On The Level: Keson and SOLA: Must-Have Measuring Tools for Masons

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Here is what you need to know about the best short tape measures for masonry. 

This article is one of two. Once we realized the extent of the content, we decided this one will cover measuring products (mechanical ones). In the next issue, we will go through some of the marking products. 

Every trade has particular tools designed specifically for it. Keson and SOLA are in the unique position of providing tools critical to “the trades” in general. We aspire to be the world’s most trusted source of measuring and marking products. Our mission is to provide reliable, innovative, and easy-to-use measuring and marking products to people who are passionate about their work and getting it done right. To do this we aligning our service, design, manufacturing, and distribution capabilities to meet the precise needs of our customers. Many of these customers are masons. What follows is a list of tools of particular interest to masons of every skill level, education, and age. 

The adage “measure twice, cut once” leaves out the critical role of the marking product, so we’re including some of those, in the next issue. While you’re at it we suggest you, Mark Your Mark on your tools (initials or other identifying marks). It’ll save an argument or two in the future. 

Measuring Tools (      or * rating 1-5, 5 is critical)

Short tape *****

Any belt-clip style, tape measure under 40 ft. is a short tape. (Any tape over 40 ft. is considered a long tape. Any short tape without a belt clip is a “pocket tape”). For over 100 years these convenient products have borne the brunt of use and abuse on every jobsite. No product (save perhaps the level) is more frequently used. Our suggestion is to select a short tape by the following criteria: 

  1. Unit of measure (UOM): Having the correct UOM on the tape eliminates errors that can arise from conversion calculations. If you commonly use more than one UOM (feet and inches, metric, engineers scale, or another), find a tape measure that has both. It’s worth the money to save the time and the errors that can come from having to do conversions
  2. Length: Choose a tape that will handle 90% (or more) of the most common lengths you measure. For most, the added weight of a longer tape in your belt, bag, or on your hip is not worth the two or three times a week you might need it. 
  3. Strength/durability: You can buy the strongest most durable tape on the market, but if it doesn’t have the UOM that you need or it’s too short, you are wasting money. That’s why we rank these attributes third. Strength of product and durability under extreme conditions are important but not as important as potentially adding errors by measuring with a different UOM or having to run a tape 25 feet and then an additional 7 feet in two measuring runs. 
  4. Housing type: Rubber grip, comfort in the hand, housing width, additional weight, etc. are all personal choices, in our opinion. You are now choosing what feels good for you. 
  5. Any other features: White blades over yellow, toggle locks over slide locks, etc. all of these make tape measures different, not really “better” than another. 

One additional note: Standout is often used as a test of quality. In our experience, it’s not a causal relationship (not all tapes with great stand out are of great quality, but tapes of great quality usually have superior stand out).  See our article on Short Tapes for more tips and information.

Wood Ruler **

Before some use the Short Tape, wood rulers were the measuring tool of choice for masons. In some cases, they still are. The limitation of a wood ruler is the length (usually only 6 or 6 ½ feet long). Advantages - they stand up on their own and their rigidity. They also have some specialty scales (like the bricklayer’s and the modular) that you won’t see often on a flexible short tape. 

Long tape ****

Any tape measure that’s over 40 feet is a long tape. They are most often on a manual reel. See our article on Long Tapes for more tips and information. These reels can be geared for faster rewind. If you need to be within ¼-inch, DO NOT USE fiberglass long tapes. If you want a long tape that will last, get an open house reel with a synthetic coating (we suggest nylon or the like). If you value convenience, you can likely get away with a closed house reel. Closed housed tapes only have a thin lacquer coating and will not survive much abuse. 

Measuring Wheel **

Any time you are measuring a distance longer than your tape, consider a measuring wheel. These products are fantastic for quick estimating. You don’t need to peg a tape to a point or have someone assist you. You simply set the wheel where you would like to begin and walk to the point you would like to finish. Please, be mindful of how you walk. Like all measuring devices, measuring wheels are susceptible to human and environmental errors. You might not walk a perfectly straight line. The surface may have indentations and undulations. Measuring wheels are great, easy to use tools as long as the users know their limitations.

Levels

A level is perhaps the most essential tool for masonry projects that involve checking for surfaces that are level or are on an incline. There are a variety of levels that can range from box beams, digital box beams, and torpedo levels to ensure to make sure your project is completed accurately.

Box Beams *****

Box Beam Levels feature a heavyweight profile for heavy-duty usage. End Caps are essential to protect from accidental drops.

A special note: Digital Levels **  (**** if you do ADA compliance work).

Since the ADA guidelines are being followed more universally digital levels have grown tremendously in popularity. They tell you precisely if a project is “in” or “out” of compliance and by how much. Now that builders are experiencing the benefit of this, and because these levels are as robust as their non-digital cousins, we expect this trend to continue. Especially because many are now communicating via Bluetooth technology with smartphones and apps. 

Torpedo Levels***

Torpedo levels are accurate and handy for quick last-minute precision checks, even on inclined surfaces. On the LSTFM, the main vial is a FOCUS-60 horizontal vial, but it also includes two FOCUS-20 vials for plumb and 45-degree readings. So no matter what angle you need to measure, the Torpedo level has you covered.

Screeding Levels ***

These levels are specifically for landscaping and concrete work. They are made of aluminum and can level cement better than any 2X4 with ease. 

The Screeding levels from Keson are incredibly durable and a must-have for your driveway, sidewalk, and patio masonry projects.

Line Level **** with mason twine

These inexpensive, lightweight levels are terrific for ensuring a flat horizontal plane over a long (>10 feet) distance. If we are reasonable, solid structure levels lose their practicality at a certain length. That length is debatable, some builders' longest level is 48 inches, but some use 96-inch levels and would likely use longer if we made them. Line levels enable a fairly consistent and high degree of levelness over long distances by hanging from a taut mason line strung between two secure points. They need to be small and light so as not to cause the line to sag. These are a practical, very inexpensive solution to an everyday problem. Line levels are affordable and usable by builders of all financial and skill levels.

Stay tuned for next month’s article on the Must-Have Marking Tools For Masons. In the meantime, head over to www.keson.com to learn more about these measuring and marking tools. 

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