Law of the Tape Measure

I love the saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Known as Maslow’s Law of the Hammer or the Law of the Instrument, the maxim says that we all rely on familiar tools to solve tasks at hand. It could also be expressed, “To a surgeon, every malady requires a scalpel.”

I interpret the Law of the Hammer to mean we all see the world through different lenses. For example, I see the world as a parent first (This looks dangerous!) and as a writer second (This looks like a great story!).

After spending the past couple of years with talented carpenters, both at The Tennessee College of Applied Technology and at The Wills Company, I think carpenters live by the Law of the Tape Measure. To a man with a tape measure, everything needs to measured.

Carpenters describe structures in terms of 1x’s and 2x’s and S4S, and they talk about all six sides of a board, not just front and back. They can walk through a door and immediately tell you if it’s 3’0″x6’8″ or not. They can look at a house from the road and estimate the board-feet of fascia, and they can tell you if that fascia is 5/4 material or regular 1x. Carpenters can see measurements in the way some people see colors.

I first noticed this precision at lunch. A group of carpenters chose a restaurant for its thick-cut fried smoked bologna sandwich. In my mind, when it comes to bologna—fried, smoked or otherwise—less is more. But not to these guys. They kept holding up thumb and forefinger to illustrate the generosity of the serving on their last visit.

But when the sandwiches arrived—with just a fraction of the fried bologna they were expecting—the guys were crestfallen. After lunch, one of the carpenters offered polite feedback to the server: “Last week, the fried bologna was at least three-quarters of an inch thick,” he said, holding up thumb and forefinger. “But today, it was barely five-sixteenths.”

This is how carpenters think.

The server thanked the carpenter for his feedback and graciously promised to share it with the kitchen. But despite the precision of the measurement, he didn’t seem to register the true depth of the disappointment.

2 thoughts on “Law of the Tape Measure

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