Building or Renovating your home, hearth, and beyond is a task requiring accurate measurements using one of our most trustworthy & time tested tools: The Tape Ruler. We will lay out how to use a tape measure and a few tips and tricks to make it easier.
Most of the products that we sell are rigid and flat (with a few exceptions), and when measuring for precision it is important that you use steel tape measures and/or metal rulers and yard sticks. The best kind of tape measures have a locking mechanism that helps extend the tape slightly longer than the item to be measured. This makes the extended tape easier to handle.
You need to be certain that there is as little slack as possible in the tape when taking measurements. It is for this reason that using a non-rigid (cloth or plastic) tape is not desirable in almost all cases, as using one will lead to inaccurate measurements. The only time when using a cloth tape is acceptable is when measuring the circumference of something.
If you can use this...
...then don't use this!
You should also note that there is a style of tape measure called an "engineer's" tape measure that uses English feet but only has 10 units per foot instead of 12. This means that the "inches" on an engineer's tape measure are larger than a normal Imperial (English) inch. Just look at this example:
We wouldn't bring it up at all, except that we don't use the decimal units, and people have made the mistake of taking measurements with them and then ordering a custom product which didn't fit. Returns on many custom products are near-impossible, so please just make sure that your tape measure uses the standard Imperial (English) twelve inches per foot.
Sometimes its intimidating. Here at CJ's we sell many items that need accurate inch or feet measurements, such as, Replacement Glass and Fireplace Doors. So how do you measure effectively? First find an extendable steel tape that has a locking mechanism. The lock keeps the tape measure extended. The type of tape we need has 12 inches (or chunks of lines) in a foot. These inches and feet are what we will use to measure for your home.
Here we see the marks between 8 & 9 inches. This is the called a "graduated scale" and it's what makes all those fractions you see around like 1/2", 3/4", or 3/8". The marks divide the inch into parts of an inch. For example the halfway mark divides the inch 2 times, into 2 halves. So we call this mark the 1/2" mark. Others divide it 4 times, into 4 quarters of an inch. We call these marks the 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" marks. If we divide 8 times, we get eighths of an inch, and so on.
So using our example, we are at the 8 inch mark. The measurement shown to the left would be 8 1/2 inches. Adding any one of those marks to 8 inches is like adding a fraction of an inch. DIY Tip: Remember, a foot is equal to 12 inches. If you hear people say a measurement like "4 feet 4 1/2 inches" it would be the same as saying "52 1/2 inches". It's a shortcut you now know!
Check out the quick video lesson below by expert Kyle Dye
Diameter & Radius both have to do with circles or cylinders. The Diameter of a circle (lets say a stove pipe) is the longest distance between 2 points in the circle, and always divides it exactly in half. The radius starts in the middle of the circle and ends at any edge of the circle. 2 radii make 1 diameter. Its a perfect slice, or half of a perfect slice, right down the middle. To find diameter, you make this slice with the edge of your tape measure.
O.D. stands for "Outer Diameter" and is the farthest reaches of the circular material you are measuring. If we were measuring a doughnut, its O.D. would be where the outer crust meets air. I.D. stands for "Inner Diameter" and its the space between the material on the inside of your object. In our case, the hole of the doughnut would be its I.D.
So O.D. is the outermost layer/crust itself, I.D. is the space/hole in the middle of the material. To measure both of these, you use the Diameter tactic above.
Some types of fireplaces and stoves use pipe with two walls. In cases of this the outer diameter (O.D.) refers to the diameter of the outer wall while the smaller pipe in the center is measured with an inner diameter (I.D.). Just for an example, a double-walled direct vent pipe with an outer diameter of eight inches (8") and an inner diameter of five inches (5") would be labeled 5" x 8" pipe.
No carpenters square handy? A little known quick trick to finding square, or making something square, is to measure from corner to corner across the middle. Note this measurement. Now switch corners...other corner to other corner, across the middle, like making an X. If this second measurement if the same as the first, you have a square. If you need adjustments and are able to move the material, you can slide edges or pull corners together. This will true up the corner to corner measurements.
In this example, the lower left corner to upper right corner measurement is 33".
The lower right corner to the upper left corner is also 33", so this rectangle is square.
If your first measurement and second measurement don't match, then your rectangle or square isn't "square." Look at this example:
In this example, the lower left corner to upper right corner measurement is 32".
The lower right corner to upper left corner measurement is 34". Because this doesn't match our first measurement, this rectangle isn't square.
When your corners are squared (with a 90° angle at all four corners), the corner-to-corner "X" that is made will be your center point.
The 3 4 5 rule is an alternative method to making something square. Instead of relying on two corners, or a box, you can use just one.
Starting from the corner out, measure 3 inches (or feet) down one edge and make a mark.
Starting from the same corner, measure 4 inches (or feet) down on the other edge, make a mark.
Measure from one mark on one edge, to the other mark on the other edge. If this distance is 5, your corner is squared. Adjust the corner until this distance is exactly 5 inches (or feet).
To find the center of a circle you must have two or more diameters. No matter where they are, the diameters will meet in the center. To be sure, trace 3-5 diameters...this will show whether your circle is true. If all diameters intersect in a neat point, you know your circle is true and round.
In order to make a rough circle from a center point, you'll need to follow these steps:
Place a nail where you want the center of your circle to be. Tie a string LOOSELY around the nail.
Starting from the nail, use a measuring tape to measure out the radius (remember: a radius is half the length of the diameter) of the of the circle you want. Place a pencil at or marker at the length that you want. Wrap the other end of the string around your marking tool.
Holding the string tightly to the pencil (or tape it if you would like), pull the rope taught and begin to drag the pencil around the circle. The loose knot in the center should move with your pencil. If it doesn't, you could end up with a spiral shape.
Once your circle is done, your diameter should be the same all the way around.
This method also works great on a larger scale for landscaping or other places you need large, perfect circles -- just swap the string and nail for a rope and stake.
How do you find the diameter of something you can't measure from the inside, or something that's crushed? We can use a bit of math and a piece of string. Better yet, a flexible fabric, surveyors, or sewing style tape will make it a bit easier.
In the following example, we'll be assuming that a cloth tape is unavailable, and so we're going to be using string to take the measurements. You should also have a rigid measuring tape handy to measure the length of the string with.
Use your string or fabric tape and measure around the outer skin, or circumference. Hold the string against any dents for more accurate measurements.
Check at least three places along the pipe's length, remember to hold the string as tight and flush against the pipe as you can.
Using a rigid tape measure, measure each string. Assume that the majority of the measurements are accurate.
Convert the fractional measurement to decimal (see the conversion chart).
Divide the decimal number by pi (for simplicity's sake, assume that pi is equal to 3.14). This new number is the diameter. Because some stove pipe commonly comes in 4" diameters, it is safe to round our measurement down to 4"
You can use these techniques to easily find the diameter of anything round.
If you can measure 2 sides of a surface, you can find its area. Most of the time this is known as either square inches (SQ IN or inch²) or square feet (SQ FT or foot²). To find the area of something that's already been "squared," measure its length and its width, then multiply them together.
The surface area of a box can be calculated by measuring the width, depth, and height, finding the area by multiplying each pair of these surfaces together, then doubling it.
This will give you the total surface area.
If you need to think about it in other terms, you can imagine the sides of the box separately (as in the exploded view above). You can use this technique to calculate the surface area of any rectangular surface, you just need the area of each surface to add together.
In this example, add AREA A1, AREA B1, AREA C1, AREA A2, AREA B2, and AREA C2 together to get the total surface area. Please note that all of these measurements should be in square inches (SQ IN) or square feet (SQ FT)
If you need to find more than 1 surface area, calculate them all, then add everything up. For example, the surface area of a piece of paper is 99 SQ IN. The surface area of a cube made from 6 pieces of paper would be 594 SQ IN.
To calculate the volume of a box, all you need to know is the measurements of the width, height, and depth. Just multiply them together.
If you can measure 3 sides of the example paper box you just made, you can find its volume. Volume is the 3 dimensional space inside something and is known as either cubic inches (CU IN or inch³) or cubic feet (CU FT or foot³). First measure its length, then its width, then its depth. Multiply these three values together to find volume. Our paper box would have a volume of 891 IN CU.
Examples of products that frequently use area measurement:
Examples of products that frequently use surface area measurement:
Examples of products that frequently use volume measurement:
The united inch (UN) is easier to understand than area or volume, but doesn't seem to make as much sense. It's used as a way for suppliers to estimate total costs in a (very) general way. It also allows them to make a variety of odd sizes fit in a single price matrix.
Many hardware stores use united inches when tracking inventory. To find united inches, simply add the length and width of your surface. For example, a surface of 20 wide by 10 deep would have a UN of 30.
We will never ask you for measurements in UN.
Use a bubble level. The goal is to make the bubble float nicely between the lines. You then know your surface is parallel to earth. Unfortunately a tape measure alone cannot do this - unless you are working from a surface you know is level (or a surface you want to be square to, even if it isn't). If you have a surface to work from, take 3 measurements across the span you need to be level and make marks. When mounting, line up to those marks, and check for square.
Box levels include carpenter's levels, mason's levels, and torpedo levels. These levels are designed to set against straight flat surfaces. Most have at least two level angles to help make sure that both flat and 90° angles are level. You can usually get box levels as long as 72"
Line levels clip to string that has been stretched taught between two posts, to determine if they are level. They're great for long distance leveling.
Circular levels are designed to set face-up on flat surfaces like table tops. Once the bubble is in the exact center of the circle, the surface is level.
Angle locators (also called pitch levels) are used to measure the slopes of things that aren't necessarily supposed to be level, like roofs.
To understand how to make something parallel, we need to understand something that IS parallel. Imagine an interstate highway with a grass divider between. We see these everywhere...and they are always parallel.
Parallel lines (like the top and bottom of a fireplace door) should be evenly spaced for their entire length.
Non-parallel lines will eventually intersect. Even if you can't see the slope with the naked eye, they will have different sizes between them that can be measured.
Perpendicular lines are lines that intersect at a 90° angle. This is what we mean by "squared" lines. The goal of almost every new installation and remodel is to get the lines square and level.
An old timer secret is to count the rings. Look at the wood's end that is cut against the grain. Start from the center point and begin to count rings until you reach the furthest edge. If this edge is flat, you need to estimate the rest of the rings. Depending on the diameter of your log, try to guess how many more rings there would have been before it was sawn. The number of rings is the age of your wood when it was harvested.
Trees gain another ring of bark every growing season. There is one growing season per year.
In this example, there are twenty-nine (29) rings, so this tree was 29 years old when it was cut down.
Well is about time...we thought you would never ask. We have a whole section built for fireplace doors, along with a stash of other info like how-to's, guides, and FAQ's for all that is hearth, home, & outdoor.
Thank you for reading our measurement guidebook. We hope this helps everyone to master measurements & tackle tape rulers.
Thanks for visiting.
-The CJ's® Team
A helpful video ...