The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

Plumb, Level, Square, and True: What They Mean and How to Measure

hand tools Sep 25, 2020

Straight lines and right angles are must-haves for any construction project, whether it’s a wall, door, window, or entire frame. But “straightness” only goes so far—you can have a line that is perfectly straight (that is, not bending or curving), but if it’s not oriented correctly, it can still result in slanted walls or a sloping floor. 

That’s where level and plumb come in—both measure straightness, but with a different relationship to the horizon. “Level” refers to straightness side to side (horizontal), whereas plumb measures straightness up and down (vertical).  

But what does all of this mean in practice? Read on to find out the definitions of level, plumb, square, and true, how they’re different, and how to measure for each.  

What does “level” mean?

“Level” is what you call a perfectly horizontal line. Horizontal means side to side. To be level with the world means...

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How to Read a Tape Measure

hand tools Sep 17, 2020

In the building trades, the tape measure is an essential measuring tool that will help you tackle projects both big and small—everything from estimate to build. Getting familiar with the measurements on a tape will also help you work faster and more efficiently. With enough practice, reading a tape measure down to fractions of an inch will become second nature. 

Get a complete tutorial on how to use a tape measure like a pro from builder and craftsman Jordan Smith in MT Copeland’s Hand Tools online course.

Anatomy of a tape measure

In the US, the standard tape measure will measure in Imperial units—that’s feet and inches—while the rest of the world uses metric tape measures to measure in meters and centimeters. No matter which measurement system your measuring tape follows, the basic anatomy of the tool and how to read it remain the same.  

Body or case

This is the housing that holds the coiled tape. It can be either plastic or metal,...

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The 3 Best Tape Measures According to Professional Builder Jordan Smith

hand tools Sep 17, 2020

Whether you are doing general construction work, framing, or even finer work like finish carpentry, measuring tools are an essential part of your toolbox. But the tool you’ll reach for the most is the tape measure 

“If there's one tool that you use all the time—every single day—as a contractor, it's going to be the tape measure. When you measure a remodel and you're giving a quote, you use a tape measure. When you're cutting lumber, you use a tape measure. You use a tape measure for absolutely every part of the building process—from estimate all the way through the final punch list.” - Jordan Smith

When choosing a tape measure, there are some must-have features you should look for, but you’ll also need to consider your own preferences and job type. 

5 Must-Have Tape Measure Features

Some tape measure features are non-negotiable, like a good standout length, solid body, and durable tape. Make sure that whatever tape...

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