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Measuring Tricks

Martha Stewart Living, September 2009

You've spotted a great coffee table, but you're not sure if its size is right. These tips can help. Use them to approximate dimensions (and fill out our cheat sheet to keep in your wallet) so you'll never come up short.

Hands and Arms
A "hand" -- the measuring unit for horses -- is 4 inches, the approximate width of many a palm. Another trick: Measure the span from the tip of the pinky to the tip of the thumb; then you can "walk" your hand across a surface. Additionally, the span of your arms is roughly equal to your height, so you can measure with outstretched arms.

Credit Card
A typical card is about 2 by 3 1/2 inches. On the back, the distance between the magnetic strip and the opposite edge is 1 1/2 inches.

Quarter
It's about an inch in diameter, and its edge, rolled in a straight line, measures 3 inches (start and end with Washington's profile facing the same direction).

Feet
A man's size 10 1/2 shoe is about a foot long. A woman's size 8 is about 10 inches. Using the length of your shoe, you can measure a rug by traversing it heel to toe. For longer distances, count strides (to determine the length of your stride, walk through a puddle so you'll make footprints, and measure the distance between them).

Dollar Bill
U.S. currency is 2 1/2 by 6 inches. Paper money can wrap around objects, so it comes in handy for measuring small curved items (to mark the size, crimp the bill).

Comments (9)

  • myla08 21 May, 2010

    Helpful tips! I always carry a paper ruler but I plan to memorize these tips so I have that knowledge in case I need it. Sarcasm offers nothing but bad feelings, Sharing a bit of knowledge that some people may not have is a wonderful thing.

  • desertbanshee 20 May, 2010

    Excellent and clever tips. Thanks!

  • harvard44 19 May, 2010

    I travel with one of those small round measuring tapes [2 1/2 inches] that zips closed at the touch of a button. Been one in my pocket for years. Used it COUNTLESS times for everything from mats for framing pictures to area rugs and everything in between! I am NOT a very good "size estimator." These are good tips though...

  • rock63roll64 19 May, 2010

    livinginfrance I AM CERTAIN MARTHA KNOWS THIS!!! THESE ARE TIPS THAT HELP YOU NOT HAVE TO GO GET A RULER AND THEN RETURN IT OR BOTHER THE SALESPEOPLE FOR ONE. BE NICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • tcw61 18 May, 2010

    @LivinginFrance - yes most do, but it still was a great idea...As my GrandMother used to say "Better to have and not need, than to need and not have".

  • oncearose 18 May, 2010

    Thanks. Great ideas all. I have been out shopping many times and discovered that I had not put my small measuring tape back in my purse when I last used it.

  • its4connie 18 May, 2010

    Wow, that's kind of nasty. I think these are great tips. Thanks, Martha!

  • DorrieBelle 18 May, 2010

    I keep one of those small retractable tape measures in my purse. If I'm out to shop, I have it with me, since it's normally in with the cash. Cost : 88c at Mal-Wart. Not having to bug salespeople or stock clerks : Priceless

  • livinginfrance 18 May, 2010

    This may come as a surprise, Martha, but most stores will have a measuring tape, or at least a ruler on hand!