerLock Tape Measure for over a decade, and it doesn’t seem like a week goes by that I don’t use it for something: measuring wood, measuring my kids’ height, measuring the dimensions of a space to see whether a specific sofa can fit inside it, and so on.

You probably haven’t given the tape measure much attention since it’s such a common home item. This instrument, however, has more to it than meets the eye. Especially the untrained amateur’s eye. 

We’ve put together a list of facts you may not know about your tape measure, as well as some expert tips on how to get even more usage out of it.

Answers to Tape Measure-Related Questions You Didn’t Think to Ask


Why does the hook on my tape measure go up and down?

You may have noticed that the metal hook on the end of your tape measure moves up and down. No, the hook hasn’t fallen free by accident. It was designed specifically for this purpose.

The first inch of the tape is 1/16 of an inch too short. Yes, it is correct. Your tape measure’s first inch isn’t truly an inch.

If you’re measuring the outside or inside of a surface, the tape’s sliding hook and 1/16-inch truncation offer a simple but innovative approach to assure you receive a “true zero” measurement.

The following is how it works:


Taking measurements on the interior and exterior of a surface

The thickness of the metal hook is precisely 1/16 of an inch. When you measure the outside of a surface and hook your metal end on the edge, the metal hook will move out and leave a gap equal to the hook’s length.

You should count the thickness of the metal item in your calculations if you need to measure the interior of a surface, such as the inside of a window frame or the inside of a drawer. The hook is included in the measurement as you press the tip against anything.

If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this concept, watch this video by Tom Silva from This Old House.

Avoid letting your hook slam into the case by taking care of it.

Whether you’re measuring inside or outside an item, the slide in the tape measure’s metal hook has been calibrated to move just enough to give you a “true zero” measurement.

However, if you don’t look after your tape measure, the calibration might be thrown off, leading to erroneous results.

Allowing the tape to rebound fast, resulting in the hook crashing against the tape measure’s casing, is one of the most typical ways to destroy the slide on your hook.


To avoid this, press your finger between the case and the hook as the tape slides back into the case to halt the tape’s motion before letting the rest retract. On the hook, this is less startling, and it will provide years of accurate zero readings.

If your kids are anything like mine, they like not just playing with your tape measure in general, but also extending it all the way out to 25′ and then letting it roll back in as soon as possible. If this hasn’t already irritated you, you now have a valid excuse to tell them to stop.

What is the purpose of the hole in your tape measure’s hook?


You may have noticed a little depression in the hook of your tape measure, but you may not have realized it was there for a purpose. But it is, dear reader.

That little depression is the ideal fit for a nail or screw head. Why would you want to make a dimple in a nail or a screw?

When you’re alone, you may use it to collect measurements. If you’re alone and need to take a lengthy measurement but don’t have a method to secure the tape’s end, drill a nail or screw into the wall/floor/piece of timber and hook the tape onto it. Bam! Second hand in a flash!


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Allows you to utilize a compass with your tape measure. You can also use the divot as a compass by hooking it onto a nail and using your tape measure as a compass to measure circles or arches.

Why are certain numerals surrounded by red squares?


You may have noticed that every 16′′ on your tape measure, there are red squares surrounding the numbers. As a result, you’ll see that the numbers 16, 32, 48, 64, 80, and so on all have this marking.

What makes 16′′ so special?

Framing studs and floor joists are typically spaced 16 inches on center in the United States. That implies the distance between the centers of one stud and the next stud over is 16 inches.

The red squares are just there to help you readily recognize the 16-inch-on-center spacing.

While this capability is essential for framers and drywallers, it may also be useful for the common guy attempting to hang a TV or bike rack. By looking at your tape measure, you can easily identify the center of the next joist if you know where the center of the previous one is.

On my tape measure, what are those little black diamonds?


This tape measure marking is a little esoteric, and it’s unlikely that the ordinary DIYer would use it, but it’s interesting to know.

A tiny diamond appears every 19.2′′ on most tape measures.

These lines are useful if you wish to achieve identical spacing for five framework members inside an 8′ span (some carpenters like to insert five trusses every 8 feet so the sheathing over the framing is sturdier). Because 8 feet equals 96 inches, if you want to space 5 studs evenly, you’ll space them every 19.2 inches.


As I previously said, the ordinary DIYer is unlikely to utilize these markers, but it’s still useful to know.

Pro Tips for Using Measuring Tape

Determine how far your tape measure can go before collapsing. You probably attempted to stretch your father’s tape measure as far as it could go before it bowed and fell over when you were a youngster. The tape will fail beyond 7 feet on most 25-foot tape measures.

If you’re attempting to estimate large distances between gaps, this is useful information to have. If the distance between the two points is more than 7 feet, you’ll need a second hand to keep the tape measure tight.


When measuring, burn an inch. Some carpenters are skeptical about tape measures that have a “true zero” characteristic. All of their measures will be inaccurate if the hook does not glide properly. Some contractors may keep the tape at the 1-inch mark and make their mark precisely 1-inch beyond the required measurement to guarantee they receive an accurate measurement.



When measuring, keep the casing of your tape measure in mind. Let’s pretend you’re comparing the proportions of your room. The metal hook is positioned against one end of the room, while the case of your tape measure is pressed against the other.

How do you account for the width of your tape measure case while doing that calculation?

If you check at the bottom of the back of your tape measure, you’ll find some etched wording that reads “+3 inches.” That’s how long your tape measure case is.

To return to our room-measurement example, if your tape measure case is butted against one side of the wall and your tape measure reads 93′′, add 3′′ to account for the tape measure case. So your room is 96″ wide, or 8 feet long.


Measure upwards, not downwards. It’s simpler to set the hook on the floor and push it against the wall with your toe if you’re measuring the height of the wall. Extend the tape measure and take the measurement by sight.

As a rough and ready straight edge, use your tape measure. You may use the edge of your tape measure as a rough and ready straight edge if you need to create a straight line for saw marking. It won’t be as precise or straight as a real straight edge, but it’ll suffice in a hurry.


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As a scribe, use your tape measure. This method is used by drywallers to generate rapid, straight cut lines. Let’s assume you need to remove 4 inches of drywall from the bottom. With your right hand, mark off 4 inches and hold it against the bottom of the drywall you’ll be cutting. With your other hand, tighten a pencil against the hook, and then run your hands along the bottom of the board. A straight line 4′′ above the bottom of your drywall should be left.


As a sliding rule, use your tape measure. You may use your tape measure as a slide rule if you need to conduct some fast fraction calculations.

Consider subtracting 5 feet, 1 18 inches from 8 feet, 2 14 inches.


Measure 8 feet and 14 inches. Fold your tape measure in half so that the metal hook aligns with 8 feet, 2 14 inches.


Moving the tape measure back up until you reach 5 feet, 1 18 inches and check where it connects with the opposite side of the tape, hold it in place.

It just so happens to cross 3 feet, 1 18 inches, the difference between 8 feet, 2 14 inches and 5 feet, 1 18 inches.

Who knew the modest tape measure could do such complex computations, among other things?



The “art of manliness self-defense” is a book that contains everything you didn’t know about the trusty tape measure. It was written by Steven J. Duhl, who is an expert in the field of civil litigation and personal injury law.

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