Does Your Tape Measure Up?

Though statistics vary, it seems on average that 10 percent of the population is left-handed. So here’s a little experiment for all you right-handers (and one that shocked both Glen Huey and me, because in our collective 34 or so years of woodworking, we’ve never noticed this):

- Pick up your tape measure in one hand and a pencil or marking knife in the other.

- Now hook the tape over the end of a board, and mark a line at 6″ (or just pretend to, if you don’t wish to mark a perfectly nice board).

In what hand did you hold the tape? What way were the numbers facing?

I tend to hold the tape in my left hand, and mark with my right hand. So I tried this with all the tape measures in our shop that I could dig up (I was surprised we didn’t have more; I think someone is hiding a cache).On every one of them, the numbers were upside down as I measured and made my mark. Is this a big deal? Not really. Even on tapes where the inch markings don’t run through from side to side, I can easily mark at the bottom edge , but the numbers are still upside down.

You’ll notice in the picture above that one tape has the numbers facing the camera , that’s a the M-Power R1 Tape Measure, and it’s made specifically for right-handed people. Now I have a couple lefties in my family, and in my recollection, a standard tape measure is the only product that (now) seems designed for them. For once, it’s we right-handers who have to search for a specialized tool (I just didn’t know it until this morning).

The R1 is a nice 16′ tape, with an easy-to-grip rubber spine, crisp and clear lines and numbers, and a rubber thumb lock that locks tight. The top edge is marked with an Imperial scale; the bottom edge is a metric scale. And at just $14, well, I may have to spring for a new tape.

- Megan Fitzpatrick

- You know the mantra, now get the book: “Measure Twice, Cut Once,” by Jim Tolpin.

21 thoughts on “Does Your Tape Measure Up?

  1. tsstahl

    Living a sinister life, one finds that most things are backward, opposite, or just plain wrong.

    But then one little thing like a tape measure comes along and suddenly all the left minded cry oppression!

  2. Chris Friesen

    Ray, you’ve got a few options: Porter-Cable makes the 423MAG and the 345, Bosch makes the CS5, DeWalt makes the DW378G. There are probably others.

  3. Jeff E

    Most of the time I use a tape measure to measure. I am left handed, so I pick it up in my left hand, and yes, the numbers are inverted, a pain in the neck (or lower) for use. Tape measures are right handed! The Fastcap tape is wonderful. Or I have seen a tape with the bottom of the numbers towards the hook, also ambidextrous. Check out power tools. Many have the lock button located where the web between thumb and forefinger can accidently be pressed if the drill or sander is used in the left hand. Or circular saws that throw sawdust in your face if you use it in you left hand.

  4. Ray

    From Canada
    1. I sold tools for years and mentioned to the Stanley rep. 20 years ago that they should make a tape for right handers. He looked at me sideways till I handed him his own tape and said, I’ll be darned.

    2. Here is another one for you woodworkers. In Canada we use a lot of 7 1/4" hand held circular saws rather than the wormdrive saws more commonly used in the USA. Try and find a circular saw that is not left handed. If you hold the saw with your right hand you can’t see the cutline unless you look at the back of the blade through the saw body or rubber necking on your tip toes over the top of the saw. Anyone have any other left right issues?

  5. Richard

    I noticed this problem many years ago and I am waiting for someone to produce a tape measure that reads correctly for a right handed person and has a lever lock instead of the thumb lock. I have worn out several of the thumb lock types but none of the lever lock tapes.

    Richard

  6. Michael King Sr

    OMG, the right hander’s left hand has gotten so lezzy it’s amazing. If you start using the left hand to do the work that’s on the left side who knows it may us the part of the brain that hasn’t been used since you were a kid. For about ten dollars or less Fastcap makes a Lefty/Righty.

  7. Bobby Slack

    I measure with my left hand and mark with my right hand. Also I use the Fastcap double sided tape. Recently I decided to do all my measurements in metric because the math is easier and also I like doing it for designing in Sketchup.

  8. Malcolm Webb

    I’m in the UK and I’ve had one of these tapes for about 3 years. I don’t know who makes it but it is sold under the name "The Right One". When I saw it advertised it was a "must-have" and so I bought 2. I have since given one to my brother-in-law who is a builder — a waste really as he probably doesn’t appreciate it. It’s just another tape measure to him. Like most people he’s probably never noticed that the numbers are upside down on a standard tape measure. I call it my left-handed tape measure — makes people laugh when I say it. In reality it is a "right-handers" tape measure.

    Malcolm Webb
    Lincoln UK

  9. Mitch Wilson

    This just proves my old adage "Lefties can’t do anything right". And, by the way, Fast Cap has also been making lefty/righty tape measures for several years.
    Mitch Wilson

  10. Torch02

    Interesting, I’ve noticed that a seemingly disproportionate number of woodworkers with an online presence are left-handed: Matt Vanderlist, Shannon Rogers, and Larry Marshall – just to name a few.

  11. Alex C.

    Couple of thoughts…

    The name is "Tape Measure" it’s not a tape "Marker". That’s what it’s original primary function was intended to be, a surveyors tool, just measure not mark. Since it’s easier to handle with your right hand (if you’re right handed of course) why make it left handed?

    It was invented in Sheffield England in 1829, so I’m guessing the guy spoke English. You read English, from left to right. Your eye naturally follows that pattern.

    1. apbeelen

      Thanks Alex for pointing out what people seem to be missing: that in western society we read left to right, thus the orientation of the numbers on a tape measure. It has nothing to do with being a righty or lefty, but as a left hander I must also say, score one for the south-paws!

  12. Jim Belair

    I also have one of the LV right-to-left tapes. My only gripe was that the belt clip is still on the same side of the case as the standard L-R tape. This made it difficult to clip to your left side (apron, pocket, belt) and retrieve in the ready to measure position. I ended up gluing a clip to the opposite side. Works much better now.

    Jim B

  13. Adam

    I’ve always complained about trying to read my tape upside-down. I guess my wife got tried of hearing about it and bought one of those LV tapes. I’ve been using it for a few years and I love it. They’re great! No more trying to read an upside-down tape measure. I highly recommend buying one.

  14. megan

    Liz,
    I switch off as well, if it’s more convenient. But given the choice, it’s natural for me to hold the tape in my left hand.

    I’ll have to check out the LV tapes – thanks!
    Megan

  15. Liz Pf

    I’m solidly right handed, but in the experiment I held the tape in my right hand. In real work, I switch off, depending on what’s more convenient.

    And unlike Bruce, I can read numbers upside down, but not text.

    Third, Lee Valley does sell right-handed tapes, and has for some time.

  16. Bruce Jackson

    Years ago, I was a teacher, and of course, part of classroom management was to learn to read upside down. The idea is you don’t have to entertain yourself; it’s more important to keep the little monsters distracted and focused. But, I have yet to master the art of reading numbers upside down. Guess you know by now, I’m in the right-handed "minority".

    Anyway, my diopters started going up when I tried to measure to the nearest 1/16 of an inch, never mind the neares 1/32. Blame it on the tape measure, which I no longer use, since developing an arsenal of set-up blocks and tricks to work around my poor vision.

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