My yard is not an option.November 20, 2006 8:53 PM   Subscribe

What are some common household objects that can be used as standard measures?

I forgot the size of a television I own, and it's been bugging me. And now that I think about it, there's about a zillion things I'd like to measure around my house. But I don't have a tape measure, and I can't be counted on to get one any time soon. So if I go to my pantry/closet/cupboard/bookcase/and on, what stuff inside is exactly 1 foot long? 6 inches? 1 decimeter? 1cm? etc?

Household instruments good for measurements other than length welcome as well.
posted by carsonb to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

you know a piece of paper is 8.5" by 11", so... not very conventional, but it'll give you an approximation.
posted by Phire at 8:57 PM on November 20, 2006

notebook or typing paper is generally 8.5" x 11"
posted by gnutron at 8:57 PM on November 20, 2006

A 9" cake pan is 9" in diameter, a 12" loaf pan is 12" in length. We're really gonna need to know what you have available. Oh, a sheet of paper (in the US) is usually 8.5X11", I measure tons of stuff just knowing that.
posted by Science! at 9:01 PM on November 20, 2006

A dollar bill is 6" long (well, actually about 6 1/8").
posted by JulianDay at 9:05 PM on November 20, 2006

A 2 liter bottle of soda is almost exactly 1 foot long. And a DVD, and VHS are both 7' long. I do have a tape measure.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:06 PM on November 20, 2006

oops, " not '.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:07 PM on November 20, 2006

A nickel weights exactly 5 g, and is 2 cm in diameter.

And it only costs 5 cents!
posted by champthom at 9:07 PM on November 20, 2006

You could print off this printable tape measure.
posted by b33j at 9:09 PM on November 20, 2006

And then you could measure body parts. For example, on me, one foot is (contrary to popular belief) from about the middle of my palm to the inside of my elbow. My arms outstretched is just over 5ft (though I don't know how much by).
posted by b33j at 9:11 PM on November 20, 2006

Thanks, Science!

I know what a cake pan is, but I didn't know that a common size for them is 9". If I have a cake pan that looks smaller than a foot in diameter to me, can I assume it's a 9" cake pan? Or does it depend on brand or what part of the world it was made in or whatever?

I'll try to clarify my question a little: What are some household objects that, no matter brand or bought from, are standard sizes? And more specifically, which of those products can be used as standard measurements?
posted by carsonb at 9:12 PM on November 20, 2006

If you fold an 8.5x11 piece of paper so that it makes a right triangle, the long side of the triangle = 12.02 inches. Entirely unoriginal -- credit to lifehacker on this one.
posted by katemonster at 9:13 PM on November 20, 2006

Your armspan (fingertip to fingertip) is probably almost exactly your height (and if it's not, it's close enough for most purposes).

I'm six feet tall and my armspan is exactly six feet and my reach (to my fingertip when I reach my hand straight up with my feet flat on the floor) is exactly eight feet. These nice round numbers have been handy for me. But even if it's an odd number for you, it's a measuring stick you'll always have with you.

Pull out a ruler and see if any of your fingers have nice round measurements (e.g. a finger that's half an inch wide, two adjacent fingers that are an inch wide when held together, a finger that's exactly three inches long), or the length or width of your hand. How long is your foot? or elbow-to-fingertip? etc.
posted by winston at 9:35 PM on November 20, 2006

A CD case is about five by five-and-a-half inches. (Actually 4-15/16 x 5 9/16)
posted by winston at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2006

The size of your TV is almost certainly in the model number, at the start, in inches.

(for a tube TV it's often the size of the tube inside, not the screen itself)
posted by cillit bang at 9:46 PM on November 20, 2006

a. get a tape measure - so useful!

Using my tape measure, here are some common objects:
CD jewel case: spine = 5" other side = 5.5"
CD diameter: just shy of 5"
US soda pop can: 4.75" tall
AA battery: just shy of 2" long
mass market paperback: 7" tall
cans, eg of soup and beans, are all within a mm of 4.5" tall
roll of paper towels: 10.75" long

Do you have any paper products in their original packaging? Eg business envelopes will say the dimensions on the outside of the box.

Do you have any photos? They come in standard sizes like 4"x6" and 5"x7".
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 PM on November 20, 2006

A standard size coffee mug is usually about 1 cup.
posted by samh23 at 10:06 PM on November 20, 2006

A string is any length you want. Measure your TV, knot the string or color code some marks on it, put it in your pocket and you can measure it at work, or in the fabric store,or in the hardware store, or in the post office, etc.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:19 PM on November 20, 2006

I have always been a fan of the 8.5x11 triangle trick, and have used it more than once, but I strongly second the notion of just measuring your own hand span, and then MEMORIZING it the way you memorize your own shoe size. When's the last time you checked THAT?

Nothing will ever be more at hand than your own hand. You'll always have it with you to measure stuff with and you'll impress everyone around with your accurate "guesses".

(Mine's a puny but conveniently round nine inches, but if yours is odd, like 10.133, it's still not hard to memorize the first ten multiples, either. It's your hand, dammit. Show some love.)
posted by rokusan at 10:45 PM on November 20, 2006

I know what a cake pan is, but I didn't know that a common size for them is 9". If I have a cake pan that looks smaller than a foot in diameter to me, can I assume it's a 9" cake pan? Or does it depend on brand or what part of the world it was made in or whatever?

You're right, there are different cake pans. This is where you can use that 8.5x11 sheet of paper (or A4, depending where you are). Hold the short end of the paper across the diameter of the pan. If it comes up a little short, then you've got a nine inch pan.
posted by wallaby at 2:30 AM on November 21, 2006

A hand held at arm's length with the fingers outstretched is equivalent to approximately 20 degrees arc. 15 degrees if you hold your fingers together. An upright fist gives you about 10 degrees of elevation. Your small finger is one degree.

Apropos paper folding: standard ISO paper sizes like A4 always maintain the same height to width ratio when they are folded in half: 1 to the square root of 2. This is not entirely relevant for your question because it means that starting with an A4 sheet of paper you can fold it in half to get the size of a postcard, multiply it by 16 to give you the size of a flip chart or do various other operations to give you anything from an envelope to a playing card.
posted by rongorongo at 3:45 AM on November 21, 2006

You might be able to get a less-precise measurement using the length of your foot, derived from your shoe size (the length of a barleycorn, used in the calculation, is also given on that page).
posted by amtho at 4:22 AM on November 21, 2006

I tend to use an LP sleeve (12 inches) or single (7 inches) as a handy rough-reckoner.
posted by anagrama at 4:23 AM on November 21, 2006

Also: standard #10 business envelopes - which hold an 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper folded into thirds and were mentioned above - are 4-1/8 x 9-1/2 inches. These might be handier for holding and carrying around the house, and as a bonus you get to use your junk mail for something practical.
posted by amtho at 4:25 AM on November 21, 2006

Units of extension: Three barley corns to an inch, right? (original definition of an inch)
Units of weight: A pint's a pound, all the world around.
Units of liquid volume: 20 drops per ml

For most other measurements in units of extension, I've got my hand span, arm span, stride and foot length calibrated. I also have a pretty solid sense of counting of seconds accurate +/- 10%.

I've always found archaic units of measurement fairly entertaining. When I taught, I used to assign 7th grade students units of measure to research . Surprisingly, a lot of the kids enjoyed it. Mostly because they were so screwy. Like gill - not so much that 1/4 pint is screwy, just that it was a drink size served in a noggin.
posted by plinth at 5:37 AM on November 21, 2006

If you hold your arms straight out to the side, the length from fingertip to fingertip equals your height. This works out great if you're roughly 6 feet and you're measuring a room.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 7:47 AM on November 21, 2006

Units of weight: A pint's a pound, all the world around.

Er... the US pint is 17g heavy, the Imperial pint is way off.

However, a litre of water weighs exactly one kilogramme, by definition.

The credit card in your pocket is 85.60mm × 53.98mm (3.370" × 2.125"). Who thinks up these standards?

Wikipedia article on strange units of Measurement.
posted by Leon at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2006

Pint being a pound - isn't that the cost of a pint of ale?

A gallon of water weighs about 8.33 pounds, Milk is about 8.5, depending on skim, whole or 2%.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:07 AM on November 21, 2006

I've measured my body parts for measuring tools.

Index finger, foot (with shoe on), length from middle finger to elbow, arm to other arm arcoss the body, foot up to knee, and of course total body height.
Most of these let me make an approximate estimate in almost any situation.
posted by ducktape at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2006

In one nanosecond, electricity travels approximately a foot in a wire. Admiral Grace Hopper was famous for handing out strands of "telephone wire nanoseconds" to her audience whenever she lectured about technology.
http://computing-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/nanosecond
posted by hank at 10:45 AM on November 21, 2006

winston writes "Your armspan (fingertip to fingertip) is probably almost exactly your height (and if it's not, it's close enough for most purposes). "

You'll want to check this, mine is off by 6 inches (ya, they call me the ape man).

plinth writes "Units of weight: A pint's a pound, all the world around."

Despite the well knowness of this phrase it's not close to being true.
posted by Mitheral at 11:18 AM on November 21, 2006

For rule of thumb measurements, "a pint's a pound" is as close as you will need it to be (ie, it fits well with using hand-spans, shoe lengths, arm-spans, etc, all of which will be close, but less accurate than using a specific measuring instrument).

Pedants rule, OK. Or more precisely, exhibit certain of the conventional trappings of leadership.
posted by plinth at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2006

A standard sized can of canned food you'd find in your pantry weighs one pound.
posted by ASM at 2:03 PM on November 21, 2006

In theory (at least according to my granny) a yard is the distance between the center of your chest and your fingertips with your arm extended.

For measuring dry ingredients, a tablespoon of salt/pepper/whatever is about the size of a quarter when poured into your hand. A teaspoon is about the size of a nickel.

Cake pans can also be 8" in diameter.
posted by teleri025 at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2006

Inspired by this post I just pulled out a ruler and discovered I've been carrying around a wealth of pretty reliable measurements just in my right hand!

1/4 inch = width of my pinky nail
1/2 inch = width of my index finger
1 inch = width of my first 2 fingers
2 inches = length of my pinky finger
3 inches = width of my palm
4 inches = length of my thumb to the wrist
5 inches = length of my pinky to the wrist
6 inches = span of index finger and thumb
7 inches = span of middle finger and thumb
8 inches = span of pinky and thumb
9 inches = length of elbow to wrist
12 inches = length of elbow to top of palm

My hands are pretty small so of course YMMV. I've always been terrible at estimating measurements, so these will be incredibly handy - as long as I can remember them!
posted by platinum at 3:02 PM on November 21, 2006

Bizarre. You people just inspired me to measure the span of my hand, and then I got curious about something else. I play piano, so my hand knows how to position itself to correctly to play an octave. So how far is that? Conveniently, my hand remembers an octave as being 6 inches.

Forget measuring things in feet. I'm measuring in octaves from now on.
posted by heatherann at 11:30 AM on November 22, 2006

So an octave on any keyboard is 6 inches? Or is that measurement unique to your hand/the piano you play?
posted by carsonb at 8:04 AM on November 23, 2006

"pint's a pound" - I was always under the impression that this refers to the fact that both a pint and a pound contain 16 ounces. One's fluid volume, one's weight, but still.
posted by attercoppe at 3:52 PM on November 26, 2006

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