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Sunday, January 9, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ask the Expert / Darrell Hay

Loose tape-measure rivets improve accuracy

Q: I have had several flexible tape measures over the years. They have varied in length from 12 feet to 25 feet and been made by different manufacturers. I even have one in that metric system you despise so much. But every one of these tapes has one thing in common: They all have loose end clips.

By that I mean that even when new from the box, the hook on the end that you put over the item you are measuring is loose. They all seem to jiggle fore and aft. Not that I am good enough with a saw or whatever to measure and cut anything where it would make a difference anyway.

Can we not make tight rivets? What gives?

A: The rivets are loose on purpose. It really makes sense when you think about how a tape measure is used. Sometimes the end of the tape is butted up inside an object (measuring inside a window sill), and sometimes it is hung over the edge of an object and pulled tight (measuring a 2x4 from the end).

These two different measuring techniques would automatically result in an error exactly the depth of the clip, one way or the other. So the clip is mounted on rounded rivet holes which allow it to slide.

Looking at the tape measure in front of me, it has a clip that is about 1/32-inch deep. I can see by bending the tape over onto itself and manipulating the clip back and forth that the amount of slide perfectly aligns itself with the depth of the clip. Somebody definitely smarter than all of us came up with that idea!

And like you, my friend, if I am dealing with a 1/32-inch (or smaller) discrepancy in my measurement, it's only because of my own impatience, a dull pencil, a rounding error (converting from that blasted metric system), or excessive curvature of the Earth that threw me off, not the tape measure.

Q: I can understand why an appliance salesperson would try to sell me a pan for underneath a washing machine. This could help prevent spills of water onto the floor. So how come I also see them under a dryer? Always in pairs. Sold in pairs, installed in pairs. Always one for the washer and one for the dryer. Why would I want one under a dryer?

A: You and me, we are slowly being indoctrinated into the world of "matching." Everything must match. While we may not condone it, understand it, or appreciate it, I can assure you that many out there do. I married one of those people, who might be better qualified to answer your question:

"It keeps the floor from getting scratched or torn, when the dryer moves around. Not only that, but the bottom of the dryer won't rust when the washer leaks. Plus, the dryer is quieter resting on a pan."

Q: I have to attach many items to the walls with hollow wall anchors. Each one needs a washer under it to keep from hurting the drywall or being pulled through. After attaching 1,000, with 1,000 washers at 7 cents each, that adds up to $70, plus tax, for washers alone. Is there another way?

A: I do have a solution for one seventh the cost, plus tax. On a project I was performing recently, I needed to attach two screws and needed two washers. Of course the washers I had on hand would have worked just fine, were mostly hidden from view, but didn't match. Oh what to do! Install it quietly and risk suffering the wrath if she caught me? Run to the store for two lousy matching washers?

I searched my pocket and found several of the U.S. Mint's finest Abe Lincolns from 1974. On went a lightbulb in my brain, and I found myself drilling the head out of the likeness of a former U.S. president. What a fine set of matching and economical washers those pennies made.

Knockouts resemble pennies and are even cheaper, but they're tougher to drill out than a penny.

I wouldn't want to repeat that 1,000 times, though. Buck up and buy your washers in bulk someplace that specializes in nuts and bolts.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers reader questions. Call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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