Measuring Tools and Techniques

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Whether you're working on DIY projects, repair jobs or maintenance work, if the activity includes measurement, accuracy is key. The accuracy of your measurements can often affect the success of your project. It’s important to have the proper measuring tools and to use them correctly. You'll be using several types of measuring tools throughout your DIY projects. Be sure your toolbox contains all of the measuring devices you will need.

Retractable Tape Measure

This is a general purpose tool built with a spring device inside the housing. The mechanism enables the tool to automatically retract the measuring tape. It also comes with a locking button that holds the measuring tape in place. Tape measures are generally available in lengths from six to 35 feet and widths from a 1/4 inch to 1 1/4 inches. Most home DIY projects require a basic 16-foot tape measure, but a 25-foot tape can be useful in carpentry and plumbing work. The hook blade on the end of the tape slides back and forth to enable you to be accurate with both inside and outside measurements. When retracting your tape measure, be sure to sure to let it recoil slowly to prevent the hook blade from becoming damaged. This could affect your ability to take accurate measurements.

Ultrasonic Measuring Device

These tools are tapeless digital devices that enable one person to measure a distance up to 100 feet without any help. They often come with calculators for determining area and volume, along with a measurement memory feature.

Folding Rule

Folding rulers are typically made from six to eight-inch wood or steel lengths that are joined by spring mechanisms allowing the tool to unfold for measuring longer distances. Some include extension slides for determining the length of an enclosed area.

Line Level

A line level is used to check level over longer distances, which makes it an efficient tool for installing things like patio pavers and suspended ceiling tiles. The tool has a string that is stretched from one point to another, enabling you to determine accurate heights between the locations.

Measuring Wheel

This tool is used to determine long exterior measurements and can be used for a distance up to ten thousand feet. It has a wheel, a handle and an odometer. The tool is reset through the touch of a push button which brings the counter back to zero. It is generally available in a range of diameters between four and 25 inches. Feature options on the measuring wheel include telescopic handles, gear generated counters, a variety of tread materials, and a carrying cases.

Framing Square

This L-shaped tool is also called a carpenter or rafter square and is typically used for marking stringers on stairs and laying out rafters. It can be used on any project where you need to determine a square angle. It also has ruler markings that are printed on each of the two side lengths of the device.


Calipers are used to transfer a measurement from a model to the piece you're working on. The tool has two curved metal pieces that are connected with a pivot. The pivot is adjustable, which enables you to change the distance between the metal pieces. Calipers are an effective tool for measuring the inside diameter of pipes. Check for ones made of steel or aluminum in place of plastic. Plastic calipers may be less expensive, but steel ones will last longer.

Dial Calipers

These tools determine the inside and outside diameter measurements of objects with cylindrical shapes. The dial accurately measures to 1/64 of an inch. Metric models are also available.

Stud Finder

A stud finder is used to determine the location of studs behind drywall. Knowing where the studs are makes hanging wall fixtures much easier. These devices are available in magnetic and electronic versions. The electronic finder locates studs by determining the wall’s density. The magnetic finder detects metal material within the studs. There are more complicated stud finders available that locate AC voltage, electrical wiring, and plumbing pipes. A stud finder with a feature that detects AC currents can help you find hot wiring behind your walls. This can ensure that you drill holes for hanging wall items in the correct spot.

Carpenter’s Level

This tool determines whether an item is level through a vial bubble feature. When the bubble is located in the center of the vial, the item is level. Most models are two to four feet in length and are made from woodor plastic with metal bindings. A household toolbox should have at least a two-inch carpenter’s level for hanging items and checking walls and floors. You can ensure that your tool is measuring properly by placing it on a surface that you know to be level. When you check the vial, the bubble should be sitting in the middle.

Laser Level

A laser level is used to determine level reference lines. This is an excellent tool for hanging artwork and laying tile. Optional features include graphic displays and preset angle measurements. Some models offer mounting devices that make using the device much easier.