Tape Measure Reading Tutorial

Tape measures originated in the Civil War era and come in varying styles, including retractable and traditional tape.

Tape measures date back to the mid-1800s.Tape measures date back to the mid-1800s.
While an essential home tool, tape measures are useless if you don't know how to use them. Luckily, a tape measure is also one of the easiest tools you will ever use.

Match the type of tape to the task. There are several types of tape measures, such as the retractable hard plastic kind and the cloth, flexible tape measure. The plastic retractable tape measure is best for measuring the straight distance between two points on a wall or a floor. Flexible cloth tape is best for nonlinear measurements, such as clothing measurements.

Know how to read your measurements. U.S. tape measures usually are divided into feet with a further break down into inches (12 inches in a foot). Sometimes they can include metric measurements (meters, centimeters and millimeters) on the reverse side of the tape for smaller, more precise measurement. Which type of measurement you use will depend on the task on hand (and what any written directions call for).

Brush up on your math. The main skill needed in using a tape measure is a knowledge of fractions. Many people who regularly use a tape measure, such as carpenters, memorize the fractions down to 16ths for the quickest measurements -- for example, 1/16, 1/8, 3/16 and 1/4. This skill aids in making quick calculations when you need to divide and subtract to measure something to fit.

Start measuring and look at the tape's markings. When you measure something, it may fall perfectly between two numbers. However, each mark after a whole number is a quarter mark and it denotes 1/16th of an inch. So if something is three marks longer than 5 inches, it is 5 and 3/16th inches long.

Things You Will Need

  • Tape measure


  • Many tape measures have red boxes around every 16 inches. Those are to mark the 16-inch space between wall studs.

About the Author

Frances Todd has been a writer since 1998. Her works have appeared in "Women's World" and online at WebMD. She has written online instructional articles since 2008. Todd has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science in history, both from the University of Iowa, and currently works in criminal law.