I am surprised no one had brought this up. When starting in the
trades, I learned to use a tape upside down. So did everyone else.
It wasn't an option, unless you were left handed. Think about it; if
the majority of your dexterity lies in your right hand, this will make
Hold the tape in your left hand, hook the blade (you may have to slide
it out many, many feet when framing a roof or other tasks) after
carefully guiding the hook to the end of the board. You extend the
tape and mark with your right hand, the hand you write with and
perform other detailed tasks. Slip the hook up on the tape, and while
it is retracting in your left hand, put your pencil behind your ear,
then get your speed square with your right hand. It's all one big
motion. You never locked the tape; it was held in your left hand just
long enough to make your mark.
((At this same time, you learn to cut with the shoe of the saw on the
board, not the motor side. This allows you to see EXACTLY the point
of contact and the accuracy of the cut. Plus, you don't have to
change sides from where you measured.))
It was not taught to measure left to right. To do that, you had to
hook the tape, extend it where you need it (so far, so good) but then
there was monkey motion in getting the tape locked with your right
hand, retrieving the pencil with the right hand after locking the
tape, balancing the tape on the material to be cut, marking, then
unlocking the tape (which you would do with your right hand, which
should be putting the pencil behind your ear and reaching for the
square) and then finally get to the speed square for your saw line.
Too much activity for a cut, and imagine all that over the course of
cutting all day. Not to mention all the times the tape will fall over
(which it never does when you are holding it in your left hand) or you
lose your hook if you bump your material or the tape slips when
locked. Then you have to start over with your measuring.
If you could mark perfectly every single time with your left hand
(mine is an untrained idiot), you were allowed to measure left to
right. But if you were slow, clumsy, or needed more practice in your
cutting motion, you went back to being a mule.
I decided to learn as I was taught. Being the "saw man" was a step up
in job site status, plus when I was cutting the headers, rafters,
joists, bucks, etc., was sure a lot easier than having to haul them
all day as a laborer.
With almost 40 years of that in mind, I read my tapes upside down, and
can't easily decipher any tape that has too much stuff on it. I was
confounded years ago when the fractionalized tapes came out as the
clutter confused my dull mind. And I think it was soon discovered
that in the industry that "2 little sticks" was the common description
of 1/8" for some, and I even had helpers tell me that the fractions
they saw on a tape were "for something else". What, they didn't
know. Maybe something scientific. Baking, perhaps?
I was glad when that trend subsided. But the advent of combo metric
tape measures a few years ago muddied the water for me again. Now
most tapes I see are covered with unneeded and unwanted information
and if I don't have my glasses, sometimes I am up against it with
I don't want much. Sometimes I just want a long, retracting ruler
with one scale on it. I have them and can find them, but I just
wouldn't think it would be a challenge to do so.