How to Read a Tape Measure

How to Read a Tape Measure

Are you considering a major construction project, or do you just need to measure the width of your wall to make sure that the furniture will fit? Is using a tape measure a painful struggle that you would rather avoid? Practice reading a tape measure by following this simple technique and make your life much easier!

Materials and Equipment

  • Tape measure
  • Piece of paper, 8-½ x 11 inches
  • Pencil

About the Tape Measure:

Examine the tape measure. Pull out a short length of tape and look at the numbers on the edge. On many tape measures, there is a toggle button that, when pushed down, will keep the tape extended. If your tape measure has one, push this down. If not, don’t let go of the tape, or it will snap back.

Most tape measures are in English measurements. These measurements include feet, inches, and yards. The first whole number that you will see is 1. This number marks one inch.

If you pull the measurement out enough to see 12 numbers, you will typically find that the number 12 is marked by a 1F symbol as well. This stands for one foot. One foot equals 12 inches.

Three feet, or 36 inches, equals one yard. Although this is not usually marked on the measure, this is a handy number to keep in mind when you are measuring things.

Each inch is divided into 16 smaller lines. Each of these lines is 1/16 of an inch. Most tape measures measure things to an accuracy of 1/16 of an inch.

How to Read a Tape Measure centimeters


  1. Take your pencil and make a mark anywhere on the piece of paper. Make a second mark partway along the length of the paper.
  2. Place the end of your tape measure on your first mark. Holding this end firmly, stretch the tape measure until it touches the second mark. If possible, toggle the button so that the tape measure is locked open to this length. If not, hold the tape tightly.
  3. Look for the first number to the left of the second mark. This is the number of inches between your two marks. Write this number down. (It should be substituted for x in the notation to follow.)
  4. Now, count the number of smaller marks to the right of your number and to the left of your second mark. This is the number of sixteenths of an inch in addition to the number of inches between your marks. (This should be substituted for y in the equation to follow.)
  5. This number should be written as x and y/16 inches. Note: If y is an even number, remember that 2/16 equals 1/8 inches; 4/16 equals ¼ inches; 6/16 equals 3/8 inches; 8/16 equals ½ inch; 10/16 equals 5/8 inches; 12/16 equals ¾ inches; and 14/16 equals 7/8 inches.



  • Practice. It takes time to learn good measuring skills.
  • Hold the tape measure firmly when measuring. Even a small change in the position of the tape measure will affect your measurement.

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