How to use a surveyor’s steel tape

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How to use a surveyor’s steel tape

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According to a 1915 report in the Massachusetts newspaper, “The Worcester Telegram,” the steel tape used by surveyors and civil engineers was developed in Worcester in 1870, by Daniel M. Wheeler. Before this, surveyors used chains, typically around 66 feet long, to measure off parcels of land. Today surveyors use theodolites or GPS technology to measure distances. However, a steel tape, between 100 and 200 feet long and divided into hundredths of a foot, still offers a portable and convenient alternative, if you need to measure the boundaries of a plot of land.


Step One

Hammer a post into the ground, using a mallet, at the starting point of the land you wish to measure.


Step Two

Place a magnetic compass on top of the post. Rotate the compass until the point marked as "N" on the dial lines up exactly with the red point of the indicator needle.


Step Three

Read off, from the dial of the compass, the exact direction in which you wish to measure. For example: "240 degrees southwest." Take a note of the direction, with a notebook and pencil.


Step Four

Fix one end of the surveyor's steel tape securely to the post, using parcel tape.


Step Five

Walk off in the direction you have chosen, unreeling the steel tape as you go. Take the compass, the second post and the mallet with you.


Step Six

Stop from time to time, and align the compass needle with the north. Check that you are still headed in the exact direction you chose at the outset and that you have not deviated from your line. Correct your course if you have strayed too far in one direction or the other.


Step Seven

Stop when you reach the desired distance, shown on the steel tape. Again, align the compass needle with the north and check you are still headed in the exact direction you first chose. If not, correct your position. Hammer the second post into the ground using the mallet to mark the end of the line you have measured.


Step Eight

Wind up the tape, using the crank handle on the side of the reel as you walk along. Free the end of the tape when you reach the starting post once again.


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