How to Read a Tape Measure

If there’s one tool you’ll find in every homeowner’s house, it’s a tape measure.

Regardless of how skilled they are with other tools, or how much the tape measure is being put to use, it exists because it’s that practical. We use to calculate the size of a carpet that will be set in the room, to hang artwork, but are we taking all the benefits we can from tape measures? 

For your convenience, here are some basics on how to read a tape measure correctly, as well as some helpful tips and tricks you might have not known before!

How to Read a Tape Measure

One look at a tape measure and it’s easy to get confused. The endless array of thin lines isn’t the easiest to understand. The primary thing to keep in mind is that the line’s size represents the measurement’s size. The longer the line, the larger the measurement’s unit. The tinier the hash mark, the shorter the increment.

1″: Undoubtedly, inches are the most convenient measurement to read a tape measure. The line stretches across the entire tape. Plus, every inch is announced by a big, bold number, making it easy to keep count and mark as your measure.

After that, all the units of measurements are used to determine increment.

1/2″: Two half inches consist of an inch. Between the long inch marks, the half-inch marking is the second-longest line.

1/4″: Four quarter inches of an inch, and two quarter inches consist of half an inch. In comparison to the half inch marks, the quarter inch markings are a tad bit shorter.

1/8″: Similarly, eight eighth inches consist of an inch. These are the second shortest marking on your tape measure. Two eighth inches combine to make one quarter.

1/16″: Total of 16 sixteenth inches make one inch. This group is the shortest line on the ruler. One eight is made up of two sixteenth markings.

12″ or 1 Foot: After every 12 inches, you’ll see a bold black arrow indicating you’ve come to the one-foot mark, then the two-foot mark, the three-foot one, and so one down the tape’s length. It’s easier to add up every individual inch thanks to these handy dandy markers.

When to Use a Tape Measure

Begin by placing the end tab at an end of the object or space you want the measurements of. Pull out the tape and stretch till you reach the other end. Now, take the measurement reading.

You have to add the increments to find out the length. If the item’s length stands at exactly, like 2’’ or 2’, then things gets easier.

Otherwise, add the fractions of inches the old fashioned way till you reach an accurate measurement.

A Handful of Tips

  • Keeping the tape as straight as it can be while measuring gives you an accurate read. Things won’t be like that if it sags.
  • If you’re marking as you measure, considering using a “V” for accuracy with the tail end directly pointing at your measurement. 
  • After you’re done using the tape measure, it’s best if you don’t allow it to revert back at full speed into the housing, almost smashing it in there. It’s ideal that you position your finger under the tape on the housing to act like a buffer between the two when the tape draws back. Do it slowly otherwise you might end up hurting your fingers.

Tips & Tricks for Tape Measures

Now that the basics have been covered, let’s discuss some things you probably didn’t know about your tape measure:

1. You can adjust the hooked tab

The metal end piece is the hooked tab, and by design, it’s intentionally been kept loose so it can comfortably move in and out. If you hook the hook behind an item and pull the tape out to measure, the tab is separated from the tape a little.

This gap makes up for the 1/16’’ thickness of said metal hook, and that is automatically added into the total. If the end tab is pressed against something, the small gap goes away, so you will still achieve perfect measurements. 

2. Measuring can be done from above

Most bigger measuring tapes come with this feature. Check for 2 verticals “ears” protruding upward from the hook tab’s end. These have been conveniently placed there you can avail the option of hooking you tape from the underneath and still be able to take readings from above.

So, the entire issue of ducking every other second to check if you’re getting the right measurement, or rotating your head 180 degrees to read them has been mitigated.

3. A helpful mark for studs!

You might have overlooked this feature in your tape measure till now, and that’s fine, as for the most part, it’s not going to be that used.

However, this feature is made for contractors. Diamonds have a spacing out a bit more than 19’’ on a tape, and that’s also the standard spacing to maintain for trusses when constructing roofs.

4. You can draw straight lines

Yes, you can simply use your ruler, but what do you do when there’s none at hand? Easy. Use the tape measure’s setting. Hook the tab onto a table or board’s straight ledge. Pull the tape out.

Now, place the pencil at the required length and allow the house climb up to the pencil’s level, and now seal the tape in position.

Holding the tape housing and pencil with one hand, place the other on the hooked tab, maneuvering the pencil, tape measure, and hooked tab simultaneously down the length of the straight ledge.

It’s a quick fix for lines that don’t need to be 100% accurate.


Were you doing it correctly all this while, or did you already know how to read a tape measure?

If it’s the latter, make sure to check out the tips and tricks for some cool suggestions!

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