July 14

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Your Tape Measure Has Secrets

By Robert Salvador

July 14, 2021


Did you know that today is National Tape Measure Day?  A few weeks ago, I didn’t know there was such a day.  When I first came across the mention, I was thinking big deal! However, when you think about it, you might consider that tape measures are really one of the very first technological advances in construction and I am all about technology. 

The more I considered it, I realized I really do not know much about tape measures besides the fact that when I need mine, I can’t seem to find it and I wish I had at least three more than I currently own.

I thought I would take a few minutes and touch on this tool that we really couldn’t complete a construction job without. 

A Brief History of The Tape Measure

The first recorded use of a measuring device was by the Romans who used marked strips of leather, more of a ruler than a tape measure. 

One of the first documented tape measures arrived on the scene in 1829.   It was made of leftover wire that was used for hoop skirts. The fad of hoop skirts lasted only about a decade and when it had run its course it left James Chesterman, a metal worker,  with a copious amount of flat wire that had no apparent use and had to go somewhere. Chesterman patented a spring tape measure that utilized flat metal with marked measurements. The metal was cased inside of a donut-shaped leather case that made the tool easy to transport and use.

After receiving a patent for his invention, Chesterman began to sell the product for $17 in the United States. That is equal to roughly $300 at the time! 

In 1868, a patent was registered in New Haven, Connecticut to Alvin J. Fellows for a new version of the tape measure. This new tape measure had a “spring-click” that allowed the tape to be locked into place when it was extended. If you’re familiar with the modern tape measure, you are aware of its feature to hold its place when extended at any distance. This feature allows the user to mark several increments within a set distance – crucial in construction work.

Still, the tape measure was not  used widely within the construction industry. The carpenter’s folding wooden ruler remained the most popular product. At $0.60 a ruler, its low price made it the most attainable tool until the 1940s.

As the price of the tape measure decreased, people began to discover the convenience, accuracy and usability of the tool. The tape measure continued to be improved on as people discovered its vast uses.

By the 1940s the tape measure had found its niche in construction. The tape measure then evolved and gained more features. It became more boxy, gained a belt clip, got a claw on the end of the tape and more. These features have made the tape measure an indispensable tool and one that’s found in every toolbox.

The first US patent on a tape measure was issued on December 6, 1864 to William H. Bangs, and it consisted of a wind-able tape held in a case with a spring return. 

In 1922 the first notable improvement and a real game changer arrived when Hiram A. Farrand received a patent for his concave-convex tape. Small but important improvements followed like the floating hook, which compensates for the thickness of the hook itself, so you get the same measurement when pushing the hook against a surface as you do when hooking it onto an edge. 

Jack Evans invented the three-rivet tape hook, with a metal backing plate in 1967 and it's still the gold standard today.

The next big change to measuring tapes was blade standout, and this innovation started an all out war between tape manufacturers, which Stanley won hands down with the FatMax, by patenting the 1.25" wide blade combined with the brilliant  geometry of the curve of the blade.

There was an added improvement as recently as 2015 with the QuickDraw self-marking tape.

Tape Measure - Mystery Machine

Most anyone with some basic construction knowledge understands tape measure basics such as the stud marker and the concave blade but there are some features that are a little less known and used but can be vital in some circumstances.

The Black Diamonds

The black diamonds which appear every 19 3/16” on metal tape measures are for spacing I-beam “timbers.” Several wood-product manufacturers offer I-beam “timbers” as a substitute for solid lumber floor joists. These beams can support more weight than their dimensional lumber counterpart, they often have different spacing requirements.

Span tables for these beams provide ratings for spacings of 12”, 16”, 19 3/16”, and 24”. If you multiply these dimensions by 8, 6, 5, and 4, respectively, you’ll find each comes to 96”, the length of the plywood panels used for sub-flooring.

In addition to I-Joists, a standard concrete block chimney is two bricks by two bricks or roughly 16 inches square. That chimney won’t fit between studs that are installed on 16”-centers because there is only 14-1/2” between the studs. However, "Black Diamond Spacing" is ideal because the space between studs at that spacing is 17.7”.

The Nail Grab

Tape Measure Nail Grab is on nearly every measuring tape, you’ll find a small slot on the end hook. It’s there to grab onto the end of a nail or screw.If you’re measuring a flat surface and don’t have anyone to hold the other end of the tape, you just need to hammer in a nail or insert a screw and hook the end of the tape onto it to get a clear and accurate measurement..

Scribe Tool

Did you ever notice that the bottom of the end hook of your measuring tape sometimes has a serrated edge? You can use this serrated edge to make a mark by running it back and forth on whatever you’re measuring. 

The Adjustable Head and the Magnetic End

Measuring Tape True Zero, The metal tip at the end of your tape measure is a little bit loose for a reason. The first inch of the tape is short by 1/16 of an inch. This isn’t an error: it’s meant to provide you with accurate readings whether you’re measuring the inside or outside edge of a surface. This feature is known as “true zero”.

The metal tip is exactly 1/16 of an inch thick. If you’re measuring the outside of a surface and hook your metal end on the edge, that metal piece will shift out and create a gap, so that you aren’t counting it in your measurement.

Most new tape measures also have a rare earth magnet at the end of the tape measure which is useful for many situations like picking up a screwdriver or wrench. It also helps hold the tape measure in place to provide accurate readings.

Tape Measure - The Crime Fighting Tool?

I am certain that when you think of tape measures, you do not think of crime prevention but yes, they even make an impact in this field, in a manner. 

More and more customers who go into various types of stores have begun to notice something that can be  a little unsettling at first thought; tape measures by the front doorways. The tape measures run from  the floor to well over six feet up the walls; they look like the kinds of things you might find in a police lineup.

This is not a coincidence. The tape measures are for one purpose and one purpose only: to assist employees who spot shoplifters dashing out of their store.  Just as important, if the store has a surveillance system, the camera often covers the door of the business which allows police a chance to get the measure of a thief. 

In all the stress of a robbery, the employee will often forget to notice many details, the tape measure can give exact information about the robber`s height.''

The use of the tape measures in this way is a fairly recent innovation and was initiated widely by the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores since 1980.

The Tape Measure Murder

The tape measure even gets the spotlight in crime fiction.  The Tape-Measure Murder is a short story written by Agatha Christie which first appeared in This Week magazine in 1941 in the US. 

I won’t spoil the mystery, but here is a teaser I found:

Miss Politt has been waiting and waiting outside Laburnum Cottage for Mrs. Spenlow, to no avail. She nervously acquires the help of her next-door neighbor, whose gumption and persistence reveal that Mrs. Spenlow is dead on the hearthrug.
The whole of St. Mary Mead is convinced the murderer is Mr. Spenlow, who shows no emotion upon his wife’s sudden death, but, with characteristic diligence, Miss Marple reveals that it is perhaps not that simple.

So, as we think about all of the amazing technological advances happening in construction right now and those on the horizon, let’s pay our respects to one of the first and biggest innovations we use daily and take for granted, the Tape Measure! 

Why DigiBuild?

DigiBuild is a blockchain-enabled construction project management platform. Our customers manage workflows such as procurement, budgets, schedules, contracts, and payments. DigiBuild allows for collaboration across 50+ disparate construction stakeholders – all on a single platform. 

We are the first to merge our construction management expertise with blockchain technology to create the world’s most revolutionary technology bringing risk management and visibility to your projects.

Through verifiable collaboration, we eliminate risk, disputes, save time and create a healthier and happier global construction industry.

Robert Salvador

About The Author

Rob Salvador is the visionary driving force behind DigiBuild, an experienced builder, project manager and construction technologist. Since the age of 10, Rob has witnessed what it was like, firsthand for his Dad struggling to run his construction company. He eventually started his own construction company and those experiences and the lack of change over that time span led to his mission of creating a better way to operate construction projects and the construction community. Rob’s passion and previous cryptocurrency startup experiences are what led to him becoming a blockchain expert. In 2017 he had his ‘aha moment’ and the idea of 'how to' apply blockchain to construction took form and DigiBuild was born.

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