How to Read a Tape Measure

  • 01 of 11

    How To Read a Tape Measure Even If You Hate Math

    Builders metal tape measure close up
    Builders metal tape measure. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

    Reading a tape measure is easy once you learn a few basic tips.

    In fact, if math makes you nervous, have no fear. It has little to do with mathematical calculations. It is more about combining basic fractions with an understanding of how the hash-marks work on today's tape measures.

    If you are remodeling or building a home, reading a tape measure accurately is essential.

    Continue to 2 of 11 below.
  • 02 of 11

    Start With a Few Common Tape Measure Features

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    © Lee Wallender

    Begin by familiarizing yourself with a few tape measure features. Numbers below correspond to numbers on the image.

    1. Designated Foot Markers

    • On The Picture: The black arrow with "3F" followed by the red numbers "1" and "2".
    • Details: Most tape measures tell you where each foot mark is. This way, you do not need to calculate 36 inches as equaling 3 feet. It simply tells you. The red numbers that follow start up again for each foot designation.

    2. The Hook End

    • On The Picture: The black hook...MORE attached to the tape with three rivets.
    • Details: Ever wondered why the metal hook at the end of your tape measure slides around? Could it be a bad riveting job in the factory? The hook slides so that you can measure either by butting the tape against an object or by hooking it on the edge of the object. The sliding motion ensures that you get an accurate measurement in either direction.

    3. Hash Marks For Studs/Joists

    • On The Picture: The red number "16".
    • Details: This tape measure has red hash-marks at every sixteen inches. It is a convenient way to mark off wall studs or joists, which typically are sixteen inches apart. Unless you are dealing with wall studs or joists, you can ignore this marker.

    4. Inch Designations

    • On The Picture: The black numbers "10, 11, 12, 13, 14"
    • Details: If you just want to find out how many inches long something is, the tape measure tells you this. These numbers start at 1 and keep going upwards, as high as 300 for a 25-foot tape measure.
    Continue to 3 of 11 below.
  • 03 of 11

    What Do Tape Measure Hash-Marks Mean?

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Your first and best tip on how to read a tape measure: go from large down to small.

    First, think in terms of the whole inch marks. Next half-inch marks. Next quarter-inch marks. And downward.

    Those short little marks are confusing. If a piece of wood measures out at exactly 10 inches, then you are saved from having to think about quarter-inches, eighth-inches, and everything else.

    In fact, you will find that a majority of items fall right on the whole-, half-, and quarter- inch marks.

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  • 04 of 11

    The Tape Measure's Whole Inch Mark: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Shown Here: 10 inches.

    The whole inch mark is the longest and easiest to see.

    It is also a "favorite" mark for many users because the number is clearly stated on the tape; you do not have to think about it at all.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    The Tape Measure's Half-Inch Mark

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Shown Here: 1 foot, 1 1/2 inches. Also expressed as 13 1/2 inches. Both mean the same thing.

    Now we are getting into the "no numeral" zone on your tape measure.

    Starting with the half-inch mark (which is the second-longest mark on the tape), there are no longer numerals printed on the tape to guide us.

    Still, it is a pretty easy calculation. Each inch is divided into two parts.

    Continue to 6 of 11 below.
  • 06 of 11

    The Tape Measure's Quarter Inch Mark

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Shown Here: The measurement is 1 foot, 1 1/4 inches. If you prefer to express it purely in inches, the measurement is 13 1/4 inches.

    Next on down is the quarter-inch mark. Each inch is divided into four quarters.

    Most people still find this a fairly easy mark to read. The line is relatively long, and it is simple to remember that an inch has four quarters.

    Continue to 7 of 11 below.
  • 07 of 11

    The Tape Measure's One-Eighth-Inch Mark

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Shown Here: 1 foot, 1 1/8 inches. Expressed only in inches, it is 13 1/8".

    Up to this point, it has been easy to read the tape measure.

    But now, the one-eighth-inch mark comes along to trip us up. For one thing, it is a very short mark. For another thing, there are so many of these marks that they get lost in the forest of other marks.

    This is where you will find it beneficial to start writing down--rather than remembering--your measurements. After all, it is simple to remember 10 inches; it's...MORE another matter to remember 10 7/8 inches.

    Continue to 8 of 11 below.
  • 08 of 11

    The Tape Measure's One-Sixteenth Inch Mark

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Shown Here: 1 foot, 1 1/16 inch. In inches-only designation, it would be 13 1/16 inches.

    As if the one-eighths inch mark was not small and confusing enough, we go even one smaller: the one-sixteenth inch mark.

    If this makes you feel confused, here is a little tip:

    Forget the one sixteenth inch mark.

    First, you will rarely measure down this small. But if you do, you can use the "nudge up, nudge down" method.

    So, the measurement shown here is 1 foot, 1 1/16 inch. But in your head, you can say, "One...MORE foot, one inch...and then nudge it up a hair."

    Whatever works for you.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Tape Measure: Quarter Inch Refresher

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Remember this from grade school? It is a refresher on how to count out quarter-inches.

    Start at 5 inches. Then "hop" three times over until you get to the 3/4 mark.

    Shown Here: 5 3/4 inches.

    Continue to 10 of 11 below.
  • 10 of 11

    Tape Measure: One-Eighths Inch Refresher

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    Another refresher on how to count out the eighth-inch marks on your tape measure.

    Total measurement here is 5 5/8".

    You know this because you begin at 5 inches, and then "hop" another 5 times over to the 5/8 inch mark. This totals 5 5/8".

    Continue to 11 of 11 below.
  • 11 of 11

    Tape Measure Reading Test

    How to Read a Tape Measure
    Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com

    So, now you know how to read a tape measure? Good. Look at the five marks above and read the measurement for each mark. Answers are below.

    More Tips About Reading and Using a Tape Measure

    • Measure twice, cut once. Better yet, measure thrice, cut once.
    • Whether hooking the tape or butting it, make sure you do so firmly. Often, this little hook is uncooperative about sliding as it should.
    • Do not let the tape roll back into place at full-force. You can badly cut your finger and damage the tape. Instead,...MORE slowly reel it back.

    Answers

    1. 6 inches.
    2. 6 1/2 inches.
    3. 5 1/4 inches.
    4. 6 7/8 inches.
    5. 5 7/16 inches (or in my mind, it's "5 1/2 inches and down a nudge").