Introduction: Easy to Make Precision Tape Measure

Picture of Easy to Make Precision Tape Measure

This is an easy modification to any steel tape measure.  The length of the tape and degree of precision you want will determine how much time is spent making it.  

When I first entered this instructable in the "I Can Make That" contest, I intended it to mimic a new device that hasn't been marketed yet.  I started receiving comments about patent infringement issues and my patent attorney (who confirmed there were no issues) suggested I remove all reference of the product as a way to stop the well-intended, but bothersome comments... Which I did.  Now, being without a product I can copy, I'm no longer in alignment with the contest rules.  Therefore, I'll chose the next closest product, the Inca Rule which is far enough away from the design of my instructable to make patent infringement a non-issue.

That being said, let's get started:

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

Here's what you'll need:  A steel measuring tape, a small" diameter hole punch, a pencil (optional), and a steady hand.

I use a Roper Whitney #5 Jr. Hand Punch, probably the second most used tool in my shop.  It comes with interchangeable punches ranging from .094" (3/32") to .281" (9/32").  Mine even has a custom made square punch that Roper Whitney made for me.

I suppose a small drill would also work, but it's disturbing to think of how frustrating that would be to use.

After I completed my first tape by hand (it took forever... And there were mistakes too), I made a simple guide and hooked it up to my hand punch.  The guide indexed the tape every inch, so on my second attempt, I never made a mistake, and it only took me 15 minutes to punch 10' (120 holes).  The instructions for making the guide are in step 4.

Step 2: Making It

Picture of Making It

Load the smallest punch you have and depending on how many holes you want to make, take your punch and carefully align (this is where the steady hand comes in) it with the measured lines along the center of the tape.  I've used a tape measured in inches, but metric would be the same, only closer.

Punch a hole every 1/2" or .5cm along the center of the tape.

That's it.  Now take your pencil and try it out.  If the measurement is 1/4", place a mark inˆ the inch hole AND the 1/2" hole.  Then measure half the distance between the marks and you have your measurement.

Step 3: A Variation

Picture of A Variation

We often need to make 1/4" and 1/8" measurements and it would be easy to punch holes every 1/4" along the tape.  The difficulty is, all these holes lined up can't be too good for the strength of the tape and a single line of holes may become confusing to use.  

I've taken the original idea and modified it a bit to make the tape a "little" more structurally sound, and help them stand apart from each other.

By adjusting the location guide on my punch, I've created a diagonal line of holes that quickly define it's position within the inch markers.  It's a lot more work, but now, I can measure to the nearest 1/8" quickly and accurately.  You can modify what I've done and locate the inch mark at the high point, making the half inch at the low point, with the 1/4" and 3/4" marks at the mid point.  Since I began making the marks on my 10' rule near the centerline, the pattern ended up being what it is.

I'm going to make a complete and (hopefully) mistake-free tape for myself.  Time will tell if I reach for "any tape" or look for this one specifically.  I think I'll be trying different hole patterns until I hit on one I won't be able to live without.

Step 4: Making Better Holes... Maybe

Picture of Making Better Holes... Maybe

Smaller holes would be more accurate, but so far, I've found the size in my tapes are adequate.  Locating the center of a small circle with my pencil is an easy chore and the hole size in my tape makes aiming for tired eyes a lot easier.   Even though didn't intensionally choose it for it's size, It was simply the smallest punch I have.  That doesn't mean you couldn't find smaller ones.

I've seen small punch pliers on Amazon for less than $13: "Euro Metal Hole Punch Pliers" with a 1.25mm punch, which is quite a bit smaller than the one I used.

Or, if you have a drill press to use as a ram, check on eBay for a "Shoe Punch press".  I've seen them for as low as $20.

If you own a hand punch, the setup, described here, which I used to finish my 2nd prototype tape worked out well.

Using a scrap piece of aluminum, I milled a groove for the tape to slide in.  In my case, the groove wasn't nearly deep enough to entrap the tape.  I had to devise a clamp to keep in in the groove.  It would have been better and easier if I had simply made a guide out of wood.

At one end of the guide, I drilled and tapped a hole that the Whitney receiver could thread onto.  If you're using a different punch, you'll need to figure out how to secure it to the guide.Make sure the connection is rigid.  If it moves, your holes won't be exact.

Exactly 1" further along the groove, I drilled and tapped a hole, a little larger than the punch size and threaded a small machine screw in from the bottom.  I tapered the portion of the screw that was exposed so it slipped into the punched holes on the tape.  It doesn't have to stick up very far, only enough to allow the holes in the tape to snap over it, keeping the tape from moving.

Because my guide was 4" long, I had to punch the initial 5 holes by hand.  I then clamped the tape so it was trapped, but still slid in the groove and placed the last hole I punched over the protruding pin.  This set up my 6th hole, exactly 1 inch away from the 5th.  I continued until I'd finished 10' of the 20' tape.  10 feet took me about 15 minutes.

It would have gone much easier if I had a helper to guide the tape along.  I was alone, so I had to come up with an alternate solution.  I laid the tape out on the floor and using a dolly, clamped the punch and guide to it.  It was a bit Rube Goldberg, but ended up working fairly well.  I did have to re-calibrate the holes every 20 inches or so.  My measurement between the punch and the pin were off ever so slightly and the punch would begin to drift a tiny bit off center.  When that happened, I simply punched a new, centered one and picked up on the process where I left off.

After I figured out how to do it, the process was quite simple.

After the initial 1" spacing is done, it's actually pretty easy to remove the pin at this point and punch the 1/2" and 14" holes by sliding the tape through the guide, using the 1" holes as visual markers.  This allowed me to finish all of the 1/2" and 1/4" holes for the first 10' in about half an hour.  And I only made one mistake, close to the 10' line, when I was nearly done.  :/

Look over the photos for ideas and good luck to all who make this.

Have fun.


bfk (author)2013-09-09

The biggest issues with this idea seem to be the size of the holes and the cost of the punch. If anyone can help with these questions specifically, please let us know.


Katsblues6 (author)2017-05-30

I take old broken tape measures and nail them to the front of my workbench, so i never have to find my tape measure, just use the table's tape measure. I have one glued to the back plate of my mider saw. I also found the stick on tape measures work great.

bfk (author)2013-10-30

Hi Attmos:

In defense of Mr. Logan, I had instigated a flurry of comments about patenting, by mentioning the name of an inventor who's product wasn't my idea, but had some nifty things going on that I thought were pretty ingenious. All this backfired when people thought I might be infringing on someone's patent (the person's idea was not my hole-punching idea, nor was it patented). It was just some guy, I wanted to recognize for his work.

Unfortunately, the attention got to the point where I had to remove his name. Like tossing chum, the comments were beginning to attract other comments and unfortunately, there are those who see profit in this type of activity. I became concerned about someone stating my actions were an implication of using the person I was trying to help in a false sense of partnership or endorsement. This lesson here is: Try to do something good and someone will try to turn it into profit.

Though he was off-target, Mr. Logan was only attempting to educate me on patent law.

But thanks for sticking up for me. :)

Chris Logan (author)bfk2013-10-30

I did appreciate the accreditation. I find it very valuable to know about obscure inventions.

And I certainly did not mean offense. Or to put the author or his other fans into a defensive position.... I do think that we should all know exactly what we're doing within the legal code, not misunderstand it. And from there, make very deliberate choices.

I definitely enjoyed this instructable. This idea will enrich my life.

Thank you!

bfk (author)Chris Logan2013-11-01

If you're a patent attorney or involved with patent law, please check out Attomis' idea. I didn't intend to scare him away and hope he didn't take my comment personally, but he has something I think would fly quickly. My career was developing patents from the inventor's perspective (mine) and I left all the "first end of said arm shall be obliquely attached to said second protrusion of said rotating platform" stuff to the lawyers. After your comment, I contacted my old PA who suggested I cut everything off for the reasons I stated. I think he charged me extra because it was Sunday Night Football:)

Thanks for staying in touch.

Attmos (author)bfk2013-11-01

You didn't scare me away, and I'm in no way offended :) I removed my own comment because it was not intended to start a world war, and I was unaware of all the facts at the time I wrote it. I only wanted to remind everyone that this site is for fun! If there are any patent infringements on this site (and I'm sure there are more than a few), they are unintentional and should be left to the patent holder to address. Lets just have fun.

bfk (author)Attmos2013-11-02

OooRa! Well said:)

Haplo1 (author)2013-10-29

Hey man, its funny my brother is Attmos a few comments down. i was gonna say the same thing he did. cant believe i've never thought of that. My alternative to the punch is probably gonna be a few vice grips and my drill. great great idea though

bfk (author)Haplo12013-10-30

Hi Haplo 1. Thank you for your comment. The greatest ideas are those that elicit the response "I could have thought of that", so your comment is high praise indeed.

Now, your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to help your brother get his idea to market. There are people on Instructables willing to help great thinkers, and apparently this trait runs in your family, so the force is strong within you. Best of luck to both of you. I expect to hear more about you in the future.

Attmos (author)2013-10-29

Hey, congrats on being a winner. I am amazed that this didn't receive a first or grand prize. I work in construction and this is something I've never seen, but wonder why I never thought of it. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of all us grunts.

bfk (author)Attmos2013-10-30

Thanks for your kind words Attmos, but... ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Your cat scratcher is the best idea I've seen in a long time! When the contest was over, and before your comment, I looked at your idea and knew I had to build it (honestly, it was the only one that interested me). Now, where did I see that? Let's see... Oh YA... FIRST PRIZE! You sir, are the man. Your idea is so incredibly simple and easy to make, chances are it'll be commercially available in a very short time. If you want to make anything from it, you have 1 year after posting it to apply for a patent. The USPTO has a provisional patent that gives you pending status for about $100 (when I was patenting, about 10 years ago). You then have 1 year after that to sell your idea without having to worry about non-disclosures and all that garbage. Please consider it, my friend. If you've patented before, you don't need me blubbering all over your invention, but if not, PM me and ask me anything. I have no personal interest, but I do have a desire to promote great thinkers. And you are truly one of those, for sure.

HawaiianGuy (author)2013-09-20

This is such a brilliant idea. Falls into "why didn't I think of that" Thanks for sharing:-) Got my vote!

bfk (author)HawaiianGuy2013-09-21

Thank you sir. For both the kind words and the vote :)

Build_it_Bob (author)2013-09-08

Awesome idea ...I would buy a few if they were commercially available I am sure other would.
Older eyes and glasses mean the degree of accuracy I once had could now be improved with a tape like this .
Maybe someone out there could help make this into a business venture ??

Thank you for sharing and good luck !

bfk (author)Build_it_Bob2013-09-10

Thank you Bob... You hit it right on about the eyes. And I'd buy a few as well.

bfk (author)2013-09-07

Thanks Chris... Next time, please don't write something like that on the weekend. My patent attorney gets grumpy when his game is interrupted:)

In attempting to do the "right thing", I've apparently created a plethora of patent-related comments that's detracting from my original intent. This item has not been patented or commercialized and because it isn't being shown here for profit, there has been no commercial appropriation of identity.

None-the-less, I'm removing all references to said items and identities in order to get things back on track.

Chris Logan (author)2013-09-07

I think you're confused about patent law.

"A person directly infringes a patent by making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing into the US any patented invention, without authority, during the term of the patent."

Direct infringement includes making a device for yourself.

"35 U.S.C. § 271(b) covers situations where one actively induces the infringement of a patent by encouraging, aiding, or otherwise causing another person or entity to infringe a patent. A potential inducer must actually be aware of the patent and intend for their actions to result in a third party infringing that patent."

Making an instructable on a patented device constitutes indirect patent infringement in the United states. I wonder how Instructable's legal department handles their association with issues of indirect patent infringement.

However... There's a certain reality you or another enthusiast wouldn't get much more than a Cease and Desist letter. The average infringer doesn't have enough money to warrant legal action.

I just think it would be a very good idea that we're all aware of where the lines actually are.

(Cool project, by the way!)

snoopindaweb (author)2013-09-05

I seem to recall that pattern in Indian Bead Work. It stood for "Mountains".? This idea has My vote written all over It.! Thanks.

bfk (author)snoopindaweb2013-09-06

Thank you very much. I like your description.

snoopindaweb (author)bfk2013-09-06

Just 3 and 1/2 Mountains over..HAR.!

bfk (author)snoopindaweb2013-09-06


poofrabbit (author)2013-09-02

Holy cow batman this is so smart!!!! I am doing this ASAP to my Tape measure!!

bfk (author)poofrabbit2013-09-05

Here you are again! I missed this comment. Tell me the truth... Did you make it disappear?

poofrabbit (author)bfk2013-09-06

I do tend to make things disappear, it is what magicians do :)

bfk (author)2013-09-06

No rain... No parade. There's no wrong response to my instructables. The worse that could happen is, I'd learn something :) Johnson squares use the same "kind" of idea as the tape, but it's different, in that the holes in Jung's tape don't slide along the work, but unroll on top of it. I don't know if you came up with your invention before you saw a Johnson square, but If you did, then you know the feeling of inventing something.

People see a new thing and associate it with something else they're familiar with. Like with your idea, people had seen rulers before, so to them, making it slide along, carrying a pencil along with it is a natural extension for the purpose of the ruler. The fact remains, before you showed it to them, no one would even have THOUGHT about doing it that way. The proof of that lies in the fact that rulers have been around for eons. It wasn't until you modified and used your square in a new way that it appeared on Earth... And I know you're not thousands of years old. Inventing simple things is incredibly difficult. A paradigm shift is required to even think of the concept. The easy inventions, are those truly complex problems that are already on everyone's mind, like flying, driving or space walking. These kinds of inventions are filled with hundreds of complicated bits, each being an invention of its own, but because the goal of these inventions is already known beforehand, their concepts are already formed and understood.

Did that make sense? If not... Sorry... I tend to ramble. I'll be quiet now :)

kjlpdx (author)2013-09-06

not to rain on your parade, but I did exactly this to my carpenters square maybe 20 years age. with the square you can hold a pencil in the hole and easily draw lines a certain distance from the edge of the material. "Johnson" squares also have notches on their edge for the same idea, only these work with the flat carpenters pencils as well.

trichards5 (author)2013-09-06

If you use a drill then mark the places to drill with a nail and hammer so that your drill bit doesn't wander.

prakis (author)2013-09-06

So simple so convenient.

1ofakindwork (author)2013-09-05

Looks Like a great idea, my only concern would be my tape breaking. I've done a lot of restoration work in my life. And to be honest my tape gets a lot of abuse. I usually snap or tear a couple a year. This would only weaken it even more for me. But I'm sure a lot of people that take better care of there tapes would be just fine. Thanks for posting it.

bfk (author)1ofakindwork2013-09-06

Good call... If you're wrecking that many tapes, it'd take you weeks of punching just to keep up. :). Thanks for your interesting spin.

1ofakindwork (author)bfk2013-09-06

My point exactly. I may give it a try for my cabinet building tape. I do take better bare of that one due to keep it precisely measuring.

bfk (author)1ofakindwork2013-09-06

Try to find a smaller punch. That will reduce the loss of strength and increase the precision. You may also find more room to add holes to the 1/8 level... Of course, a month of punching would get old, real quick :)

Niccernicus (author)2013-09-03

There's a reason that this never made it to market...

bfk (author)Niccernicus2013-09-03

Hi Niccernicus: I'm betting your unstated reason is one of strength. The single most difficult thing about coming up with a new idea is getting rid of the tendency to think intuitively about a problem. True, the metal won't be as strong as it used to be, and true, a failure would more likely to happen at one of the holes... However...

The holes are round and as aircraft engineers have discovered, unlike square holes, round ones move the stresses of moving metal around them. Try this experiment: Take a sheet of paper and cut or tear a slit halfway through it. Now, holding it on either side of the tear, rip it the rest of the way. Easy right?

Now, take another piece of paper and do the same thing, only this time, using a paper hole punch, put a hole at the very end of the slit. Now, try to rip it. It's much more difficult, isn't it?

I'm not belittling your opinion. Everyone's opinion is as viable as anyone else's. But wait until someone has a chance to put one of these things through a real-world test before forming opinions. I personally don't know if it'll pass or not, but betting one way or the other without getting all the data is a 50/50 shot. And that's good advice for making ANY decision.

In the end, you may be absolutely correct, and I'd look forward to, and truly enjoy your "I told you so", because that's what the scientific process is all about. :)

Niccernicus (author)bfk2013-09-03

I wasn't even questioning the strength, it's the practicality. Realistically, if you use a tape frequently, you'll know that tiny holes in the tape are not practical for real life marking. Especially when the marks go to the edge of the tape. Good idea, but just not necessary at the end of the day.

On a side note, people who work with wood use pencils. Holes don't facilitate "dull" pencils (which all woodworkers have) or carpenter's pencils, which are larger.

Again, not meaning to knock the design, just adding 2 cents of why it isn't on the market.

bfk (author)Niccernicus2013-09-03

Good points and well noted. About the pencils: That's why I use mechanicals. They're always sharp and 9mm leads are rugged.

klee27x (author)bfk2013-09-03

Actually, something remarkably similar to this is already on the market. I like your tape measure better, because, well, it's a tape measure. And it allows for a much bigger pencil than this one. In fact, why even use a pencil? Just use the holes to make a punch mark!

bobwojo (author)klee27x2013-09-05

The advantage of the INCRA RULES is the very fine slots which are the width of a sharp pensyl. but they are not cheap and only available up to 18" long.

bfk (author)bobwojo2013-09-06

I suppose, if some company decides to invest in the tooling, slots like those in the Incra rulers could be punched into the blanks used in tape production. Maybe someday, all tape measures will be made that way... Personally, I can't wait.

bfk (author)klee27x2013-09-03

Thank you Klee. Those actually look very useful for small projects. I often make models for museums and could certainly use something like that. A mechanical pencil with a small diameter lead is what it looks like they require. I end up breaking those every time I try to write with them, but for delicate work like this, I could see them working.

Thanks again for the link.

explosivemaker (author)2013-09-02

It would be interesting if there was a similar punch but in a vertical rectangle instead.

bfk (author)explosivemaker2013-09-06

If you don't mind paying for it, Roper Whitney can make a punch of any shape you need. They made a 1/8" square punch for me so I could tool rectangular holes without having to file corners in round ones.

BOOM OWWWW (author)2013-09-02

Use a pin your holes won't weaken it

bfk (author)BOOM OWWWW2013-09-06

LOL Love your user-name. :). Thanks. Good point.

parisusa (author)2013-09-02

Love this for basic home DIY projects! Boom: The holes need to be big enough to fit a pencil tip so I think a needle wouldn't work well.

bfk (author)parisusa2013-09-06

It'd be interesting to learn what size hole is best for the largest number of people. I would have chosen a smaller size myself if I had the punch. A smaller hole would be more accurate, but a larger hole is an easier target.

bensmiller02 (author)2013-09-02

the reason for the whole is if punched properly it would be more efficient and more accurate as long as the tip of your pin fills the whole and is centered I couldnt see doing this to more than the first foot of a tape measure though

bfk (author)bensmiller022013-09-06

It does take a long time to punch accurate holes. And you're absolutely right about accuracy. If I had a smaller punch, I'd have chosen it. I'm thinking of ordering one from Roper Whitney... But not this month... I'm in the doghouse for spending too much already. :/

Kdemon (author)2013-09-03

Absolutely genius. If you placed a hole at 5ft does the tape measure seem to fold at that point?

bfk (author)Kdemon2013-09-06

Thank you for your kind remark. I've answered your great question elsewhere, but it should be answered here as well: it's interesting to note, that qualitatively, there doesn't appear to be any difference between the action or the resistance to bending between the holed tape and a standard tape. There is a difference when running a sharp bend back and forth however. You can definitely feel the holed tape stop momentarily for a fraction of an instant as the bend passes over the holes, whereas the standard tape moves smoothly. Of course, we shouldn't be subjecting our tapes to that type of stress anyway.

About This Instructable




Bio: Old inventor, reverted back to my 10 year-old self. A shop full of tools, a boat, race car, 3D printer and a beautiful wife who ... More »
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