How to Measure Without a Ruler

US dollar and measuring tape
Nick M Do/Getty Images

These easy ways to estimate measurement based on parts of your body or items you almost always have with you will help you get a measure for almost anything without needing a ruler. We've all done it, looked carefully at something on a sales table then brought it home only to find out it is too large or too small. Learn the size of the items on the list below that you use most frequently and you won't have that problem anymore.

  If you need to estimate the size of patterns on wallpaper or fabrics, you might want to carry a simple viewfinder of cardboard or an empty photo slide mount to estimate the size of items similar to the way photographers do.

Common Measurements Based on Your Body.

  • One Inch (2.5 cm) - is roughly the measure from the top knuckle on your thumb to your thumb tip. Measure yours to see how close it is to one inch. You should always have a thumb handy for a guide for measuring items under 6 inches (15cm)!  In miniatures, 1 inch = roughly 1 foot in standard dollhouse scale (1:12)  and it is quite close to the size used for standard 28mm gaming figures for wargaming.  One inch is also close to the height of figures in 1:64 or "S" railway scale, which also relates to gaming figures. The 28mm size is a 'heroic" figure in 1:64, where the "normal" figure would be roughly 1 inch or 25mm tall.
  • Four Inches (10cm) or one hand for measuring horses is roughly the width of most people's hands measured across your bottom knuckles (without the thumb).
  • One Yard  (36 inches or 92cm) is roughly the distance from your nose to the bent fingers on your outstretched hand. Measure your arm to see how close this measurement is to one yard if you use that measurement often.
  • One Meter (39 inches)  is a similar measurement to the yard above, just use your arm with fingers extended. This is an easy way to estimate yards and meters of cord, fabric or ribbon. Check the length of your arm against a ruler or measuring tape to find out how long a length you can measure easily this way.
  • One Elbow Length From your bent elbow to the tips of your fingers is between 15 and 18 inches (35- 48 cm) for most people.
  • Measure With Your Foot   A woman's size 9 foot (US and Canada) is usually ten inches (25cm) long. In Europe, this is a size 40 and in the UK size 6 1/2
  • Measurements based on common papers you might be carrying.
  • A standard business card is 3 1/2 inches long and 2 inches high ( 9 x 5 cm)
  • Standard credit and Id cards are 3 3/8 inches by 2 1/8 inches. ( 8.5  x 5.4 cm)

Use Coins and Bills to Measure

A US dollar bill is 2  7/12 inches tall by 6 1/6 inches long. (6.5cm x 15.5 cm) Canadian bills are 6 inches long by 2 3/4 inches tall. (15.2 x 7cm)   A one cent coin is 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) across. A quarter is just under one inch (2.5 cm) across.

Standard Furniture Measurements use these to check for rough scale or size against other objects, or when buying pieces of furniture or accessories for model buildings/dollhouses. The sizes below are the sizes of the real items, in 1:12 scale, a six-foot door would be 6 inches tall (15cm)

Standard modern doors are six foot six (198 cm) to six foot eight inches (203 cm) high

A dining room table surface is usually 30 inches (76 cm) from the ground.

The seat of a dining room chair is usually 15-17 inches (38 -43 cm) from the floor.

Using Miniature Printed People to Check Model / Miniature Size and Scale

 It is easiest to estimate scale for models and miniatures if you take along a person sized to the correct scale. Carry one from this printable set and you'll be able to see if that motorbike or car is close to the right scale for your collection. If the figure is too big or too small in relation to the object, it isn't in the right scale. Another trick is to have a figure on your keychain which fits your particular scale, you can always place it next to an object to see if it looks the correct size.