How to read a measuring tape

How to read a measuring tape

Because so many activities and projects depend on precise measurements, a good measuring tape is an essential item for any toolkit, sewing box, or sports bag. Not all measuring tapes are alike, however, so it’s also important to make sure the measuring tape is suited to the work at hand. Construction workers and DIY handymen may need the straight linear measurements provided by a metal tape measure, while those who sew or measure distances over uneven terrain may benefit from cloth or plastic tapes. No matter what form a tape measure takes, it should always be accurate and easily readable. Here are some tips on how to read the information provided by most tape measures:

  1. Tape measures in general divide distance into very small hash marks, much like a football field divided into individual yards. Some of these hash marks may be larger or bolder than others- in general, this indicates a major division such as half-inches, inches, or feet. The smaller hash marks between inches may indicate tenths or eighths, depending on the number of lines in-between the inch marks. Some elaborate tape measures may also have marks for thirds of an inch or some metric equivalents. In general, it’s best to have a tape measure with easily readable feet and inches. When measuring the long distances with a tape measure, knowing how many feet or even yards have elapsed can help keep the numbers straight.
  1. A standard carpenter’s tape measure will have a bent metal piece at one end which is precisely on the ZERO inch line. To begin a reading, the metal end should either be hooked on a flat edge of the piece to be measured or held down securely by an assistant. Pull the measuring tape out until it reaches the final distance you wish to measure. Determine a precise ending point for the measurement- the end of a board or the top of a statue, for example. Look at the measuring tape carefully and see which hash mark is closest to that endpoint. The answer may be in feet, inches, and degrees of inches. For example, a table measured from its longest end may reach the hash mark corresponding to even 6 feet, or it may extend to a point between an additional one or two inches. If precision is not essential, one might say the table is around 6 feet long. If a carpenter wanted to replace the tabletop precisely, however, he’d want to hear a measurement such as 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches long.
  2. Standard tape measures are not always good for measuring curved or uneven surfaces. Carpentry tape measures made of metal are great at linear measurements, but occasionally the distance to be measured involves bends or dips. For this situation, a cloth or plastic measuring tape may be more accurate. Cloth measuring tapes will not have a hook on the end, but a straight edge precisely on the zero inch mark. These tape measures are read the same way as the metal variety- one end is held precisely on the zero marks while the other end is stretched to the ending point. In the case of sports measuring tapes, this could be a significant distance indeed. For sewing projects, however, a measuring tape is rarely more than two or three yards in length.
  3. Measuring tapes can also ‘lock-in’ a specified measurement. One handy feature of many carpentry measuring tapes is the ability to lock the tape at a precise distance. If a number of pieces must be cut to exactly 24 inches, a handyman can easily pull out 24 inches of tape and then lock it down with a special clamp. If your project requires a number of precise measurements, then look at the hash marks as the tape leaves the holder. Once you’ve found the precise measurement, such as 18 inches, then look for the tape’s locking mechanism. It’s now just a matter of hooking one end of the tape to the end of the material and marking it at the locked point. This also works as a quick guide for height requirements- set the tape measure for the minimum height requirement, lock it in place, and quickly measure the objects against this standard.
  4. Some measuring situations may require an adjustment to the reading. Measuring a standard room, for example, may seem very straightforward. One end of the measuring tape is held against the wall, while the tape itself is stretched across to the opposite wall. The measurer then looks at the corresponding hash marks to read both inches and feet. Saying a room is 8 feet, 4 inches wide by 10 feet, 7 inches long should tell a carpet expert how many yards to order or a painter how many gallons of paint are required. But sometimes the tape measure itself can lead to minor measuring problems. All tape measures will take up a set amount of space themselves. Measuring from the bottom of a statue to the top may not be problematic, but try measuring that same statue from top to bottom. The measuring tape itself will reach the ground before the tape does. In this case, one must know the linear length of the tape measure itself and add that number to the reading.

Most tape measures will provide this information somewhere in their housings. What you need to know is how many inches should be added to take into account the size of the tape measure. Thankfully, many professional-grade tape measures are squared off to provide an accurate reading.

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