This story is one example of the invention process. I will take you on the journey from the first inspiration for one of my ideas, to navigating all the obstacles that arose, to creating a viable product. With any invention, you are going to encounter different types of problems requiring different types of corresponding solutions. This story delineates the set of problems I ran up against, and how to break them down and solve them one by one.
I was in second grade when a kid challenged me to roll a quarter down the center of my face. He said, “You can’t do it, it’s impossible!” I took the quarter and proved him wrong, to which he replied, “Oh, I guess I was wrong.” He then walked away laughing. Unbeknownst to me, he had rubbed pencil graphite on the edge of the quarter, so I was walking around with a black line right down the center of my face.
Flash forward: I’m a grown man, with a family, building my house in Sun Valley, Idaho. It’s snowing, my ears are cold, my skin is dry, and countless pencils have already fallen from the perch on my ear into snowdrifts, lost until spring for sure. I’m using a Stanley Power-lock tape measure to frame the second floor and I’ve just lost my last pencil. SOB#%^@#! So, I start using the edge of the tape case to indent the wood. This was the beginning of the idea that would eventually become the QuickDraw Pro marking tape measure.
Already having had success as an inventor (The Levelution System Level was performing increasingly well), I knew I was onto something. I did patent searches, and discovered there were over sixty patents on the idea of a marking tape measure, yet nothing was on the market? This was strange, because I knew firsthand that it was a great idea. I analyzed all the existing patents and discovered that they all had the same flaws. Simply put, if you have to engage a marking mechanism (that would be a pencil), then lock the blade, then make your mark, then dis-engage the marker, then dis-engage the lock, well, forget it, it’s going to be easier to use a pencil.
The marker would also still have to be sharpened somehow, and there was also the issue of the parallax effect. Imagine an indicator over a tape measure blade. The indicator can’t be in contact with the tape blade, because the blade can retract at high speed and then both can be damaged. The indicator must be positioned some distance above the tape blade. The gap between the indicator and the tape causes the problem, because if you are not directly above the indicator, your measurement will be off.
Try this: hold a paperclip above a tape blade and look at it from different angles. That’s the parallax effect problem.
I now knew why this great idea had never made it to market! For a marking tape to be better than using a pencil, it has to:
1. Be ready to mark without having to engage and dis-engage the marking device (this requirement eliminates the idea of using any kind of pencil).
2. The marking device needs to make a line perpendicular to the tape blade
(not easily done with a pencil).
3. The marking device needs to mark on rough surfaces without breaking
(nothing like a pencil).
4. The marking device has to be self-sharpening (nothing like a pencil).
5. The mark made has to be visible in regular working environments
(similar to a pencil mark).
6. The mark needs to be erasable (similar to a pencil mark).
7. The marking device should make at least 1,000plus- 1/4” marks, and reloading needs to be fast and easy, requiring no extra tools.
8. The indicator needs to eliminate the parallax effect, to ensure accuracy.
Remember the kid with the quarter? I did! That memory was a huge part of the marking solution. The QuickDraw has a very small, hardened steel wheel with a serrated edge (like a quarter). A graphite stick (0.9mm) is in a chamber above the wheel, and as the wheel rolls, graphite is carried to the surface that the wheel is rolling on. This is an elegant solution, because the wheel rolls directionally and is positioned perpendicular to the tape blade, basically solving problems 1 -7.
I solved the parallax issue with a wedge-shaped indicator, that provides extreme accuracy by preforming like a gun site. From the front, it’s a wedge shape, but look down from above and the wedge becomes a single red line that tells you precisely where you’re putting your mark. The Tru-VIEW™ WEDGE™ is the only indicator that eliminates the parallax effect to ensure “dead nuts” accuracy every time.
I have heard from many tradesmen, that when they first got their QuickDraw, they continued to use a pencil, until one day they didn’t have a pencil. After that, they were hooked and never looked back. I can tell you from personal experience, once you’ve owned a QuickDraw, you’ll find using a regular tape measure annoying and slow.
There you have it, from inspiration, through incubation, to viability.