How to Read and Use a Tape Measure
A tape measure is a roll of metal tape with evenly graduated markings used for measuring. The tape is often yellow and rolled in a plastic case.
Tape measures are commonly used in construction, architecture, building, home projects, crafts, and woodworking. They usually come in lengths from 6 feet to 35 feet long.
Tape measures may have measurements in imperial and metric, imperial-only, or metric-only.
How to Read a Tape Measure
Tape measure markings represent lengths in inches and fractions of an inch. Each large tick represents one inch (1″), and the ticks between represent the following fractions: ^{1}⁄_{16}“, ^{1}⁄_{8}“, ^{3}⁄_{16}“, ^{1}⁄_{4}“, ^{5}⁄_{16}“, ^{3}⁄_{8}“, ^{7}⁄_{16}“, ^{1}⁄_{2}“, ^{9}⁄_{16}“, ^{5}⁄_{8}“, ^{11}⁄_{16}“, ^{3}⁄_{4}“, ^{13}⁄_{16}“, ^{7}⁄_{8}“, and ^{15}⁄_{16}“.
To read a tape measure, find the number next to the large tick, and then find how many small ticks past it the measurement is. Add the number next to the large tick with the fraction to get the measurement. For instance, if your five ticks past the number 4 tick, then the measurement is 4 ^{5}⁄_{16}“.
Reading a tape measure is just like reading a ruler.
What Do All the Markings Mean?
Inch Fractions for Each Mark
See the decimal equivalents for all the fractions on a tape measure. You might also like our inch fraction calculator for converting between decimal and inch fractions and getting decimal equivalents.
Inch Fraction, Decimal and Millimeter Equivalents
Fraction | Decimal | Millimeters |
---|---|---|
^{1}⁄_{16}” | 0.0625 | 1.5875 |
^{1}⁄_{8}” | 0.125 | 3.175 |
^{3}⁄_{16}” | 0.1875 | 4.7625 |
^{1}⁄_{4}” | 0.25 | 6.35 |
^{5}⁄_{16}” | 0.3125 | 7.9375 |
^{3}⁄_{8}” | 0.375 | 9.525 |
^{7}⁄_{16}” | 0.4375 | 11.1125 |
^{1}⁄_{2}” | 0.5 | 12.7 |
^{9}⁄_{16}” | 0.5625 | 14.2875 |
^{5}⁄_{8}” | 0.625 | 15.875 |
^{11}⁄_{16}” | 0.6875 | 17.4625 |
^{3}⁄_{4}” | 0.75 | 19.05 |
^{13}⁄_{16}” | 0.8125 | 20.6375 |
^{7}⁄_{8}” | 0.875 | 22.225 |
^{15}⁄_{16}” | 0.9375 | 23.8125 |
1″ | 1 | 25.4 |
Tape Measure Tips and Tricks
Use our tips and tricks below to get the most out of your measuring tape.
Use the Sliding Hook
The hook on a tape measure usually slides just a bit. This is by design to account for the thickness of the hook on the end. This allows the tape measure to be accurate when hooking onto a surface and also when butting the end up to a surface.
Be mindful of tape measures that do not have a sliding hook as they will not be as accurate.
Use the Nail Grip on the Hook
The hook on a tape measure often has a small hole or groove in it. This is to allow hooking the hook on a nail or screw so it doesn’t slide off when making long measurements.
Use the Sides of the Hook
Some tape measures, especially framing tapes, have large hooks that can be used to grip surfaces on the side of the hook. Using these can improve the hook’s gripping ability and improve the accuracy of measurements since the tape measure will not need to be twisted to read the markings.
Use the Tape Lock
Almost all tape measures have a lock that will keep the tape measure from recoiling. This is useful if you need to take tension off of the tape measure or if you need to set the tape measure down while it is extended.
Choosing the Right Tape Measure
There are many tape measures on the market, and many serve very different purposes. When choosing the one that’s right for you, consider what you’ll be using it for, how long you need it to be, and how much you’d prefer to spend.
See our review of the best tape measures to find which tape measure we found to be the best and for reviews on several leading tape measures on the market. Consider using a printable tape measure if you need one quickly or if you’re in a pinch.