How Do You Read a Tape Measure?

read-tape-measure Credit: Zero Creatives/Cultura/Getty Images

A tape measure is an important tool for home crafting and construction projects. Once you understand how the different marks and graduations work, a tape measure can be read and understood with a quick look.

  1. Learn where the feet are marked

    Pull out the tape measure to at least an arm's length so you can inspect it. Look for the 1-foot mark. It will be about the length of a man's foot from the end. The mark is often a large arrow or bold number in place of one of the tick marks or the number 12 on one side of the measuring tape. There will be a large number 1, possibly followed by Ft or F. Look for the 2-foot mark about the same length from the 1-foot and then the 3-foot.

  2. Learn how inches relate to feet

    Each foot has twelve inches. The inches are usually labeled twice on a measuring tape. On one side, they start at 1 and continue counting up, and on the other, they restart at 1 after every 12 inches (or one foot.) For example, at the 30-inch mark, the other side probably shows a 6. Because the 6 is between 2 and 3 feet, the 30-inch mark is at 2 feet 6 inches.

  3. Learn how inches are subdivided

    Each inch is marked with a long tick. Between each tick there are several smaller ticks of varying lengths. Halfway between the inch marks is a tick that represents one-half inch. Halfway between that tick and each of the inch marks is a slightly smaller tick that represents a quarter inch, and so on. The ticks get shorter as the subdivisions get smaller.

To take a measurement, place the end of the tape at one point and extend it until it reaches the distance you want to measure. If there is a line marked with a zero, use that as the starting point. To determine the total distance, first note the largest number of whole inches. Next, note the type of mark that is even with the end of what is being measured. Count the number of those marks starting from the number of whole inches. For example, if the line is the third eighth-inch mark from the number "24", the total length will equal 24 and 3/8 inches.