Measurement of Distance with Chains or Tapes

Measurement of distances using chain or tape is termed as chaining. This is the accurate and commonly employed method in surveying: These instruments can be classified as

[1] chains

[2] Steel band

[3] Tapes



The chains are composed of 100 pieces of 4 mm diameter galvanised mild steel wires bent into rings at the end and joined to each other by three circular or oval shaped rings. These rings give flexibility to the chain. The ends of chains are provided with swivel joints so that the chain can be turned without twisting. To facilitate easy reading of the chain, brass tallies are provided. End of 10th link from each end is provided with a talley of one tooth, 20th link is provided with a talley of two teeth; 30th link with a talley of three teeth; 40th link with a talley of 4 teeth and the Middle of chain is provided with a talley of circular shape It is to be noted that

  • Length of a link is the distance between centers of two consecutive middle rings.
  • The length of the chain is from outside of one handle to the outside of the other handle. Commonly used metric chains are of 20 m length. They have 100 links with talleys at every 2 m. Each link is of 0.2 m length. Simple rings are provided at every one meter length except wherever tallies are provided. The total length of chain is marked on the brass handle.
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However 30 m chains are also in use. Length of each link is 0.3 m. It is not so convenient as 20 m chain to read, since no rings can be provided at one meter distance and each link needs multiplication with 0.3 to arrive at meter units. However as a result the influence of using 100 ft chain in olden days, this type of chain are also in market.



It is also known as band chain. It consists of steel of 12mm to 16 mm width and 0.3mm to 0.6 mm thickness. The steel ribbon is wound around an open steel cross or in a metal reel. Metric steel bands are available in lengths of 20 m and 30 m. Any one of the following two methods of markings are used:

  • Providing brass studs at every 0.2 m and numbering at every metre. Last links from either end are subdivided in cm and mm.
  • Etching graduations as meters, decimeters and centimeters on one side of the band and 0.2 m links on the other side.



Depending on the material used, tapes are classified as:


12 to 15 mm wide cloth or linen is varnished and graduations are marked. They are provided with brass handle at the ends. They are available in length of 10 m, 20 m, 25 m and 30 m. These tapes are light and flexible. However because of the following disadvantages they are not popular:

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  • Due to moisture they shrink.
  • Due to stretching they extend.
  • They are not strong.
  • They are likely to twist.

They are made up of varnished strip of waterproof linen interwoven with small wires of brass, copper or bronze. End 100 mm length of tapes are provided with leather or suitable strong plastic materials. Tapes of length 10 m, 20 m, 30 m and 50 m are available in a case of leather or corrosion resistant metal fitted with a winding device. Red and black coloured markings are used for indicating full metres and its fractions in centimetres. These tapes are light, flexible and not easily broken. These tapes are commonly used in surveying.


A steel tape consists of 6 to 10 mm wide strip with metal ring at free end and wound in a leather or corrosion resistant metal case. It is provided with a suitable winding device. Tapes are marked indicating 5 mm, centimetres, decimetres and metres. The end 10 cm length is marked with millimetres also. 10 m, 20 m, 30 m, or 50 m tapes are used in surveying. Steel tapes are superior to metallic tapes as far as accuracy is concerned. However they are delicate. Care should be taken to wipe clean before winding. They should be oiled regularly to prevent corrosion.

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Invar is an alloy of nickel (36%) and steel. It’s coefficient of thermal expansion is low. Hence errors due to variation in temperature do not affect measurements much. The width of tape is 6 mm. It is available in length 30 m, 50 m and 100 m. It is accurate but expensive.


Nowadays for measuring distances electronic equipments called electromagnetic distance measurement(EDM) instruments have come in the market. They rely on the measurement of electromagnetic waves and measuring even fraction of wavelength by phase difference technique. They even display the distance measured. They are costly and delicate. Hence for ordinary surveying they are not used commonly.


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