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How to Read a Tape Measure

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.
  • TIP: 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.
  • TIP: 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.
  • TIP: 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.
  • FACT: James Chesterman patented the first spring-loaded tape measure in England in 1829.

You Will Need

  • A tape measure

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