Measuring tools have been in use for centuries because they’re essential to helping you understand distances and allowing you to accurately construct buildings and other structures. Today, there are many different types of measuring tools available, and you can use them to measure everything from temperature to angles to time.
The type of measuring tool you need will depend on how you want to measure an item and what you want to measure. In some cases, you could have several tools at your disposal. To understand what is available and how it could help you, we’ve put together a list of 20 of the best measuring tools on the current market. You can go through it and see which one you need for your project.
There are dozens of measuring tools available, and picking out the correct one for your needs can make your whole project go much smoother. Measuring Tools by Daniel Go / CC BY-NC 2.0
1. Angle Gauge
You’d use this measuring tool if you were a forester who was taking forest inventory. You hold them at a set distance from your eye to tell whether or not a tree is inside a plot boundary. You’d usually use a chain or string that the surveyor holds to establish the distance. You can also use them in other professions when you’re trying to measure angles. You can get digital types or ones that are in the more traditional metal design to make them more durable.
2. Angle Locator
This is a manual measuring tool that comes with a clock-like face shape that gets split into four quarters. Each quarter reads increments between 0° and 90°. The round face on this tool gets attached to two straight edges along the left-hand or bottom side. The straight edges have measurements like you’d find on a ruler, and one edge usually has centimeters while the other has inches.
If you’re going to use this tool, you’ll have to fix both of the straight edges to whichever angle you want to measure. You’ll look at the face of the tool to get the angle reading. This is a very useful measuring tool if you’re going to take on woodwork projects, construction, or general contracting. If you’re a homeowner who DIYs, this could also be useful to have on hand.
3. Bubble Inclinometer
Anyone who is trying to determine how steep a particular incline is should have a bubble inclinometer in your arsenal. In several ways, you’ll get the same information as you’d get on an angle locator. However, it differs in the way that it works to determine your information and deliver it. If you take measurements with this tool, you’ll be able to see how it works differently from the other measuring tool.
It looks like a kitchen timer, and it works just like a traditional level would. You put it right by the joint you want to measure before setting it to zero. As it starts to go through the changes, measure the difference. This is slightly more complicated to use than some other measuring tools on the list due to how you read it, but it will work well for angle measuring.
Calipers are a very common measuring tool to have on-hand because they work to give you accurate measurements of the distance between an object’s two opposing sides. You’ll get dual adjustable tips with this tool that you can easily slide to the opposite sides of an object, like a tree trunk. When you remove the caliper from whatever you’re measuring, you’ll be able to see the attached ruler and how far the two tips are apart. If you use the tree trunk example we tossed out, this would show you the tree trunk’s diameter.
You’ll see calipers used in several different fields, including woodworking, foreesetry, metalworking, engineering, science, and medicine. You can buy basic calipers that allow you to take manual measurements, or there are digital calipers that spit out measurements that are very easy to read using a digital display. These measuring tools have been in use for centuries, and the earliest known example of this tool is in the 6th century BC. They were very popular in Roman and Greek times.
A compass usually features dual lengths of metal, and they get joined together at one end. One of the metal pieces comes to a sharp point so that it can grip the paper, and the other metal piece is blunt with a pencil attached to it. You can adjust these compasses, and you can easily set the two metal pieces at different angles to measure different spaces or make different-sized circles.
You see architects commonly using this tool, and it’s also popular with anyone who wants to make technical drawings. Additionally, you can use it as a navigation tool to help determine the distance between two points on a map. It’s great for measuring out circles, and you can see it used in small scale manufacturing, product design, or carpently.
A compass is an old-school way of measuring distances, but it can be helpful to have on hand for measuring out circles in product design. Compass by Curran Kelleher / CC BY 2.0
Some measuring tools fall under the medical device category, and the glucometer is a great example of a very important measuring tool that people use to keep in good health every day. This tool will analyze a droplet of your blood to determine if your body’s glucose levels are too high or not. This is the thing that diabetics use on a daily basis to keep their blood sugar levels stable.
Monitoring and controlling your blood sugar levels is essential when you have diabetes. Without the key information that you get from this device, you’d have to guess at your blood sugar levels. This could easily lead to dangerous complications. Since this is a very important tool, it makes sense that some of them are technologically advanced enough to work with your smartphone application to give you more information.
7. Laser Measure
A laser measure is a great alternative to a traditional tape measure, and you use it to determine the length of a space. When you switch them on, they send out a laser beam when you push a button, and this hits your desired target and measures the distance of the space using the detected reflection. At the core, you’re switching out the metal tape in your tape measure for a laser beam. It’s a very quick, accurate, and easy way to measure distance, and you’ll have your answer in a few seconds after you push the button. The alternative is walking the distance and feeding out a metal tape measure.
You get more accurate measurements with this measuring tool because you don’t have to account for off angles or sags in the tape measure itself that can cause discrepancies. They can also measure longer distances than you’d be able to with a standard tape measure. They can calculate accurate lengths up to 650 feet and measurements up to 300 feet with an accuracy rating up to ⅛ of an inch. They also give you the ideal solution for measuring any spaces that are challenging to reach, like taller ceilings. You’d have to stand on a ladder and manually measure otherwise.
Also, when you measure longer distances with your tape measure, you’ll usually need an extra person to hold the other end of the tape. Laser measures give you digital readings that are easier to read correctly than the small markings on a traditional tape measure, and you can easily take readings in low light without missing anything. However, there are drawbacks. First, this measuring tool will measure the distance that your laser beam reflects, so you have to have a clear shot from point A to point B. If there are, they’ll interfere with your measurements.
A laser measure is a great tool for measuring room sizes, and they’re very commonly used by architects or in the construction fields. Realtors use them as well, even if they’re not able to replace a traditional tape measure completely. For example, if you were trying to measure a length of wood, there is no edge for the laser measure to bounce back and calculate the distance.
Better known as a spirit level or a bubble level, this measuring tool works to tell you whether or not an angle is equally balanced and level. A level is very useful if you work in carpentry or construction, like installing kitchen cabinets. They’re also great for helping you make sure any mirrors or items you hang up are level. You can choose from several sizes, from yard-long to short-handled. They have one or more glass vials in the design that get fixed into the level and filled with colored liquid. They leave a small air pocket in each vial.
You operate this measuring tool by sitting it on top of the item you want to level up and adjust it until the air bubble in the glass vial sits in the marked center point. You can use this tool to measure vertical or horizontal values. It’ll be referred to as plumb when you get a level vertical line. There are many different level types available, and you can get them made out of metal, plastic, or wood. A few popular types of levels include a mason’s level, surveyor’s level, post level, line level, and an electronic level.
9. Measuring Cups
Measuring cups are a very popular measuring tool used in baking and cooking to help you measure out the correct amount of ingredients needed in a recipe. It’s such a popular tool that you may already have one or two sets in your kitchen tool collection. Depending on where you are in the world, measuring cups can come with different unit measurements. A few possible units include a cup or spoon, and measuring jug will have ounces and milliliters. A cup is a measurement in itself in North America. This isn’t considered to be as accurate of a way to measure ingredients as weighing them. However, it’s convenient.
You can find this measuring tool in a broad range of different materials, including plastic, metla, and ceramic. More basic sets of plastic dry measuring cups are available at a huge range of stores for under $10.00. If you go with ceramic measuring cups, they’re slightly more decorative and expensive. However, they’re also nice enough to display on your kitchen shelves.
You’ll find this measuring device used in mechanical engineering. It works very similar to a caliper, but it’s able to measure the depth, length, and thickness of whatever object you choose. Just like a caliper, you measure your object by putting it between the two ends. However it uses a calibrated screw instead of a ruler to measure it. The micrometer’s spindle gets moved until the object sits flush between the anvil and spindle, and then you can easily ready the measurement.
As long as you use this measuring tool correctly, it can be incredibly accurate. The first micrometer came about in the 1630s by astronomer William Gascoigne, right alongside the telescope. Mr. Gascoigne used this tool to find out the distances between celestial objects and stars. Today, there are several different types of micrometers available, including tube, blade, bench, and digital micrometers.
A micrometer is a great tool to have in the field of mechanical engineering since it’s such an accurate tool when you use it correctly. Micrometers by by Daniel Go / CC BY-NC 2.0
An odometer will tell you how far something has traveled, and you should have one inside your vehicle. This is a simple gauge that tells you how many kilometers or miles you have traveled. You can also mount an odometer to your bicycle to determine how far you’ve gone on a bike, and this is very good information to know for fitness purposes. Today, most of these measuring tools are digital.
They usually have a very simple design to them, and some simply strap onto your bicycle. You won’t find a lot of standalone odometers that you don’t put on a bicycle. They do exist, but most people won’t ever need to buy a standalone odometer for use outside of their vehicles.
12. Pressure Gauge
A pressure gauge is a very common measuring tool that you use to measure the pressure of various gasses and liquids like air, water, or oil. If you have a hot water heater in your home, they usually have a pressure gauge attached to it in a location that is easy to see so you can keep track of your water pressure and ensure it doesn’t move out of the correct range.
This is a very important measuring tool in commercial and industrial environments because they’re instrumental at maintaining the plant’s safety. They’re also a useful measuring tool when it comes to pumping up bicycle tires or checking on the air pressure of your vehicle’s tires to ensure they don’t go flat.
You may have used a protractor a time or two when you were in school. This measuring tool is used in mathematics to help you measure angles, and they’re useful outside of the classroom for different purposes. It’s a very convenient option that is very simple to use, but it can help you make complex determinations. Scientists and physicists commonly use this measuring tool for different purposes, so it’s critical in these fields.
A lot of the common protractors on the market are made out of plastic. You could find a more durable option made out of metal though. Most people purchase these items to use in their geometry courses when they’re in school, and it’s valuable in other academic pursuits.
Rulers are also called line gauges, and they’re a very popular measuring tool. You have a very simple and straightforward use, and this is why you see very young children with them. You use a ruler to measure smaller distances to help you produce very accurate technical drawings or get perfectly straight lines. Rulers are popular in geometry, and you’ll also find them used in engineering and construction projects. You can get them made from metal, wood,or plastic. The professional sector where you intend to use your ruler will depend on the material you picked out for your ruler.
Metal rulers usually give you the best durability, and this means that they have the longest lifespans. However, they also tend to be the most expensive. Rulers are available in various sizes. The standard length for a ruler is 15cm or 6-inches, and you can also get 30cm or 12-inch rulers for technical drawings. Yardsticks are three feet or one yard long, and meter sticks are one-meter long.
15. Slope Inclinometer
Better known as tiltmeters, bubble inclinometers, or ball inclinometers, this measuring tool gives you the gradient or angle of a slope. When you use a ball inclinometer, there is a small ball bearing inserted into a carved tube, and it’ll move to the lowest point in the tube with gravity.
If you get a bubble inclinometer, you get a curved tube with an inverted angle that makes the bubble rise to the highest point in the tube. To use this tube, you’ll have to put it alongside whatever angle you want to measure. You’ll see this measuring tool used in the medical field to determine a person’s body’s angle, like their back. It’s also popular to use it in working machinery to keep everything safe.
You may have never heard of this type of measuring tool, but it’s a very accurate one to have on hand if you know how to use it correctly. It’s popular for use indoors and outdoors too. Measuring the Slope by Laura Molnar / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A speedometer is another measuring gauge that will determine how fast your vehicle is traveling at any given time. Charles Babbage was a mechanical engineer that developed the first speedometer to use on locomotives. For almost all of the 20th century, this measuring tool has gotten fitted as standard on vehicles. However, it’s now a requirement that all vehicles get fitted with a speedometer.
The speedometer is key to ensure that the driver is aware of the speed that they have the vehicle going, and this allows them to follow speed limits to keep the roads safe. Most speedometers come with markings to measure kilometers and miles. There are also now many GPS devices that measure speed and will alert if you start going over the set level.
A square is an effective but simple measuring tool that is very popular for use in a range of hobbies and professions. At the most basic design of this tool, you’ll get an L shape with two rulers that get fixed together at a right angle. You can find these tools made out of plastic, wood, or metal, just like common rulers. Squares make it very quick and easy for you to work out right angles, and this gives you accurate cuts in lumber or whatever materia you’re working with. There are several types of squares you can get, and the one you pick out will depend on what you want to use it for. People in the construction industry and contractors can use a drywall square that comes in a T shape.
Drywall squares work to mark out lines on your drywall where you need to cut it, and this helps to ensure that you don’t make mistakes and waste your drywall panels. The squares are on the larger side, and they usually have a four-foot blade for you to draw against. A speed square is another measuring tool that has a triangular shape to it. You’ll use this type of square to measure 45 and 90° angles, and you commonly find it used in carpentry and technical drawings.
Another type of square is a sliding t-bevel square. However, this square won’t measure angles. Instead, it allows you to replicate angles. When you use this tool, you can slide one arm until it lines up with whatever angle you want to copy. Once it’s in place, you move it to a different place to mark out your copied angle.
18. Tailor’s Measuring Tape
This measuring tool has a lot in common with a standard measuring tape. However, due to the way it gets used, it features a softer fabric in the construction to make it more flexible. Any tape measure you use for construction projects like building an extension or measuring a room are metal and housed in a plastic case. A tailor’s measuring tape usually features a cotton-based material that has a plastic coating on it to protect it.
This measuring tape acts like a longer ruler, and you’ll get measurements marked along the fabric’s length. Since it’s made out of fabric, it’s much gentler on your skin. This is important for any tailor because they use this measuring tool to find out the exact measurements of a person’s body to make clothing that fits perfectly.
The tape will also be very flexible, and this allows it to conform snugly around your body’s curves, like when you take waist measurements. This makes the measurements much more accurate, and this gives you a greater precision than you’d get if you used a metal tape measure. Many of these measuring tools don’t have plastic cases with retractable switches either.
19. Tape Measure
A tape measure is a reliable and useful measuring tool that almost everyone has at home, and virtually every tradesperson will have in their toolkit. This tool features a very flexible and long piece or pieces of metal that have centimeter and inch measurements on the length. The metal tape will get wrapped up in a spiral so that it doesn’t get tangled up and takes up very little space when you use it. This is one of the most commonly used tools of any measuring tool on the list, and they’re effective but simple when it comes to measuring the width, length, depth, or height of virtually any object. You can also measure around corners or curves due to the flexibility.
They’re also very portable and small, and a lot of them come outfitted with a clip on the back that you can easily attach to a belt loop on your jeans or clipped to your pocket. A carpenter usually has a tape measure on them all of the time, along with construction workers and general contractors. They’re very easy and quick to use, and they have a lock with a retracting switch that lets you set it to a certain length and lock it in. When you finish, flicking the switch will have it automatically retract, and you can choose from several lengths.
When it comes to carpentry, it’s common to have tape measures that are 25 to 30 feet, and realtors or surveyors usually have much longer models at their disposal that stretch over 100 feet. The longest tape measure types are usually around 300 feet, but you may be able to find one that goes up to 500 feet. The longer they are, the more difficult they can be to retract.
A tape measure is something almost everyone has in their home to help them measure distances from point A to point B. Measuring Tape by Luke Milburn / CC BY 2.0
The final measuring tool on the list is the thermometer, and this measuring tool can help you pinpoint the temperature. Most thermometers will have Fahrenheit and Celcius measures, and the first thermometer was believed to be invented by an Italian physician named Santorio Santorio in the 17th century.
An old-school thermometer will have a glass tube with a small amount of mercury trapped in the bulb at the base of the device. As the temperature goes up, the mercury will rise in the tube to indicate that you have a higher temperature. As the temperature cools, the mercury level will drop. You get a current temperature reading by looking at the markings on the tube and matching up your mercury level.
You’ll see these types of thermometers outside of homes or in your gardens to allow people to keep a close eye on the temperature. There are also many modern thermometer types that are digital, and you can use them to determine your body temperature. They can detect your temperature with a button click, and there are more basic types that you put under your tongue. They’re commonly used in a medical setting and in the science and meteorology fields.
We’ve outlined 20 different measuring tools that you can have at home to help with your various projects around the house. We encourage you to read through the list, pick out the ones that are most beneficial to you, and get them into your tool arsenal to have on-hand whenever the need arises.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.