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Learn how to read the markings on a tape measure?

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QuestionI'm shopping for a tape measure but am confused by all the markings I see on the blades. Basically, I was expecting to purchase an extremely long flexible ruler, but the tape measures I've looked at go beyond that. How do I read the markings on a tape measure?

AnswerTape measure blade marks are given in fractions, inches, and feet. Within these markings are different height increments that run the full length of the upper and lower scale and which mirror each other as clearly shown below.

read a tape measure, read markings on a tape measure, markings on the blades, tape measure blade marks, read the markings, tape measure, different height increments, upper scale of a tape measure, lower scale of a tape measure, EasyPoint ProTape, Learn How to Read and Choose a Tape Measure, copyright by Leon A. Frechette/C.R.S., Inc.Within this scale of increments, the markings at different heights—starting from the shortest to where they meet each other between the upper and lower scale—all refer to measurements.

If the tape measure you are looking at has 16 increments to an inch, then it is in 1/16" increments. You can confirm this by counting the 16 different-sized increments starting to the right of 1 up to and including the longest increment sitting next to 2.

The numbers 1, 2, 3, etc., are clearly marked on the blade and have a hash mark on one side or the other of the number or in the middle of the number. These marks run between the upper and lower scales and are the longest marks on the tape measure, which identifies them as inch marks. When you follow the numbers from low to high, these long hash marks are very visible, as you can see in the image above.

1/2-inch on a tape measure blade, copyright by Leon A. Frechette/C.R.S., Inc.Between the numbers are other sized hash marks, all referring to measurements within a 1-inch scale. In the image to the left between 1 and 2 there's a mark halfway between the two numbers that is half the size of the full length of the 1-inch increment. This mark is the halfway point of an inch and is referred to as 1/2-inch. There are two 1/2 inches in an inch.

1/4-inch increment shown on a tape measure blade, copyright by Leon A. Frechette/C.R.S., Inc.The halfway point between 1/2-inch and 1-inch is another short increment which is the quarter mark, or 1/4 of an inch (see photo to the left). If you count from 1 to the first 1/4-inch increment, to the 1/2-inch increment, to the next 1/4-inch increment (which is really 3/4 of an inch), to the next 1-inch increment, you have counted out the 4 quarters that make up an inch. If the increments are marked on the scale, they should read 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-inch.

To sum it up, if you add two quarters (1/4") together, it will equal half an inch (1/2"), and if you add two 1/2 inches, it will equal one inch. If you add four quarters (1/4") together, its sum will be one inch.

1/8-inch markings on a tape measure blade, copyright by Leon A. Frechette/C.R.S., Inc.To finish the scale between the 1/4-inch and 1-inch marks, there is another short increment thatís the halfway point in a quarter. This mark refers to an eighth (1/8) of an inch (see photo to the left). Eight 1/8-inch increments equal an inch, four 1/8-inch increments equal a half-inch (1/2"), and two 1/8-inch increments equal a quarter inch (1/4").

1/16-inch increments shown on a tape measure blade, copyright by Leon A. Frechette/C.R.S., Inc.The 1/8-inch markings are further divided into short increments that mark the halfway point: 1/16-inch (see photo to the left). It takes sixteen 1/16-inch increments to total one inch, eight 1/16-inch increments to reach a half inch (1/2"), four 1/16-inch increments to reach a quarter inch (1/4"), and two 1/16-inch increments to reach an eighth inch (1/8").

I hope this has helped you to better understand how to read a tape measure. This alone should increase your productivity on a project, and you can stop trying to make marks on your tape measure's blade!

Purchase this article to learn how to read and choose a tape measure!

This crash course in how to read a tape measure will make it easier for you to use it. Using it on a daily basis will help you to be efficient at reading the blade's markings.

To really learn the ins and outs of reading a tape measure and to gain insights into choosing the best one for you, consider purchasing my award-winning article, "Learn How to Read and Choose a Tape Measure." This article received the 2008 Vaughan/National Association of Home and Workshop Writers (NAHWW) Golden Hammer Writing Award in the Internet Category. 

Available in both .pdf and hard copy, this 8-page article features 21 color photographs and provides outstanding information about using a tape measure to its full potential and purchasing a quality tape measure.

Click here to read customers' feedback. To purchase "Learn How to Read and Choose a Tape Measure," click here!

Copyright © 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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