Budget Dumpster presents The Fill Logo

How to Measure Without a Tape Measure

DIY Tools on Wood
By:Kevin Rossignol| Last Updated:04/05/2024
Time to Read: 3 min

Project Overview

Time to Complete
Less than 1 day
Project Cost

Different Ways to Measure if You Don't Have a Tape Measure

We’ve all heard the mantra before: measure twice, cut once. But what if you don’t have a ruler handy? What do you do then? As it turns out, there are variety of ways to measure things without a tape measure. All you need is an object with a consistent length. So, in honor of National Tape Measure Day, we’ve put together a list of things you can use in lieu of a ruler.


Method #1: Your Hands, Feet, Elbows and Height

Let’s start with something you always have handy – yourself. Assuming you’re a fully-grown adult, your fingers and appendages have a fixed length, making them perfect for taking measurements. The only drawback is that you have to know their length beforehand. Assuming you have a ruler available, these are the body parts you can use to measure without a tape measure:

Man Measuring Wood With His Arm
  • Your Hands: There are a couple of ways to use your hands. One method is to measure from the line on your wrist to the tip of your middle finger – good for measuring long surfaces. For shorter distances, measure the length of your pinkie finger. It’s a lot easier to use your pinkie for smaller dimensions since it’s located on the outside of your hand.
Lightbulb Icon

Pro (Thumb) Tip: How to Measure an Inch Without a Ruler
The length between your thumb tip and the top knuckle of your thumb is roughly one inch. The next time you have a ruler handy, give it a quick measure to double-check.

  • Your Feet: Your feet are a great way to measure room dimensions. For the most accurate measurements, determine the length of your foot from the heel to your longest toe. You could also look up your shoe size in a sizing chart to estimate the length of your foot.
  • Your Elbows: The distance from the crook of your elbow to the tips of your fingers is about 15 to 18 inches, though your mileage may vary. This trick can come in handy if you need a 12-inch ruler.
  • Your Height: No need to measure yourself from head to toe for this one. Instead, measure your arm span from fingertip to fingertip. Your reach is almost exactly the same length as your height.

Getting ready to start your next DIY project?
Check out our Essential Tools for DIYers!

Paper Money Doubles as a Tape Measure in a Pinch

Method #2: Your Money

An easy way to measure without a tape measure is to use your cash. A plain old dollar bill is exactly 6.14 inches long and 2.61 inches tall, but you can simply round those down to the nearest half-inch. You can also fold it into sixths to create a makeshift ruler – here’s a quick visual guide that shows how to do it.

If you don’t have cash on hand, you could settle for a credit card. At 3.37 inches long and 2.125 inches tall, your plastic can provide fairly accurate measurements on short notice.

Method #3: Printer Paper

A standard sheet of letter paper is exactly 8.5 inches by 11 inches. Use either the long or short edge depending on the size of the surface you’re measuring.

Use Printer Paper as a Tape Measure
Use a Paper Ruler as a Tape Measure

Method #4: Print Out a Ruler

Instead of using a sheet of paper, why not go a step further and simply print out a ruler? Here are some 12-inch ruler templates you can use in those moments when you absolutely need to be as accurate as possible.

Get how-to tips delivered right to your inbox!