Tape Measure

How to Read a Tape Measure

February 16, 2022 3:52 pm Published by

Measure twice, cut once! When it comes to accurate measuring, a tape measure is vital. America is unique when it comes to measuring because we still use the imperial system of measurement rather than the metric system. There are only three countries left that do this: the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar. However, a good American tape measure will have imperial measurements along one edge and metric measurements along the other edge. A good commercial carpenter must be able to make and read precise measurements, to the nearest sixteenth of an inch.

How to Read a Tape Measure

History of the Tape Measure

Before the invention of the tape measure, tailors and seamstresses used a piece of cloth tape to measure their clients. Once the tape was taken around the waist or along an arm, they would put a chalk mark on the tape to indicate the length. Eventually, the clothe tapes were professionally manufactured with accurate markings on them. Years later, carpenters appropriated the patented Farrand Rapid Rule, invented by Hiram Farrand. Stanley Works, which we know today as just Stanley, later bought the rights and patent from Farrand.

What Is a Tape Measure?

Simply put, a tape measure is a long, flexible ruler. They are typically made from metal, plastic, and fiberglass. However, tailors and dressmakers have tapes made out of cloth so they can fit snugly and accurately around a human body.

Retractable tape measures roll up into a plastic metal cover and can self-retract. The cover of the measuring tool also has a locking mechanism to lock the ruler (actually called a ribbon) into place once it has been extended to the length required.

Measure tapes, as some call them, are available in both imperial units and metric units. Some types of tape measures also feature breakdowns for improved accuracy. In fact, some tape measures have markings for housing stud intervals and truss lengths. Common measuring tapes are 12 feet, 25 feet, or 100 feet in length. Longer tape measures will have markings for feet and yards. A 100-foot tape measure is typically used to measure exteriors and property boundaries.

How to Read an Imperial Tape Measure

The marks on a tape measure can also be called graduations. The biggest marking on a standard tape measure is the inch mark. The next longest marking on a tape measure would be the half-inch followed by a third of an inch, and then the quarter of an inch marking. Some tape measures have markings all the way down to one-sixteenth (1/16) and even down to one thirty-second (1/32) of an inch. It takes practice learn to read a tape measure, one of the most important tools in commercial construction.

Reading Tape Measure Markings

  • The space between two of the biggest markings is one inch.
  • The space halfway between the two biggest markings is the half-inch (1/2) mark (the second biggest marking).
  • Two inches would be the space between three of the biggest markings.
  • To find one and a half inches, track from the biggest mark, through the next biggest mark to the second biggest mark before the next biggest mark which would be the third biggest mark as we track along the tape.

Measuring a Length

To measure a length, place the end of the tape at one end of the space or object to be measured. When the tape meets the end of the length, take a reading from the tape parallel with the final edge.

Finding the Length

To find the length, you must add together the lengths or spaces between inches. If the length ends in part of an inch, then that piece or fraction of an inch must be added to the total number of inches.

Part inch Measurements

For measurements of less than one inch at the end of a length or when measuring a tiny item, we measure in fractions of an inch. These measurements are written just like the fractions you did in school. For example, a half-inch would be one over two (1/2).

Note, not all part-inch increments are labeled. As a result, it is important to carefully add up the increments. For example, we can determine a length of three quarters (3/4) of an inch because the one quarter (1/4) is halfway between the inch and half-inch markings. In a half-inch, there are two-quarter inches. Similarly, 3/4 can be represented as 6/8 (six eighths) or 12/16 (twelve sixteenths). The trick to adding fractions is to convert them to fractions with common denominators. For example, to add 1/8 and 1/16 convert the 1/8 to 2/16. Add the 2/16 to the 1/16 for a total of 3/16.

Pro Tip: When there is an even number of marks (16ths of an inch) to the right of the whole number, the fraction will be reducible to 8ths, 4ths, or inch, such as 5/8, 3/4, or 15/16.


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