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.

37 thoughts on “5 Cool Things You May Not Know About Your Tape Measure

  1. arigger says:

    You forgot to mention the little black diamonds. Those are probably the most mysterious marks on the tape measure and almost nobody knows what they are.
    [They divide an 8′ length by 5. so you can layout braces to miss center, or stud spacing.]

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    2. Boodschap says:

      that’s why there is something called ‘the metric system’ that makes much more sense: 20 cm divided by 5: 4 cm! :-)

      1. Dotsie Watson says:

        Try cutting a rope in half, half again(1/4), half again(1/8),half again(1/16) etc. and then try measuring the pieces accurately with the metric system. Maybe the Imperial system will begin to make sense then.

        1. Boodschap says:

          what if the rope is 800 cm (315″)? Why do you need to measure e.g. 1/16th if you know it’s 50cm…

        2. David Benjamin Donoho says:

          I am sorry Dotsie, I am going to have to agree with those in favor of the metric system here. Because your thought only works if you are cutting something in half multiple times that is exactly an inch long. Also if what you are wanting to cut it into is halves (or multiple halves) What if you want to cut it into thirds? Fifths? Etc?You chose sixteenths. Let’s go with that.

          One simple example: 38 5/16 inches is equal to about 97.3 cm (or .973 meters or 973 millimeters if you prefer). Divide both of those numbers into, as you say, sixteen equal parts.

          First 38 5/16: Pull out your cell phone and plug in 5 divided by 16 (leave the 38 alone for a second) 5/16 is .3125 inches, now add to 38 is is 38.3125. Divided by 16 is about 2.3945 inches. Most Americans wouldn’t have any idea what to do with this number now. They would just know that it isn’t quite 2 1/2 inches. But if you multiply this number by the level of precision you want (IOW if you want it measured to the nearest 1/16th of an inch) multiply just the numbers to the right of the decimal by 16 which is about 6/16 of an inch which, if you know your math is also the same as 3/8 inches. Add that back to the 2. So each of your sixteen pieces is about 2 3/8 inches long. Good work!

          And now the metric system @ 97.3 cm: Pull out your phone and divide 97.3 by 16. This is approximately 6.08 cm. Round up to 6.1 cm (or 61 mm if you prefer) and cut your rope into 16 equal pieces. Done.

          1. DianaB says:

            pull out my cell phone–seriously? I don’t do metric and I don’t use cell phones for anything and I certainly don’t use them for the calculator. All this is way too complicated. Sorry:)) And then you arrive back to “about” something or other in length.

        3. Biggus Disqus says:

          No, the Imperial system never makes sense, and I’m stuck using it every day.

  2. Carlos Acevedo says:

    I knew about the rivets because when I was a kid I thought it was sloppy workmanship so I grabbed a drift punch and tightened them up. Dad was a little upset.

  3. Max F. Blanck says:

    1/16″ ??!! You guys really should adopt the metric system! :-)

    1. Fraga123 says:

      Here in Free America we use the Imperial system, Canadian.

      1. Mercedes Marton says:

        Only in America you use the Imperial system. The rest of the world uses the more logical Metric system, American

        1. Fraga123 says:

          Your poutine-stained hands will have to pry my 15 inch ruler from my cold, dead fingers, Canuck.

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          2. Max F. Blanck says:


          3. Warren Bailey says:

            Mmmmm poutine.. wait,what were we talking about? Oh yeah, poutine…Mmmmm…

        2. mtdna says:

          Wrong. Many countries still use imperial: the US, Liberia, and Burma. Three is definitely many. Actually I heard Burma is switching to metric, leaving the US and Liberia. But two is still many.

          1. Max F. Blanck says:


          2. disqus_saASoogd1x says:

            self explanitory.

          3. jim klessig says:

            There are also two kinds of countries,
            Ones that use the metric system,
            and those who lost a mars lander because the couldn’t use a consistent system of units.

          4. Dave O'Heare says:

            Liberia has landed on the moon?

    2. Benjamin Maccabee says:

      Actually, for furniture and construction, the metric system is tedious and makes less sense. For physics and engineering, metric has its place.

      1. Max F. Blanck says:

        Tedious? Didn’t know measurements were supposed to be fun…
        Just joking. Use whatever suits you best, it just sounds so strange to me. Cheerio!

      2. jim klessig says:

        It makes no more sense to use imperial, than metric, neither is it tedious.
        It is just different. And once you get over that…………..

        1. Benjamin Maccabee says:

          Except for when one goes to build a tabletop and instead of specfiying 72″X96″ it would measure 1.8288m X 2.1336m. Not tedious, yeah go tell that to a carpenter.

          1. jim klessig says:

            Except you can just as easily Specify 1.8 x 2 meters, 0 tedium
            There is NOTHING magic about 72×96

    3. poppy ann says:

      what just like the UK did it is now close to 50 years since we started to move over to the metric system yet try buying plywood it is still sold in the imperial system even if they pretend to say it is the metric system, a full sheet of ply is 8 foot X 4 foot it is marked as “2440 mm x 1220 mm” where is the “1 Meter x 2 Meter”

  4. Pepe says:

    You also forgot to mention that the hook often has a strong magnet to hold it onto metal. It can also be useful to fish/pick up lost screws in awkward places.

    1. Dotsie Watson says:

      Don’t trust these hooks on chinese made tape measures.

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  7. JFZ70 says:

    I know I will stick my head out BUT the TALMETER by TA Ljungberg is the ultimate measuring tape! Could not live without it.

    Small and sturdy with a precise etching AND can easily measure internal lengths and tube diameters also draws circles, have a mini 90 degree and other useful features.


    1. John Griswold says:

      Cool! Do they make that in English units?

  8. Dan Whittet says:

    One of my favorite concepts is using the tape to divide. Lay it across a sheet of plywood diagonally and mark off three easy divisions, say 10 20 and 30 inches. Now bring your square down those and you have perfect thirds. To find a center point, bring two tapes in from either end and quickly find where dimensions match.

  9. Rick Davis says:

    I’ve never had a tape with a serrated edge. Has anyone used it to mark anything? Since most common use of a tape measure is in cutting a board to length and using the edge hooked to the end of the board, I question the usefulness as a marking device. On the other hand, I have a tape measure that has a place to put a pencil or scribe on the reel end to mark a measurement.

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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.

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