Buying measuring tools

See also our post on How to measure boule to jack.

Tape measures

Measuring is part of the game of petanque and every player should carry a tape measure. When shopping for a tape measure, here are my selection criteria.

  1. The tape should be easy to read. This means that…
  2. It should have metric markings (millimeters, centimeters, etc.). Metric markings are traditional for petanque and they are easier to read than English (imperial, feet and inches) markings. A tape with both metric and imperial markings works well.
  3. It should be long enough to handle 95% of the boule-to-jack measurements— at least 6 feet (2 meters).
  4. It should be small enough and light enough to be carried comfortably and pulled out quickly and easily. This is an important criterion.
  5. It should have a “standout” (the length to which it can be extended without bending under its own weight) of at least a meter. In practice, this means that it should be at least 3/4″ wide. A narrower tape will flop around like a wet noodle if extended more than a few inches.
  6. It should be reasonably priced.

Note that a tape’s product description isn’t a reliable indicator of the way the tape is marked. Some tapes, for instance, are described as 5m/16′ but are marked only in feet and inches.

There are two different styles of printing numbers on a tape, and the style affects the readability of the tape. Generally speaking, a tape with continuous marking is easier to read than a tape with interval marking, although the color and size of the numbers in the intervals also affects readability.

... 50    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   60    1 ...

... 50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61 ...

Numbering styles, top to bottom— Komelon, Ace, Fastcap.
Komelon has continuous numbering by centimeters.
Ace is marked in centimeters, in intervals of 10cm.
Fastcap is marked in millimeters, in intervals of 10mm.

Here are a few tape measures that I think are worth considering.

The Komelon 4912IM is available on Amazon for about $6. It has dual markings with English and continuous metric marking in centimeters. It is small, light, and easy to carry. It is the only tape measure that I’ve found that has continuous marking in centimeters, which makes it unusually and easy to read.

The Ace 5m/16′ tape is the same size as the Komelon. The Komelon is shorter (12′ vs 16′), but in an emergency the Ace’s length of 5m makes it possible to measure to 10m in two steps. The Ace is wider (3/4″) than the Komelon, so it meets our width requirement. The numbers on the Ace are bigger, making it significantly easier to read. The numbers are marked in intervals— continuous marking in centimeters at 10-cm intervals. You can probably order it online and pick it up at your local Ace hardware store. (On Oct 1, 2017, mine cost $7.60.)

After less than 5 years of light use the sliding locks on several of our Komelons have seized up and no longer work. Our Ace seems to be well-made, but we haven’t had it long enough to report on its durability.

fastcap_metric_tapemeasureThe Fastcap True32 metric reverse 5-meter tape is what I carry. It is bigger and heavier than I would like, but I find that its metric marking are very easy to use. Its length of 5m makes it possible to measure to 10m, if you do it in two steps.

A feature that you want to avoid when buying a tape measure is a magnetic hook or end. You don’t want your magnetic hook to pull and move boules while you are trying to measure.

Folding rulers

Except for calipers and feeler gauges (which only umpires carry) the most accurate measuring tool for petanque is a folding ruler with an extensible end. Such a ruler may be made of wood, fiberglass, or steel. Note that a steel folding ruler isn’t very rigid; it will sag in the middle even at relatively short distances. Umpires have invented a way of folding the unused portion of the ruler back on itself, so the unused portion of the ruler can be used to support the sagging center of a steel ruler, but this is a clumsy work-around; I cannot recommend buying a steel folding ruler.

In the past I’ve used an old wooden carpenter’s ruler made by Lufkin and it worked well. However, the wooden folding carpenter’s rulers that are being made today (still by Lufkin) seem to me very shoddy, with poorly machined sliders, and I cannot recommend them. In addition, the segments on a carpenter’s ruler are longer than a true petanque umpire’s folding ruler, so the minimum distance that you will be able to compare (by fitting the ruler between the boule and the jack) is about 18cm.

If you are seriously into precise measurement, unquestionably the best choice is the Obut fiberglass umpire’s ruler. The segments are short, so it can compare lengths as short as 11.5cm. The extension has a smooth action; it isn’t loose in the channel and it doesn’t bind. Click below to see larger images.

Folding umpires ruler vs autolock tape measure

A number of tape measures have an “autolock” feature, so that instead of pulling the tape out and pressing a button to lock it, you simply pull it out and it stays out until you press a button to unlock and retract it. In theory this makes it easy to use a tape measure like you would use a folding ruler, to make internal jack-to-boule measurements. However…

With a folding ruler, you set one hand down on the ground, holding the butt of the ruler next to the jack. You set the other hand down on the ground, holding the end of the folding ruler. Then you extend the end of the ruler with your thumb, using the little knob on the extension. When you do this final delicate adjustment you are moving only your thumb— both hands remain steadily resting on the ground.

On the other hand, when using a tape measure you place the tape on the ground next to the jack with one hand, and with the other hand and arm you pull out the tape until it touches a boule. To extend the tape you are basically operating at arm’s length, trying to control both arms at the same time, pulling out the tape with one arm while trying not to move the other. Fine adjustment is difficult when you’re using your whole arm rather than just your thumb, and it becomes more difficult if you extend the tape too much and need to press the release button to retract the tape.

My personal experience is that making an internal jack-to-boule measurement is much easier with a folding ruler with an extensible end than with a self-locking tape measure.

Long tape measures

One long tape that I like is the Amico 10m Fiberglass Tape Measure.Amico_10m_fiberglass_tape

When you’re selecting a 10-meter tape you have the choice of a fiberglass tape or a steel tape. I recommend a fiberglass tape. It will have a bigger case than a steel tape, but it will weigh less and cost less.

For a 10-meter tape, you want a tape that re-winds by means of a hand crank handle that folds out of the case. A spring-loaded retractor is a safety hazard— a long tape zipping back into the case can cut your hand like a sharp knife.

Most long tapes are marked in feet and inches one one side, and in meters on the reverse side. So if you see a nice 50-foot fiberglass tape at your local hardware store, it might do the job nicely.