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Home D-I-Y How to Read a Tape Measure? A Guide for Beginners

How to Read a Tape Measure? A Guide for Beginners

When you are into a building project or craftsmanship, knowing the exact measurement is essential. However, when you don’t like doing mathematical calculations, these numbers might scare you. Fortunately, reading a tape measure doesn’t have to do with any mathematical calculation. This article shows you how to read a tape measure.

A tape measure, also known as the measuring tape, is one of the most commonly used measuring tools today. It is a kind of flexible ruler made from various materials such as cloth, fiberglass, and plastic. It is a must-have tool in every craftsman’s tool bag.

Tape measures roll up and are self-retracting, which make them appropriate for carpentry. The ribbon is the fixed tape portion where the numbers are marked. This ribbon is made of a rigid, metallic object that can stiffen and roll up when needed.

Before understanding how a tape measure is used and read, we will first go into the numerical features and markings that you will encounter.

The Features

It is important to familiarize yourself with the features and numbers found on a tape measure. Among the numbers printed on the tape measure are the designated foot markers, the hook end, red hash marks, and inches designation.

  • Designated Foot Markers. These are the red numbers that appear every after 12 inches to indicate each foot mark. Sometimes, they appear every 36 inches to indicate three feet.
  • Hook End. The hook found at the end of the tape measure slides around for you to measure either by attaching it on the verge of an object or by pushing it against the tape measure.
  • Red Hash Marks. At every 16 inches, red has marks appear on the tape measure, which is an easy way to mark wall studs or joists.
  • Inch Designations. The black numbers that start at “1” and keep going upward, usually up to 300, indicate inches measurement.

The Markings of a Tape Measure

It is important to identify the markings on the tape measure before using it. While the abovementioned list enumerates the basic features, below are the markings that are used in reading the tape measure:

  • Identify the markings and read them. The inch markings are generally the most prominent marks on a standard tape measure. These numbers are typically marked by big numbers and thin lines.
  • Between the inches markings, you would notice the smaller number in fraction format. As the increments decreases, the length of the marking also decreases. For instance, a ½ inch is marked larger than ¼ inch, and ¼ inch is marked bigger than 1/8 inch, and so on.
  • The space between the principal marking to the next principal marking is read as one inch.
  • For half inches, identify the center of the two principal markings. The space between the largest marking and the second largest marking is the ½ inch.
  • All the other markings, the smaller ones, follow the same pattern. For example, a ¼ inch is half of ½ inch. Many tape measures have markings that go as small as 1/16 inch.

How to Read a Tape Measure

There are different ways on how to read a tape measure and make use of the markings to get accurate measurements of the objects or space you want to measure. Here is a simple and straightforward guide you can follow:

1. Place the end of the tape measure at one end of the object or space you want to measure. At the length stop, determine the reading on the tape measure. Keep the tape measure stable and straight while you do this. You can hold the end of the tape by holding it with one hand or pulling off the lock switch to keep the tape from being sucked back in.

2. There are also times when you need to find the length between the markings. This can be done by adding together the length between the inches.

3. For the length that is less than one inch, simply take the tape measure length. However, if the increments of an inch are not marked, identify the mark’s increment and add it up to the corresponding fractions.

4. When measuring a round object, nip the tape where it overlaps. The best type of tape measure for this is the ribbon-style because it is more flexible than the retractable tape. Put the zero end of the tape measure on the object and wrap the rest of the length around the object until it reaches the zero end. Take the measurement of the point where the tape measure passes the zero mark.

Tips in Using and Reading a Tape Measure

  • Secure the tape measure to prevent it from sliding back in. Do not rely on the hook as it may be uncooperative sometimes. Whether the tape measure has a hook or needs to be butted in, make sure to do it firmly.
  • Measure the object or area twice or thrice to ensure accuracy and avoid repeating the task.
  • Never let the tape retract back in place at full force. When it happens, it may cut your finger and break the tape measure. Gradually roll it back instead.
  • Stick a piece of paper or masking tape on the tape measure. You can use it as a notepad for multiple measurements. This is especially helpful when you take more than one measurements at once.
  • When choosing a tape measure, go with the one that has a big hook. It will clutch better and work great for many types of projects such as masonry and framing.
  • When measuring the space between the floor and ceiling, use a board or stick that measures exactly five feet or six feet or whichever is close to your eye level. Grasp the board vertically and measure the rest of the space between the board and ceiling using the tape measure.


Whether you are a professional home builder or a recreational home décorator, reading a tape measure accurately is an essential skill. The markings and fractions printed on the tape measure might confuse you at first, but once you learn how to read and use them, everything will be easier.

Reading the tape measure might be difficult at first, and you might need to do it twice or thrice to ensure that you get the accurate measure. As you do more crafts or construction projects, using and reading the tape measure will be done naturally without too much effort.


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