How to Read a Tape Measure

How To Read A Tape Measure

A tape measure is an essential part of your tool box for all your measuring needs. However, they can be difficult to read and understand with all the different numbers and markings.

This guide will help you understand how to read a tape measure, and how to use one.

Understanding Your Tape Measure

This flexible ruler is referred to as a tape measure or measuring tape. Several materials, including fiber glass, plastic, and cloth, are used to make standard tape measures. They are some of the most widely used measurement devices available today.

The phrase "tape measure" properly means a roll-up, self-retracting style tape measure made for carpentry.

The "ribbon," or actual tape of the measure, is typically made of a metallic material that can be rolled up for convenient usage and storage and can stiffen as needed.

With unit breakdowns for increased accuracy, tape measures are available in metric (centimeters and meters) as well as imperial (inches and feet) measurements.

Markings that cover truss lengths for roofing and stud intervals for housing can be included in specialized versions of tape measures.

Parts Of A Tape Measure

A basic metric tape measure is made up of different parts. Some tape measures may differ, but they often fall into one of these categories:

  • Hook - the end of the tape that grabs against material.
  • Blade - the “tape” in the tape measure that has the measurements marked on it.
  • Housing - the plastic or metal case that the blade rolls back into.
  • Lock - the sliding component on the front of the tape measure that locks the blade in place at a certain length.
  • Clip - a metal piece that clips the tape measure to your belt, bag, or pocket.
  • Overmold - rubber material on the housing that adds comfort and drop protection.

How to Read a Tape Measure Imperially

  1. Find and read the markings. On a standard metric measuring tape, the biggest marking is the inch mark (which generally has the biggest number).
  2. As the increments decrease, so does the length of the mark. For example, the half inch mark has a bigger mark than the quarter inch, which has a bigger mark than ⅛ inch, and so on.
  3. Read 1 inch. The space from the largest mark to the next is 1 inch.
  4. Read 1 ½ inch. This is the same principle as reading one inch, only this time the space between the second-biggest mark and the biggest is read. You can think of a ½ inch mark as halfway between a full inch.
  5. The remaining markings follow a similar pattern - ¼ inch is half of ½ inch, ⅛ inch is half of ¼ inch. Most tape measure markings go as small as 1⁄16 inch.

How To Use A Tape Measure

How to Read a Tape Measure
  1. Measure the length. Place the measure's end at the farthest point from the object or area you wish to measure. Take a tape measure and read when the length stops.
  2. Find the length. You must put the lengths between the inch marks together to get the length. For instance, consider a measurement that exceeds the distance between two inch markings (that is, 1 full inch). Add the inch's length to the distance between the second and third inch marks to determine the length. To get 1 quarter inches in this situation, you would add 1 inch and ¼ inch.
  3. Simply read the length of the tape measure for lengths shorter than 1 inch. Determine the marking's increment and add the corresponding fractions if the inch increments are not labeled.
  4. Let's use a standard tape measure as an example, which displays a length from the inch mark to an unmarked marking. We are aware that it is greater than ¾ of an inch and smaller than a full inch. Halfway between ¾ and ⅞, the marker. As a result, the mark is 1⁄16 or half of ⅛. With this information, determining the length is as simple as adding the known fractions.

When using contractor measuring tapes to measure vast areas, you often can't achieve a measurement with just the tape because the measuring tape's body or case gets in the way.

These bodies are therefore meticulously created and tagged to a specific width. Look for the width indicator on the case body.

Most are around three inches. To get an accurate measurement from one corner of a room to the other, you need to:

  1. Lay the tape on the floor and hook the end into one corner of the room.
  2. Pull out the tape along the floor.
  3. When you reach the other corner, push the butt of the tape case into the corner (the butt or back of the case has been flattened for this purpose).
  4. Take your measurement from the tape and then add three inches for the complete width.

How To Read A Tape Measure Metrically

Things change a little if you're learning how to read metric tape measures in millimeters. Ten millimeters are divided into one centimeter using metric tape measurements.

These count up just like a regular tape, except instead of having indicators for feet, every tenth of a centimeter is red or otherwise noticeable. They might also have meters with markings.

Every small mark is 1 millimeter as you read between each centimeter mark, and the fifth is usually longer to make it easier for your eyes to locate the midway.

The good news is that there are no fractional bounds. It is a much simpler conversion to decimals. 13.4 cm is equal to 13 cm and 4 mm.

Only a few tape measures offer both imperial and metric measurements on the same piece of tape.

Although useful, we feel that it also obstructs the markers' visibility. Rarely do we require both metric and imperial units at once.

Make sure you have at least one of these tapes on hand if you work with materials that need measurements in metric units.

In either case, pay attention to the tape's labeling and choose the correct one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does The Hook Affect Accuracy?

At the front of the blade, the hook glides back and forth on purpose. You can measure accurately whether you're tugging from the side or pushing against the material because it glides the precise width of the hook.

Why Are Some Numbers Red?

While reading your tape measure, made exclusively for contractors, you may notice a few distinctive markings.

There is a distinct, bold, red, or colored-in mark that is 16 inches apart from the others (16, 32, 48, etc.). These indicate the location of a typical 16-inch stud.

What Do The Black Diamonds Mean?

The mysterious floating black diamond is another measurement indicator. Like the stud markings, the measurements are not to an exact inch.

There are four of them at 19 3/16, 38 3/8, 57 9/16, and 76 3/4. They are used to install trusses.

They are specifically intended for mounting six trusses on a span of 8 feet, or the width of a sheet of plywood.

There are four black diamonds between them, which are the 0 and 8 foot marks.


With this guide, you’ll be able to use your tape measure efficiently and accurately. Refer to this guide to help you use your measuring tape in any situation.


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