How to Read and Use a Pocket Tape Measure

A tape measure has a straightforward purpose and understanding – ascertain the length of an object or space. But a tape measure also has several features that makes it an efficient tool for building, woodworking, and crafting.

Common Measurement Highlights & Markings

  • 12″ (ft) Increments Highlight – “On center” measurement for wall and floor framing.
  • 16″ Increments Highlight – “On center” measurement for wall and floor framing.
  • 19.2″ Increments Mark – “On center” measurement for roof trusses. Quickly mark nail or screw locations to install a standard 4×8′ sheet of plywood spanning 5 trusses (19.2×5 = 96″).
  • 1″ Increments Highlight After First 12″ – Easier and quicker way to recognize 1 ft – 1 inch, 2 ft – 5 inch, 10 ft – 7 inch, etc.
Tape measure with common highlighted measurements for building
Learn more about “on center” specs and building requirements from the official ICC (International Code Council) building code books.
Buy ICC (International Code Council) Books Direct
Buy ICC (International Code Council) Books from Amazon

Uses of the Blade Hook

  • True Zero – Many tape measure hooks will move back and forth along the securing rivets to account for the hook thickness on the first inch (count the marks on the first inch and you’ll notice a shortage of marks to equal 1-inch); this provides a true zero measurement when doing inside (interior of a cabinet) vs outside (total length of a deck) measuring.
Explaining True Zero for a tape measures blade hook
  • Blade Hook Scribing Tool – The blade hook works as a scribing tool to mark: screw, nail, drill, or cut location. e.g. place the front edge of the tape measure body on the end of a sheet of drywall; pull the blade hook to the wanted measurement; create a small scribe location or slide the entire tape body and blade hook along the material for a full length cut mark.
Scribe a straight line with a tape measure
  • Create Scribe Mark with Tape Body and Pencil – Creating a scribe with the tape measure body works the opposite as creating a scribe mark with the blade hook, and both take practice to learn proper technique and pencil angle. Place the blade hook on the edge of the material; pull and lock your tape measure to a specific measurement; hold a pencil or other marking tool tight against the body and tape edge; simultaneously pull the blade hook and body along the material to create a marking line. The QuickDraw tape measures have a built-in marking system.
Use blade hook of tape measure to make a scribe mark
  • Blade Hook Nail Grab – The blade hook may have a slot to grab onto a nail or screw head. This can be useful for drawing circles; the blade hook will rotate on the nail or screw head as you hold a pencil against the tape body using the scribing method.
How to draw circles with a tape measure

Varying Tape Measure Features

  • Body Dimensions – Most tape measures will have markings on the tape measure body. This aids in taking accurate inside measurements; e.g. inside cabinets or corners of walls. Instead of bending the tape measure at a wall corner, butt the tape measure body up to a wall and add the body measurement to the blade measurement.
  • Magnetic Tip – Helpful for any work dealing with metal that a magnet can stick to, e.g. steel beams, drop ceiling channels, or hvac ductwork. Also works as a magnetic pick-up tool.
  • Blade Standout – The length the tape can reach without bending and collapsing.
  • Fraction Labeling – Eliminate the need to count marks on a tape. Fractions are boldly labeled with numbers.
  • Metric Scale – When fractions overcomplicate a project, I turn to the metric scale to simplify the math.
  • Dual-Scale – Fractional and metric scales.
  • Double-Sided Scale – Standard fraction scale, plus metric or diameter scale on opposite side. Standard fraction scale, plus alternative standard fraction scale, where the blade is labeled vertically instead of horizontally.
  • Diameter-Scale – The tape measure wraps around an object and measures circumference. Look for the diameter scale on the underside of a tape measure as part of a double-sided scale tape.