How to Read a Tape Measure

One night, you hear a crash. Out you run into your spare room and see that your bookshelf has just collapsed. You decide then that instead of spending money on a cheap replacement only to have it break again, you’re going to build your own bookshelf out of some sturdy oak. Before getting into a big project like that, you need to know a very basic but key skill to have a project like this work: reading a tape measure.

This life skill is the bread and butter of do-it-your-selfers and it’s quick and simple! A little practice and you’ll be converting fractions and building things in no time!

Required Materials

  • A tape measure
  • Some paper
  • Some form of writing utensil

Background Information

First off, the tape measure is a versatile device. It can be found in many forms. It measures in inches and feet and can go from 5 ft up to 40 ft long. The tape can be smooth cloth for clothing measurements to a flexible metal sheet for construction. When looking at the face, it will show feet, inches and 1/16th inches. Some will have the lines vary in four different sizes depending on their fractural equivalent: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8th, and 1/16th.

Remembering these only takes time and practice.

  • There is 1 large line in the middle between the inches – that’s the 1/2 inch.
  • There are 2 lines smaller than the 1/2 inch, they are located in-between the first half that is divided by the 1/2 inch mark and the 2nd half of the 1/2 inch mark; they are the 1/4 marks.
  • The smaller lines that are dividing the 1/4 and 1/2 marks are the 1/8th marks.
  • And the smallest lines dividing the 1/8th marks are the 1/16th marks.


  1. First, let’s do 5 and 1/2 feet. Lay out the measuring tape and draw a line from the metal end, to the 5 feet mark, continue past and stop on the middle line. If the lines are uniform, count 8 lines. That’s 5 and 8/16th, or 5 and 1/2.
  2. Next, let’s do 3 feet and 3/4 of an inch. Draw the line up to the 3 foot mark, continue up till you can count 3 of the 1/4 line markers or 12 of the 1/16th marks. That counts as 12/16th or 3/4.
  3. Now let’s do 2 feet and 5/8th of an inch. Draw the line from beginning of the measuring tape and stop at 2 feet, continue on and count 5 of the 1/8th inch marks or 10 of the 16th inch marks. That counts as 10/16th or 5/8th.
  4. Last we want to do 10 and 3/16th. We draw the line and stop at 10 feet and count 3 of the 16th inch marks. That makes 3/16th inches!
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