Making good guesses using what’s at
hand (including your hand). By Donald Haas
Having the right tool for the job is important, but
sometimes you have to work with what’s available.
Relative measurements can be just as accurate as
standard measurements. Memorize the dimensions
of a few common items that you usually have with
you or readily available, and you’re set.
I know that with my arms stretched out to the
sides, my fingertips are 6' apart; great for measuring
rope or a rough estimate of a room size. A dollar bill
is 61"× 21", a credit/debit/gift card is 3.370"× 21",
a business card is 3½"× 2", a quarter has a 0.955"
diameter. Most floor tiles are 12"× 12" while ceiling
tiles are 2'× 4'. Remember, it’s all relative.
Measure This: Far Yard Sale
The Problem: The Mrs. calls from a yard sale where
she found a desk she thinks would be perfect in a
nook in the office, but she isn’t sure it will fit. She
wants me to measure the nook, then meet her at
the yard sale and measure the desk. The yard sale is
over a half-hour drive away. She doesn’t have a tape
measure, and neither does the owner of the house.
The Solution: I have her measure how many credit
cards (using the long side) wide and deep the
desk is, while I measure the nook with the length of
a credit card. The nook is 3'0" or 10. 7 credit cards
wide, while the desk is 11. 25 credit cards wide, or
about 3' 2". Too big. I save myself an hour on the
road and get back to playing with my soldering iron.
168 Make: Volume
Measure This: Cookie Calculation
The Problem: I receive a wonderful old Swedish
recipe for gingerbread cookies, and it calls for 4
hectograms of flour. I have to check my copy of the
MAKE Pocket Ref, which gives me the conversion
factor of 0.22 ( 4 hectograms = 0.88 lbs.). That’s
when I remember I don’t own a kitchen scale.
The Solution: I remember the phrase “A pint’s a
pound the world around,” which refers to a pint of
water ( 16 fluid ounces, actual weight is 1.04 lbs).
I have a measuring cup that’s marked in pints, so
I measure out approximately 0.88 pints of water.
I place that in 1 of 2 identical large cups. Then
I spoon flour into the second cup until their weights
feel equal to me. Approximations like this are fine
for the cookie recipe — they’re delicious.
Donald Haas (
email@example.com) is an amateur
tinkerer and perpetual daydreamer. He’s always looking for
new solutions to old problems.
Illustrationby Alison Kendall
Lubricating Saw Blades
Before cutting fret slots, or much of anything
else, rub an old candle along the edge of your
saw blade. You'll be surprised how much easier
it makes the process to have a bit of lubrication.
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