How To: Read a tape measure

Read a tape measure

If you don't work in construction or are a woodworking master, you probably aren't entirely sure what all those marks are on a tape measure. Sure, you probably know the basics, like there's 12 inches to a foot, but what are all those little tick marks for? Don't let all those little lines dissuade you from using a tape measure. Follow these guidelines to help you in reading all of those little ruler marks.

Step 1: Recognize the marks on the top
Recognize the marks on the top of the tape measure. The black numbers are inches and the red numbers are feet.

There are 12 inches in a foot.

Step 2: Identify the shorter marks
Identify the shorter marks between the inch marks, divided into fractions of an inch.

Most tape measures are divided into 16ths of an inch. Therefore, there are 15 lines between the inch marks, all representing 1/16 of an inch.

Step 3: Look for special markings
Look for special markings every 16 inches. These markings aid in many do-it-yourself projects that need to be measured on 16-inch centers.

Step 4: Notice the metric side
Notice the metric side of the tape measure. The markings represent meters, centimeters, and millimeters.

There are 100 centimeters in a meter and 10 millimeters in a centimeter.

Step 5: Write your measurement
Write your measurement in feet, inches, and fractions of an inch. For example 3 feet, 6 1/4 inches. Express metric measurements in the smallest increments. You would not say "2 centimeters and 3 millimeters." Instead, you would simply say "23 millimeters."

Step 6: Double check your measurement
Measure precisely and double check your measurement. It takes a lot less time to measure twice than redo an entire project because of inaccuracies.

James Chesterman patented the first spring-loaded tape measure in England in 1829.

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