How to Use a Measuring Wheel

If you find yourself doing a couple of DIY projects, chances are you’ll have to use a measuring wheel in … Continued

If you find yourself doing a couple of DIY projects, chances are you’ll have to use a measuring wheel in at least one of them. This technique is actually quite a traditional one. In fact, there’s evidence that it has been used since the 17th century. However, if you don’t know how to use a rolling tape measure, just follow the simple and easy steps listed below.

What is a Measuring Wheel and What is it Good For?

Before we discuss how to use a measuring wheel, let’s first talk about what it is and what it’s good for. Also known as a surveyor’s wheel, this tool is used to measure distances and, as the name suggests, to survey. You can also see this tool being used in sports settings to measure the distance of a race, for example. Other uses of this incredibly useful tool include rail and road works, gardening, and interior decorating.

Measuring wheels are commonly made out of aluminum and other solid parts. They are best used when you’re measuring something that’s too expansive for a regular tape measure or if the surface has contours and angles that would make it weird for the tape measure to be used.

There are two main types of measuring wheels to choose from – mechanical and electronic. The former does not rely on batteries and is easy to use. However, it only has a single unit of measurement so you have to do all the converting yourself. On the other hand, the latter type can give you different units of measurement on the fly, but it has to have batteries in order to run. You could even get dual wheel models, which are best suited for measuring things indoors. Speaking of which, surveyor’s wheels with a bigger diameter are better for indoor use, while those with a smaller diameter can be used outside.

Related Post: Best Measuring Wheels

Foreman builder measuring

How to Use a Measuring Wheel

Before you use your measuring wheel, make sure that the surface you’re using it on as well as the device itself are as clean as possible. Even the smallest bits of debris can throw off the accuracy of your measurement by a considerable amount, so it’s better to give extra effort here rather than having to do the entire process all over again. Also, try to make the surface you’re measuring as flat as possible for increased precision. Once you’re certain that both are free of dirt, get yourself a piece of graphing paper and a pencil to record your data.

It is important that you position your measuring wheel right where you intend to start measuring. Doing so makes the data you gather as accurate as it can be. Keep track of which points you start and end at since the number of rotations of the wheel is directly correlated to the distance shown on the device. Try your best not to accidentally move the wheel if you’re moving from one place to another. Again, even the smallest mistakes in measuring can cause big trouble in the grand scheme of things.

Maintain a constant pace while you’re walking. If you suddenly go faster or slower as you’re measuring, then your tool might lose a bit of accuracy. This is because a change in pace, especially if it’s unexpected, can make a difference in the rotation. When you reach the endpoint of whatever it is that you’re trying to measure, pick the device up very carefully. This prevents unintended rotations of the wheel from taking place. Look at your readings and record them someplace where you can easily access them like on a notebook or a spreadsheet.

Foreman builder measuring concrete floor

What if I Don’t Have a Measuring Wheel?

If you don’t have a dedicated measuring wheel on hand, then you should buy one immediately. If you still can’t, then you could make do with a bicycle and a trusty measuring tape. To accomplish this, begin by making two rows on the graphing paper – one for number of revolutions the surveyor’s wheel makes and another for how much distance was traveled in the unit you prefer. This could be miles, meters, yards, or something else entirely. Afterwards, put down the appropriate number of columns.

Tracking your measurements this way ensures that you have data at specific points, so you don’t have to repeat the process or deal with some potentially mind-numbing mathematics. Now that you have that ready, take a pen and make a mark on the front wheel of the bicycle to know where the revolutions begin and end. Once you’re done with that, place a measuring tape on the floor with the help of some weights. We’re going to use this tool to figure out the diameter of the wheel you’re using to measure, which in this case is the front one.

Match the position of the starting point of your wheel to the starting point of the measuring tape. Move your bike slowly until you see the mark on your bicycle’s wheel make contact once again with the tape. The distance that it took for your wheel to make a complete rotation is going to be your reference distance. Keep note of this measurement. When you’re ready to use this technique, place a marker on the surface you’re going to measure. This could be a piece of tape or something else that won’t fade or be removed too quickly.

Align a highly visible point of your bike’s wheel ­­– for instance, the pump valve – to the marker you have placed on the ground. Move your bike carefully. Every time you see the point of the wheel you chose make a complete revolution that mean’s you have already traveled the distance you measured a while ago using your tape measure. Take note of how many revolutions the wheel made from point A a to point B. With a little bit of arithmetic – not the mind-melting kind we mentioned earlier – you can easily figure out how to get the total distance of what you measured.

Now you know how to use a surveyor’s wheel. We’ve even given you a technique to fall back on if ever your measuring wheel is unavailable. You no longer have any excuse not to measure things with the utmost precision and accuracy.


  1. Measuring Wheels, Johnson Level
  2. How to Use a Measuring Wheel, Do It Yourself
  3. How to Buy a Measuring Wheel, Engineer Supply