15 Types of Measuring Tools Every Homeowner Needs

When I bought my first house, I was shocked at how many tools I still needed. Especially compared to how few tools I actually had.

I’ll bet you’ve been there too.

When you’re knee-deep in a project, and you have to make exact measurements for a surface, angle, distance, or temperature…you want to make sure you have the right measuring tool for the job.

I wrote this article to help fix that issue. Here, I’ll break down a list of essential types of measuring tools every homeowner needs to have.

With it, you’ll be prepared for every DIY scenario you might face.

I’ve organized our “must-have” measuring tools into two main categories –  digital and analog.

You’re free to have strong opinions about keeping their tools ‘old-school’ or going digital. But don’t worry – every great invention serves a purpose, so every digital tool we’ve included here has earned its place.


Digital Tools

Personally, I love my digital tools. They really make it simple to get an accurate measurement, so we’re going to start here.

Laser Distance Measurer

The laser distance measurer shoots an incredibly accurate light pulse at a surface as far as 30 meters away. It calculates the time it takes for the beam of light to reflect back, and thus figures out the distance to the object.

It’s great to determine the exact distance of a wall, or tough-to-reach place, without needing a tape-measure. Most laser distance measurers can triangulate and calculate other helpful data as well.

Ruler and Laser Distance Measurer

Digital Calipers\Micrometers

I love my digital caliper. I’ve used it in my Gladiator cabinet review to find what gauge steel they used to make the cabinets.

Digital calipers are extremely accurate, far more so than analog calipers. Analog calipers rely on etched markings for measurement. They’re used to measure the inner or outer dimensions of a physical object that can be clamped for accuracy.

Digital micrometers can measure length, diameter, and thickness.

Both instruments are precise and can convert to/from imperial or metric units, but there are some distinguishing differences.

Calipers tend to be easier to use. Micrometers are designed for maximum accuracy and can outperform digital calipers in precision. Calipers can clamp down on surfaces to mark them for accuracy, while micrometers are purely a measurement tool.

Digital Caliper

Digital Level

I love my digital level. They allow you to field calibrate them so you can always trust their readings, even when establishing a “false zero”.

Let me explain.

Traditional levels are difficult to use on a slope. When you’re not starting from a level surface, it can be difficult to figure out what is level in relation to a sloped surface.

By establishing a false zero established on your digital level, you can replicate the same slope or angle every time.

A digital level is used for complex leveling work, providing calculations for height and related tasks in general construction. Digital levels rely on a bar-coded staff and gravity for their remarkable accuracy. They’re especially useful in identifying false readings from un-level sources.

Digital Level

Laser Level

A laser level is designed to help you visualize a perfectly straight line across larger surfaces.

They emit a long beam of light across large surfaces like walls or floors. That’s particularly useful when mounted on a tripod, or pole. Your hands are free to make marks or look at different options while you measure.

Think of a laser level as the digital equivalent of a chalk-line.

Laser Level

Angle Gauge

Angle gauges are used for measuring angle degrees, and are commonly used in woodworking and other projects that rely on precise cuts.

Since they rely on gravity to provide reliable readings, they aren’t affected if a work area is uneven. Even if the floor is off-balance, they’ll still be trustworthy.

Digital Angle Gauge

Infrared Thermometer

One of the first “cool tools” I bought was an infrared thermometer. It was essential in figuring out whether I needed to install insulation on my garage door.

Any time you need to check the surface temperature of an area, this is an essential tool.

They operate using a lens that converts radiation into energy that’s measured by a sensor.

Digital Thermometer

Digital Manometer

If you own a propane tank, it’s a good idea for you to also have a digital manometer. They’re is designed to measure differential pressure of gasses or liquids.

They can also be used to detect gas leaks, or to check the pressure coming from pipes. If you’re troubleshooting your HVAC system, this will be a critical tool to have.


Analog Tools

Now, let’s take a look at the ‘tried-and-true’, classic, reliable analog tools. Sometimes, going old school is more convenient and reliable than you might think.

Don’t count these tools out for your next project. 

Tape Measure

No handyman would be caught on a job without their retractable tape measure. The best tape measures are at least 12 feet long and will have both imperial and metric measurements.

They’re best on flat surfaces, but can also bend to a corner. When you’ve retracted the right length of tape, you can lock them into position. That can be a lifesaver when you’re alone on a job and need to measure long distances.

Tape Measures

Measuring Wheel

Also known as a surveyor’s wheel, the measuring wheel is rolled alongside the user as they walk from a start point to an endpoint. It uses the wheel’s kinematics to determine the distance.

They’re used primarily in construction and other surveying work where the surface is flat enough to remain accurate.

Although the design may seem simple, often it’s the simplest solutions that solve the biggest challenges.

Measuring Wheel

Ruler

I’m willing to bet that no single tool is used more everyday than a standard ruler.

From quick, smaller measurements, to drawing a straight line, carpentry, cutting, and even drafting blueprints, the ruler is a wonder in its benefits and simplicity.

Most rulers are made of plastic, wood, or metal, marked with imperial and metric intervals on each side.

Square (T-square, Rafter Square, Adjustable, Quick)

The square comes in several different forms. For this article, we’ll just focus on four of the most widely-used forms to keep things simple.

The T-square is used for testing and drawing perfect right angles, typically by a draftsman, and is a crucial tool for carpenters and masons alike.

A drywall T-square is 4 feet long, designed for the dimensions of a standard sheet of drywall. I used a drywall T-square extensively when I installed drywall in my garage.

The rafter square, or speed square, is a multi-purpose carpenter’s tool. It allows you to know if something is at the correct angle, or even if it’s level.

The name probably gives it away. But the adjustable square has a fixed metal angle and an adjustable side that allows you to slide it to the length of the area that needs to be measured, then lock it in that position.

The quick square serves a similar purpose as the others. However, this tool is an enclosed triangle used for marking and cutting perpendicular areas.

Square, Tape Measure and Bubble Level

Bubble Levels

You’ve probably used a bubble level before.

Also called a spirit level, this tool is used to tell whether a surface is horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb).

The ‘meter’ in this instance, is a small bubble in the liquid-filled vile. When the air bubble is centered between two lines, the surface is perfectly level.

This comes in handy for hanging pictures, getting large appliances level and installing cabinets.

Protractor

You’ve probably used a protractor in elementary school, but there are industrial versions of it as well.

The protractor has a range of angle degrees marked on its surface. This helps give an accurate angle guide in CAD and mechanical drawings.

Protractors can typically measure from 0° to 180° and come in different sizes. They’re usually easy to carry either in your toolbox, or belt whenever you need them. 

Caliper and Protractor

Caliper

We’ve already covered digital calipers, and how they differ from a micrometer.

Here, we’ll focus on the analog version.

As with the digital calipers, analog calipers are used to measure the inner or outer depth of objects. Most woodworkers and engineers swear by them. However, there are different versions, such as the dial, vernier, and spring joint calipers. Just to name just a few.

Pressure Gauge

A pressure gauge is a fluid intensity measurement device. They measure PSI – or pound-force per square inch.

Pressure gauges aren’t just an important measurement tool to have on hand. They’re vital to the safety of jobs that involve highly pressurized liquids, gas, or air.

If you have an air compressor in your garage, you’ve know the value of a good pressure gauge. Some tanks have them pre-installed, but it’s good to have your own gauge in your tool collection.