Tools Used to Survey Real Property

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Some old legal descriptions of property involve chains, links and rods. You'll learn about these ancient surveying tools and how they translate into more conventional and familiar measurements. We'll also look at some of their modern counterparts.

Historical Surveying Tools

Denise is at her real estate broker's office and is about ready to close on the purchase of a house in a quaint old New England village. Like all smart purchasers, she's reviewing all the closing documents, including the deed. Denise becomes very confused by how her deed describes her property. Instead of describing the dimensions of her property in terms of feet, all she sees is references to chains, links and rods.

Denise's real estate broker, Randolph, explains that the legal description to her property was based on old surveying methods going back to colonial times, when surveyors used simple and ancient tools to measure the dimensions of a parcel of property. He explains that because surveys are not commissioned every time a property is purchased, the legal description on the new deed granting the property to subsequent landowners is often simply copied from the old legal description on the previous deed. If no new survey is commissioned, the legal descriptions can actually become quite ancient in description.

A chain (or Gunter's chain, named for its developer), was used to measure the property, as were long rods, also called poles. A link refers to one of the links in the chain. For example, a surveyor may use chains, rods and links to measure the distance from one corner of the property to the next. You'd typically start with a chain unless the distance to be measured was small. A rod may be used for the penultimate measurement for the distance where a chain was way too long (who wants to count all those lengths when you can use a rod?) The final few inches or feet were measured by the links in the chain.

A chain had 100 links and was 66 feet long.
Gunters Chain

Converting Measurements

Although Denise appreciates the history lesson from her broker, she wants to know the dimension of her property in good 'old' feet. Randolph understands her concerns and explains that it's possible to convert the older measurements into more familiar ones. A chain had 100 links and was 66 feet long, making each link 0.66 foot, or almost 8 inches. A rod, on the other hand, was 16.5 feet long. Four rods equal one chain (16.5 X 4 = 66) and 25 links equals one rod (0.66 X 25 = 16.5). In fact, one mile is equal to 80 chains (80 X 66 = 5,280). And one acre equals 10 square chains or 160 square rods, which converts to 43,560 square feet.

Randolph shows Denise how to do the conversion for her property, which is a rectangular lot. Two of her lot lines measure one chain, three rods and three links. This distance converts to 117.48 feet:

66 (one chain)


49.5 (three rods)


1.98 (three links)

= 117.48

The other two lot lines measure one chain, two rods and 10 links and converts to 105.6 feet:

66 (one chain)


33 (two rods)


6.6 (10 links)

=105.6 feet

Denise's lot is 117.48 feet by 105.6 feet, or 12,405.89 square feet (length times width).

Modern Measurements

Let's say that Denise is just not satisfied with a deed bearing a legal description with measurements dating back over a hundred years. Consequently, she decides to have the property surveyed to make sure she knows what she is getting and she wants to know in feet, not chains, rods and links.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account