Swing Tape and Layout Methods Make Tile Layout Easy

When I see a home with a tile roof, my first thought is, “Nice roof”. A roof goes from “nice” to “Wow, that roof is spectacular!” when the installer pays attention to the details. Some details that make a difference are appropriate flashings, or chimney, skylight and wall metal work that is consistent and does not detract from the aesthetic look of the roof. However, nothing conveys the knowledge and skill of a craftsman more than crisp, clean, straight lines of tile, row after row.

Nothing conveys the knowledge and skill of a craftsman more than crisp, clean, straight lines of tile, row after row.  PHOTO: ROOFWERKS INC., RALEIGH, N.C.

Nothing conveys the knowledge and skill of a craftsman more than crisp, clean, straight lines of tile, row after row. PHOTO: ROOFWERKS INC., RALEIGH, N.C.

Consistent row spacing (exposure) is aesthetically more appealing. It requires dividing the space between the top and bottom of the roof by the number of rows while avoiding a short course at the ridge. Using long division and 1/8- inch increments from a tape measure is one way to achieve this goal. However, that’s a method that challenges my calculator, let alone eager installers who just want to start pounding nails. They may believe it’s easier to deal with the ridge when they get there! It’s no wonder new installers can be intimidated by the layout stage of a tile roof installation. Even experienced installers may miss opportunities to minimize cuts, increase efficiency and achieve that “perfect look” we all admire.


Unless precluded by a specific manufacturer’s design, proper clay and concrete tile installation requires a 3-inch minimum overlap. That means a typical 17-inch-long concrete tile has a “maximum exposure” of 14 inches. If the goal is to space the rows evenly, we must first determine the location of the eave course and ridge course. For example, if we find the space between the eave and ridge courses is 140 inches, we can have 10 rows set at the maximum exposure of 14 inches. Perfect!

But what if the distance is only 135 inches? Setting nine rows at 14 inches will require us to cut 5 inches off of our top row. Cutting the tile would remove the fastener holes and tile lugs and make the top course uniquely short, taking away from a precision aesthetic. Most tiles have an “adjustable headlap”, meaning the overlap can be increased. If we set each of the 10 rows at 13 1/2 inches, we would absorb the extra 5 inches evenly over the entire slope with an extra 1/2-inch overlap per row. Row spacing would be consistent; fastener holes and lugs intact; and we would not have to cut tile, drill new holes and throw away the scraps.

The math is not always as easy as an extra 5 inches divided by 10 rows. Eighths and sixteenths don’t work well in long division. The TRI/WSRCA Concrete and Clay Roof Tile Installation Manual, from the Edmonds, Wash.-based Tile Roofing Institute and Morgan Hill, Calif.-based Western States Roofing Contractors Association has a Quick Reference Chart on page 27. It shows proper row spacing for sample eave- to ridge-row measurements. You may find situations where the chart is helpful.




Craftsmen develop “tricks of the trade” that make complicated tasks simple, their work easier or the finished product better. The “Swing Tape Method” does all three.

To avoid the math and use the Swing Tape Method, installers mark their measuring tape at the maximum exposure of tile they are using. Continuing with the example of a 17-inch tile and a 14-inch maximum exposure, the tape will be marked at 14, 28, 42, 56 inches, etc. Using the 135-inch eave- to ridge-course distance in the previous scenario, the installer would place the tip of the tape at the eave-row chalk line and run upslope to find the top-row chalk line at 135 inches. Seeing his tape is marked at 140 inches, the installer would swing his tape in an arc to the left or right until the 140-inch mark aligns with the top-row chalk line. Although the tape is marked in 14-inch increments, the now diagonal lay of the tape has shortened the distance of each horizontal row to 13 1/2 inches. The Swing Tape Method arrived at the same conclusion as the previous arithmetic. The installer marks the underlayment with chalk or a crayon next to each 14-inch increment on the tape measure. He repeats the same process at the other end of the slope and then chalks horizontal lines along the new markings on the underlayment.

Using a tape measure with this method requires marking each row onto the underlayment. This only should be done with chalk or a crayon. Scarring the underlayment with a nail or screwdriver can lead to premature failure of the underlayment.

A modern advancement to the Swing Tape Method uses Layout Tape instead of a marked tape measure. Layout Tape is a paper roll marked with red arrows highlighting the maximum exposure for the tile being used. In this example, the arrows would be at 14-inch intervals. Using the same process as with a marked tape measure, the installer can secure the Layout Tape, placing a red arrow on the top of the eave-row chalk line, then unroll the tape upslope to the top-row chalk line. Using the same 135-inch eave- to ridge-course example, the installer will find a red arrow 5 inches above the top-row chalk line. He will swing the tape to the left or right until the red arrow lines up with the top-row chalk line. The red arrows become the targets for the horizontal chalk lines. Because the Layout Tape is left in place, the installer avoids the step of marking each and every row on the underlayment.


Of course not all roof slopes are simple rectangles. Some roof designs are quite complicated and as installers we have to play the hand we are dealt. The Swing Tape Method can help you make the best of challenging situations by allowing you to virtually try out different layout options. If a slope has multiple ridgelines, you can set the tape to the most beneficial location. This may reduce your cutwork or put a short course in the least visible location. On larger sections, you may choose to adjust the row spacing to better accommodate ridgelines, headwalls or dormers. Be aware that midslope adjustment of exposure can result in a change to the diagonal line of the tile sidelaps but does not affect function.

Using the Swing Tape Method with Layout Tape or a marked tape measure appropriate for the tile being used will ensure proper exposure. It will also reduce cutting and increase your efficiency while laying the foundation for a picture- perfect installation.


1 Determine eave-course placement (consider eave closure, gutter, desired overhang) and snap a line to place head of the tile or top of the battens if battens are to be used.
2 Determine top-row placement (consider ridge riser board, ventilation, etc.) and snap a line to place head of the tile or top of the battens if battens are to be used.
3 Using Layout Tape or a marked tape measure, place an arrow or mark at the eave-course line. Measure straight to the ridgeline. Swing the tape to the left or right until an arrow or mark aligns with the top-row chalk line.
4 If you are using Layout Tape, fasten the tape. If you are using a marked tape measure, you must mark the underlayment at each mark on the tape measure.
5 Repeat this process at the other end of the roof. Snap lines between the arrows or marks on the underlayment.

Tape Measure Features a Digital Readout and Built-in Memories

eTape16’s large, easy-to-read digital readout is accurate to 1/16 inch or 1 millimeter.

eTape16’s large, easy-to-read digital readout is accurate to 1/16 inch or 1 millimeter.

“Measure twice, cut once,” the saying goes. Or you can simply get it right the first time. We all know the hassles of getting measurements right and the frustration of measurement mistakes. Designed by a professional builder, eTape16 solves all those problems in one tough, compact tool. Like a traditional tape measure, eTape16’s metal blade is available in U.S., Metric, or U.S. and Metric markings, but that’s where the resemblance ends. eTape16’s large, easy-to-read digital readout is accurate to 1/16 inch or 1 millimeter. A simple push of a button allows one to read the measurement easily in inches, feet, fractions, and decimals, and converts to metric too. Another feature is inside/outside measurement; with the simple touch of a button it toggles between outside measurement of the blade length alone and inside measurement, which automatically adds the 3-inch width of the tape measure case to the readout. Inside measurement is ideal for those tricky situations where the case runs into a wall and you have to mentally add its width to the length of the exposed metal blade. But that’s just the beginning of eTape16’s sophisticated features.

eTape16 has three built-in memories: “hold”, which retains a measurement even after the blade has withdrawn into the case, and two long-term memories that will retain readings even after the tape shuts off and until they are overwritten. Memory means you no longer have to memorize or write down readings to transfer a measurement. And for specialized functions like hanging a picture on a wall, the push of a button automatically calculates the center point of a measurement. Finally, the re-zero function lets you measure the distance from a previously measured point without withdrawing the blade. This is ideal for measuring intervals without having to re-anchor the end of the blade for each measurement, for example, marking 2-foot intervals along a 10-foot board.

The tape is built to last, with a tough polycarbonate case and rubber bumper to protect the readout. The CR2032 coin battery can last for up to 64 hours of continuous use, and replacements are widely available and easy to install without tools. To prolong battery life, eTape16 shuts down automatically after five minutes of non-use.

eTape16 was created by Stephen Crane, a graduate of MIT, who was working for a naval architecture firm developing America’s Cup racing yachts and wanted an easy, precise way to determine metric measurements. He initially took his patented digital tape measure to the Evans Rule Division of L.S. Starrett, and 18 months later the Starrett Digitape was in production as the world’s first digital tape measure. Over the next four years the first generation Digitape sold 1.5 million units. In January 2014, Crane established his own company, and in spring of 2015 took a new, improved product to market, completely redesigned with the homeowner in mind, with a strong emphasis on styling, compactness and ease of use. The company is continuing to add features, including Bluetooth connectivity to be announced for the iOS operating system this fall, followed shortly by an Android version.

Tape Measures in 16-, 25- and 35-Foot Lengths Are Durable Enough for Construction Sites

The 16-, 25- and 35-foot Premium Tapes are ideal for heavy-duty framing and other construction measuring tasks.

The 16-, 25- and 35-foot Premium Tapes are ideal for heavy-duty framing and other construction measuring tasks.

DEWALT introduces a family of Premium Tapes. The 16-, 25- and 35-foot Premium Tapes are ideal for heavy-duty framing and other construction measuring tasks. The tapes feature a reinforced housing and cast metal impact plate to absorb shocks when dropped to protect internal components and the end hook. Extensive rubber over-molding covers all contact points of the tapes for improved grip.

These tapes also feature a five screw design for improved drop resistance. Holding the body together are four reinforced screws on the corners and one in the center for added support.

The tape blades are made from durable steel coated in Mylar polyester protecting the blade from the elements and providing a long blade life. A 13-foot blade standout allows unaided measuring from a distance or overhead without the tapes bending or collapsing while extending.

The blade also features an oversized end hook ideal for grabbing on to lumber, steel, concrete and other materials. The Premium Tapes are designed in a manner that protects the end hook when dropped, reducing the risk of bending—which causes inaccurate measurements. These DEWALT Premium Tapes are 50 times more durable than their respective Milwaukee counterparts 48-22-5116 (16-foot), 48-22-5125 (25-foot) and 48-22-5135 (35-foot) based on accuracy after drop onto the hook.

For added durability, the Premium Tapes are constructed of high-impact ABS polymer and covered in durable rubber over-mold. The tapes also feature a lock switch which is covered in rubber over-molds capable of absorbing impact. Lock switches on competitor tapes are plastic and easily crack and break.

The Premium Tapes are made in the U.S. with global materials.

Tape Measure Holds Rounded Edges up to 2 inches in Diameter

The GripLine tape measure from Swanson Tool Co.

The GripLine tape measure from Swanson Tool Co.

The GripLine tape measure from Swanson Tool Co. features a patented rotating tip that is specifically designed to hold rounded edges up to 2 inches in diameter, such as metal conduit, rebar, PVC and black iron pipe. With the ability to catch, hold and measure multiple types of materials, the new GripLine tape is ideal for plumbers, electricians, builders and carpenters, framing pros and DIY enthusiasts.

A slotted groove in the innovative, pivoting head allows the oversized 1 3/8-inch tip to slide seamlessly toward an object, thereby extending the tape’s gripping range and strength. In fact, this free-moving tip makes the GripLine the industry’s only tape measure capable of extending up to 1-inch of additional surface area and holding force toward any edge or endpoint.

With the 360-degree hooking capability, this new tip design gives contractors maximum control when drawing the tape against an object, making the tape feel more like an extension of their arm than a hand tool.

The double-sided, high-visibility blade and pivoting tip allows contractors to catch surfaces not only from above and below the tape, but also from the side—invaluable when measuring off a wall corner while keeping the tape horizontal, so it doesn’t collapse. The GripLine tip also features two magnets, allowing it to easily connect with any metal object, such as ceiling grids, studs, beams or HVAC ductwork.

Designed to boost contractor productivity, the Savage GripLine includes the following features:

    • High visibility dual-sided blade. Nylon-coated for extra durability, the 1 1/16-inch wide, dual-sided blade features large 3/8-inch markings for quick readings of both elevations and flat-surface measurements. The scale is graduated in 1/16-inch increments and clearly marked every 1/8-inch. From the 1-ft. mark and up, the wide blade marks off feet, as well as inches.

    • Quick reference symbols. Several easy-to-read markings eliminate guesswork, help boost job-site productivity and increase accuracy. The tape features: 16-inch and 24-inch Stud-Centers to easily mark stud placement, as well as 19.2-inch-Framing-Centers or ‘black truss’ markings, used to position roofing rafters and/or floor joists.

    • Lever action belt hook. Forget pinched fingers or wrestling a tape back on to a tool belt. Instead of a traditional flat clip, the GripLine uses a thumb-lever-action clip to speed access to the tape and make storage quick and easy.

    • Generous standout. The dual-sided blade remains rigid even when extended up to 8-1/2-ft. An easy to use thumb-lock holds tape blade in place while taking measurements.

    • Durable construction. The multifunction, magnetic and pivoting tip is steel-reinforced with five-rivets to ensure firm gripping strength as well as longevity. The high impact-resistance case has a durable, non-slip molded rubber housing for added control and durability.

    • Guaranteed quality. Swanson Tool guarantees all Savage products through a limited lifetime warranty.

The new Savage GripLine tapes will be available nationwide in three lengths: 16, 25 and 30 feet.