How To Read A Measuring Tape In Inches The Easy Way
Are you someone whose brain automatically shuts off when the subject of numbers come up? Would you rather “guesstimate” than do the math calculation required of a certain problem? You are not alone! Thoughts of measurement and numbers can often bring back painful memories of math classes that are better left in your nightmares!
However, reading a tape measure accurately and efficiently is a valuable skill for everyone-whether you’re a professional home builder or a do-it-yourself decorator! Most people would say they already know how to read a measuring tape. But is that the whole truth? Or do they just know enough to read the “big number” and then count how many little lines come past it? Do they know what those marks are mathematically and what they mean? Knowing how to read fractions on a tape measure is a skill everyone should include in their arsenal.
How does the old saying go? Measure twice; cut once. Understanding measuring tape marks is the key to making those measurements accurate!
Tape measures come in almost a limitless number of sizes (lengths), from six feet to 100 feet or more! No matter the length, the basic markings and instructions for reading a tape measure are universal. Before we get to knowing how to read fractions on a tape measure, let’s look at the whole numbers on a tape measure.
Reading Whole Numbers on a Tape Measure
When you open a measuring tape, you’ll first notice the whole numbers that are written in a very large size beginning with the number 1 (although the 1 may be partially hidden by the metal piece provided to brace the tape against an object or wall). Beginning from the end of the tape, each number, 1-11, represents an inch. Each number usually has a long line associated with it. ￼
Once you reach the number 12, you may see an additional number instead that notes you have reached 1 foot. If your object is small, an easy way to read a tape measure would be skip to the next section where we discuss how to read fractions on a tape measure as you won’t need to learn about the larger measurements. However, if your item is large, let’s take a look at what happens at the 12-inch mark…
After the number 11 (for 11 inches), the tape measure will likely (not always) have something to mark the one-foot measurement (12 inches = 1 foot). The tape measure may show both the 1 ft. and 12-inch mark as below:
These foot markers will continue to appear every 12 inches. For example, at 24 inches, a 2-foot mark will appear to show that is two feet. So the large numbers on the measuring tape stand for inches, but every 12 inches, another large number appears that signifies a foot. You can see the 24 inch or 2 foot mark in the picture below:
How to Read Fractions on a Tape Measure
When attempting to find an easy way to read a tape measure, all of the little lines of various sizes between the numbers might be what seems the most confusing. These little lines all represent measuring tape increments (or fractions), small pieces of the item you are measuring that aren’t long enough to make the next full inch mark.
The image below shows the standard small lines on a measuring tape and what each one of them means:
(Copyright free image in public domain, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.)
The large number one on the left is the 1-inch mark. The large number 2 on the right marks 2 inches. All of the lines between them represent fractions or parts of an inch. In other words, if an object reaches past the 1-inch mark, but doesn’t quite reach the 2 inch mark, it measures 1 inch plus a PART of the 2nd inch. It’s not a full two inches, but is one inch plus a fraction of an inch or part of an inch.
The longer the line, the larger the fraction. For example, look at the extremely long line directly between the 1-inch mark and the 2-inch mark. That long line represents ½ inch (one half an inch). If your object stops or ends at that long line, it is one and ½ inches long or 1 ½ inches long. If your object ends at the longest line between the large 2 and large 3 (not shown above), it would be measuring two and ½ inches long (also written 2 ½ inches long or 2.5 inches long).
But what if your object ends at one of the smaller lines? Those lies represent other measuring tape increments you must understand. The next longest lines represent the where the inch is cut into 4 equal sections. The first long line you come to (not as long as the ½ inch line, but the second longest) is the ¼ of an inch mark. If you divided inch into four equal pieces, that line would represent the first of the four pieces.
If your object ends at the first ¼ line past the 1, your object is 1 and ¼ inches or 1 ¼ inches. If your object reaches the next longest line (look past the ½ inch mark we discussed above), you’ll see from the image above, that is the ¾ inch line. Meaning if that inch is divided into four equal pieces, that line is 3 of those 4 pieces. If your object measures to that line, it is 1 and ¾ inch or 1 ¾ inch.
The same holds true for how to read fractions on a tape measure at longer lengths, whether the 100-inch mark or the 48-inch mark. Those small lines all represent the same thing between every inch mark. They represent a fraction or piece of that inch.
The two smallest lines at the 1/8 and 1/16 lines which divide the inch into 8 pieces or 16 pieces respectively. The tricky part is to understand that if your object passes one large
How Do You Read a Tape Measure? Put It All Together
Basically, you line up the tape measure along your object. Find the last inch marker that is seen before your object ends (where it doesn’t reach the next inch). Then you begin to add the fraction pieces. Find the largest line it meets whether it’s ½ or ¼ or 1/8. Then keep adding the smaller units it reaches until you get to the end of an object. Use the picture above as a guide to remember what each of the small marks on a tape measure mean.