Choosing and Using Measuring Tools

Whether it's length, distance, or angle, when the measurement you take is critical, so is the tool — and so is your technique

Photo by Francesco Mosto
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As a woodworker, I'm obsessed with accuracy in measurements. I once froze a 25-foot steel tape measure and baked another one, to see if they'd still read the same. They came within a sixteenth of an inch of each other before and after, and it didn't seem to matter that I'd shelled out $20 for one and a mere $5.95 for the other.

The lesson here is whether it's lengths, distances, diameters, or angles, you can trust modern measuring tools. The cause of mismeasurement is the person who's measuring — you have to choose the right tool for the task and know how to use it correctly.

On the following pages, you'll find what you need for basic household measuring, plus a few specialized tools for extra-big and super-small jobs. If, like me, you worry about the veracity of your measurements, you can opt for electronic tools, which minimize human error. Even This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, a digital skeptic from way back, has been won over — sort of — by his sonic measuring tool. "I'm always surprised by how accurate it is," he says. "I check it with a tape every time."

See images (left).

WHERE TO FIND IT

Folding rule:
Lufkin
CooperTools
Raleigh, NC
919-781-7200
www.cooperhandtools.com

Dial caliper:
General Tools Mfg. Co.
New York, NY
212-431-6100
www.generaltools.com

As a woodworker, I'm obsessed with accuracy in measurements. I once froze a 25-foot steel tape measure and baked another one, to see if they'd still read the same. They came within a sixteenth of an inch of each other before and after, and it didn't seem to matter that I'd shelled out $20 for one and a mere $5.95 for the other.

The lesson here is whether it's lengths, distances, diameters, or angles, you can trust modern measuring tools. The cause of mismeasurement is the person who's measuring — you have to choose the right tool for the task and know how to use it correctly.

On the following pages, you'll find what you need for basic household measuring, plus a few specialized tools for extra-big and super-small jobs. If, like me, you worry about the veracity of your measurements, you can opt for electronic tools, which minimize human error. Even This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, a digital skeptic from way back, has been won over — sort of — by his sonic measuring tool. "I'm always surprised by how accurate it is," he says. "I check it with a tape every time."

See images (left).

WHERE TO FIND IT

Folding rule:
Lufkin
CooperTools
Raleigh, NC
919-781-7200
www.cooperhandtools.com

Dial caliper:
General Tools Mfg. Co.
New York, NY
212-431-6100
www.generaltools.com

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6-inch dial caliper, from General Tools
Photo by Francesco Mosto
Dial Caliper (for small distances)
Best for: Measuring outside and inside diameters of pipes, screws, and drill bits.
Look for: 6-inch caliper, which can handle most household needs; dial readout that gives measurement in sixty-fourths or hundredths of an inch (metric models also available).
Shown: 6-inch dial caliper, from General Tools, $32.
WHERE TO FIND IT (CONTINUED)
Metal rule:
Empire Level Manufacturing Corporation
Mukwonago, WI
800-558-0722
www.empirelevel.com

Digital tape measure:
The L.S. Starrett Company
Athol, MA
978-249-3551
www.starrett.com

Tape measure:
Stanley Tools Product Group
New Britain, CT
800-262-2161
www.stanleytools.com

Rafter square:
Swanson Tool Co.
Frankfort, IL
815-469-9453
www.swansontoolco.com

Electronic protractor:
Bosch Tools
Robert Bosch Tool Corporation
Chicago, IL
877-267-2499
www.boschtools.com

Sonic measure:
Zircon Corporation
Campbell, CA
408-866-8600
www.zircon.com

100-foot tape measure:
Stanley Tools.

Walking wheel:
Keson Industries, Inc.
Aurora, IL
800-345-3766
www.keson.com
 
 

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