5 Cool Things You May Not Know About Your Tape Measure



One of the many maker YouTube channels I’ve been enjoying recently is Leah Bolden’s See Jane Drill. Leah is a seasoned building contractor and educator who has taken to YouTube to teach people, especially women and newcomers to construction and home repair, how to make and fix things. The show’s stated mission is “to take the mystery out of all things mechanical, so that people can fix, renew, and restore their own stuff.

The episode below, on some features of the tape measure you may be ignorant of, is a perfect example of Leah at her best. I knew two of these, but was ignorant of the others.

The Nail and Screw Grab

tapeMeasuring_2There is a small slot in the end hook of almost every tape measure. That slot is there to grab on to the head of a nail or screw. This way, if you’re by yourself and need to measure a set point on a flat surface that would normally require someone holding the tape, you can sink a screw or nail, hook the end of the tape measure into this slot, and securely and accurately measure from there.

Serrated Scribing Tool

tapeMeasuring_6Have you ever noticed the serrated bottom edge of the end hook on your tape measure? If you’re using the measure and don’t have a marking tool at hand, you can press this edge into your work piece, scratch it back and forth, and make a mark.

Understanding the True Zero Hook Feature

tapeMeasuring_4That riveted metal tab that holds the end hook on the tape has travel in it for a reason. If you’ll notice, the inch marks on the tape actually start 1/16″ short. That’s because the thickness of the hook itself is 1/16″. So, if you take an inside measurement (pressing the hook end against the work piece you’re measuring), you will get an accurate measurement. But also, if you hook the end onto a work piece, the play in the rivets will move the hook out to compensate for hooking onto the material, creating a 1/16″ gap between the hook and the tape, allowing for an accurate measurement. Always make sure to pull the tape taut when making an outside measurement to make sure the end hook is fully extended.

The Case of the Tape Measure is a Measure

tapeMeasuring_5You are likely already aware of this, but a tape measure’s plastic or metal case always has a number on it indicating the exact length of its base. Knowing this, you can use the case itself in doing inside measurements where you would otherwise have to bend the tape into a 90-degree angle and sort of guess the exact mark you want to measure. Instead, you can use the case itself to measure all of the way to the corner, adding the length of the case to the number you get at the top of the tape.

Using the Nail Grab to Scribe a Circle

One of the things I love about YouTube DIY videos is some of the constructive criticism and additional ideas and tips that readers share. In the comments to this measuring tape video, a viewer points out that the Nail and Screw Grab can also be used to scribe a circle. Because the slot in the grab feature can turn on a nail or screw head, you can use it to act as the center-point when scribing a circle. If you hold the end hook grab on a centered nail or screw head and hold a pen, pencil, or scribe against the far end of the tape measure, you can draw out a circle at a desired radius.

Here is the full video which will help you understand these features better:

YouTube player

You can see many more of Leah’s videos on her See Jane Drill YouTube channel and on her website.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn