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How to Use and Read a Tape Measure

There is much more a tape measure can do beyond measuring basic inches and fractions. With many built-in features a tape measure can simplify common framing measurements and aid in more complicated measuring and scribing projects.

Further Reading:  Machinist Incremental Rules Buying Guide

Common Tape Measure Features

There is a lot of quick reference and easy to find markings on a typical tape measure from all the major manufacturers.

StanleyTajimaKesonKleinKomelonDewaltLufkinBostitichSolaStabilaFastCap ProQuickDraw

Measurements:

  • 12″ (ft) increments highlight
  • .1 ft top increments highlight after first 12″ – Easier and quicker way to recognize 1.1 ft, 2.3 ft, 10.7 ft, etc.
  • 16″ increments highlight – Common “on-center” measurement for many wall, floor, and roof framing.
  • 19.2″ increments mark – Optional on-center roof truss framing to accommodate a standard 4×8 sheet every 5th truss (19.2×5 = 96″).
Tape Measure Inches Scale
Common highlighted measurements for building

Blade Hook:

  • True Zero – Many tape measure hooks will move back and forth along the securing rivets to account for the hook design thickness and provide an accurate measurement.  If you count the marks on the first 1″, you will notice a shortage of 1/16″ – 1/8″. (i) Push the hook all the way in for an inside measurement; e.g. interior of a cabinet. (ii) Pull the hook all the way out for an outside measurement.
TOOL TIP: When wanting an exact measurement without blade hook deviation, start at the 1″ rule and calculate accordingly.
Tape Measure True Zero Tip
Tape Measure True Zero Tip

Scribing:

  • Scribe Mark – Helpful in locating where you want to screw, nail, drill, or cut if a pencil is not available or easily available. Place the tape measure at the edge of the material, at the measurement wanted, let’s say 17″, then place the blade tip and mark the material where it needs to be cut.
Use tip of tape measure to make a scribe mark
Use a tapes tip to scribe a surface for marking
  • Pencil Scribe Placement(i) Hook onto an edge of material and lock your tape measure to a specific measurement. (ii) Hold a pencil or other marking tool tight against the body and tape edge. (iii) Pull both the tip and body along the material to create a marking line. (iv) Always drag a scribing pencil for a smooth operation. Pushing can lead to a restrictive motion. Note: This procedure may take some practice on scrap material to hone your technique, pencil angle, pencil design, etc.
Scribing a Straight Line with a Tape Measure
Hold a pencil firmly against the tape body and slide
  • Nail Grab – Use the slot to latch onto a nail or screw head, for help in measuring or drawing circles. (i) When drawing circles you will be better served to have a tape measure with a very secure locking mechanism. (ii) When trying to keep the blade hook taught on the nail or screw head, you may tend to pull on the body, which can easily move with a weak blade lock, and therefore ruin your measurement and drawing. (iii) Use the same scribing procedure mentioned above, with the pencil tight against the body and exact measurement.
Tape Measure Nail Grab
A tapes tip will have a slot to grab the head of a nail

Body Dimensions:

The majority of tape measures, minus flexible tape diameter designs, will have markings on the tape measure body. This aids in taking accurate inside measurements; e.g. inside cabinets, wall corners, or any other place that would have you bend the tape to get a full measurement. Butt the tape measure body up to a wall, edge, etc. and add the body measurement to the blade measurement. Some bodies have more visible markings than others. You may have to look closely or lift the belt clip to properly see on some brands and models.

Tape Measure Body Length Markings
The total length of a tapes body is imprinted on the case

Optional Tape Measure Features

If wanting specific details on a tape, make sure to browse all the brands and models to best suit your needs.

  • Magnetic Tip – Helpful for any type of work dealing with metal that a magnet can stick to, e.g. – steel beams drop ceiling channels, and hvac ductwork. Also helps as a magnetic pick-up tool for anything that may fall out of reach.
  • Multi-Sided hook – Some brands and models will have the blade hook extend on all sides to hook from any angle or side when measuring.
  • Tape Measure Blade Variations – Manufacturers may offer several blade variations beyond standard measurements mentioned above
  • Bold Type – Some brands and models have much bolder type if eyesight is an issue.
  • Metric Scale – Metric scales can make math easier to work with compared to fractions.
Tape Measure Centimeters Scale
Centimeter tape scale can make measuring math easier compared to fractions
  • Engineering Scale
  • Diameter Scale – Flexible tapes to wrap around objects and measure diameter.
  • Fraction Labeling If you prefer to have fraction marks labeled with text, these types of tape measures may interest you.
  • Double Sided Scale (i) Standard fraction scale, plus metric or diameter on opposite side. (ii) Standard fraction scale, plus alternative standard fraction scale, where the blade is labeled vertically instead of horizontally.
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