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How to Use and Read a Tape Measure

Reading a tape measure can be a difficult task, especially for someone who is new to tools. For many that have handled tools their whole lives, it seems like a simple task. Many don’t know how to read a tape measure. But we here to teach you how to easily use and read a tape measure. Our step-by-step guide will have you looking like someone who’s been working on the jobsite their whole lives.

How to Use and Read a Tape Measure

There are several different ways to read a tape measure, but first, you need to find out what kind of tape measure you have. There are standard, or imperial tape measures, and metric tape measures. Imperial tapes feature inches, while metric tapes measure centimeters and millimeters. Some models have both imperial and metric measurements. Look for a tape measure that best fits your needs and feels comfortable. But, before we get to reading a tape measure you need to know how to use it.

How to Use a Tape Measure

Using a tape measure is pretty straightforward if you know how the tool works and is designed.

  • The hook is a bent piece of metal at the end of the tape measure and hooks over the edge of the piece you’re measuring. It aids in holding the tape in place while you extend it outward.
  • There is a slot in the hook that can be hooked on an anchor point such as a nail or screw head to ensure the hook doesn’t slip off.
  • The thumb lock can be found on the case. It slides up and down and locks the extended tape in place to make reading the tape easier. When released, the tape will retract into the tape measure.

How to Read a Tape Measure in Inches

A standard tape measure is used to measure a wall stud.

An inch is designated by the longest lines on the tape measure and normally marked with large, bold numbers. In between each number are 15 lines, and each line represents 1/16th of an inch. So if you start at one whole number and count to the next whole number, you’ll count 16 lines or 16/16 inches which equals one inch. 

Between each inch mark, the second-longest line is found that designates 1/2-inch. The third longest line is 1/4-inch, fourth-longest is 1/8-inch, and the shortest lines will be 1/6th of an inch. Some tape measures have the fractions written out on them along the bottom.

Once you know what each line means on the tape measure, reading it involves finding the closest inch to the edge you’re measuring and then counting any additional length after the inch.

How to Read a Tape Measure in Millimeters

A metric tape measure sit extended on a table.

A metric tape measure works in a similar fashion to a standard one, but the lines are set up differently. The large, bold numbers are still there, but they signify centimeters, and they’re centered over the centimeter line. In between each centimeter is another identical length line as the centimeter. That line represents a half-centimeter. There are ten smaller marks between each centimeter called millimeters or 1/10th of a centimeter. 

To read the tape measure you’ll find the closest whole centimeter to the edge you’re measuring. Then find how many millimeter lines remain. Add the milimeters to the centimeters using a decimal. So, if you measure 8 centimeters and have 7 additional millimeter lines, the final length is 8.7 centimeters.

Tape Measure Tips

  • Most tape measures have every 16 inches marked in red. Studs in a wall are usually 16 inches apart, so this makes it easy to identify where the next stud is when measuring quickly.
  • Tape measures usually have each foot labeled to make it easier to measure instead of converting many inches into feet.

Find the best tape measure for you from many brands like Milwaukee, Crescent Lufkin, Stanley, and many more at Acme Tools.

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