Tape Measure Markings: Measurements, Fractions, Reading Tape & Diamond Markings

Tape measures are simple tools that people usually take for granted, but would you believe that modern living would not even be possible without these handy measuring devices. The truth is that everything you are using right now would not work properly or look right if they were not measured using tape measures in one form or another; the clothes on your back, your car, even your computer, every one of them were once measured using a tape measure.

You may have at least once tried using a tape measure yourself. But do you really know how to properly use your tape measure? Do you know how to decipher all the tape measure markings that run in its entire length? Once you have finished reading this article you should know how to properly utilize a tape measure and throw out measurements like a professional.

Why the English System?

You may notice that different professions, in the United States at least, all use inches and feet as the main unit for measuring length. Now, feet and inches are easy to understand but what if you are given measurements like an inch and three-eighths, or an inch and five-sixteenths? Without grabbing a calculator, will you be able to tell which of those two measurements is bigger? Understanding the English system of measurement (inches, feet, miles, etc.) is a bit hard for most people. But like it or not, this system of measurement is the one used in the United States and you need to learn how to read tape measures using it.

Why do you need to learn to read your tape measure measurements this way? Well, if you are looking to start on the hobby of woodworking for example, you’ll find that you need to take a lot of measurements. You can use the easier metric system if you want to, but good luck finding a lumberyard in the United States that will sell you lumber that is 350 centimeters long, or a fabric store that offers cloth by the meter. The metric system is not really all that popular in the United States, so you will have a hard time finding someone who can quickly convert centimeters into inches at the top of their heads.

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How to Properly Read Tape Measures

Learning how to read tape measure markings is not really that hard. Here is a step-by-step guide that will teach you all the basics on deciphering the tape measure markings on the English system side.

  • Understand the Numbers - You need to first familiarize yourself with the tape measure markings, starting with the numbers. If you examine your tape measure closely you will find that there are big numbers printed on it; those are the inch markings. And as you already know, 12 inches is equivalent to a foot, so every 12 inches on the tape you will find a foot marker above the number. You will also find that the inches are continuously counted, making the foot markings on the tape measure handy since there is no more need to divide your measurement by 12 if you want your measurement in feet.
  • Understand the Lines - Looking more closely at the tape measure you will find that each inch is divided into equal parts, most of the time there are 8 divisions, sometimes there are 16, for the purposes of this article we will use the former. The lines dividing one inch in a ruler or tape measure are of different lengths; the shortest are sixteenths of an inch, the next longer lines are eighths, the next are quarters, and finally the long line at the center of the bunch is one half of an inch.
  • Reading the Lines - Now onto the actual measuring procedure. When making measurements, you start with listing the largest unit first; count how many feet there are, and then count the inches that remain. If your mark falls in between inches you need to write down the tape measure fractions.
  • Read the Fractions - Learning fractions may have scared you when you were still in grade school, and you may still be afraid of it until now. But you have no choice but to use tape measure fractions if you want to get precise measurements. Counting each 1/16 of an inch until you reach your mark is pretty hard, but there's an easy way of doing it. All you do is start counting from the half inch mark. You can either count above or below half an inch, and then add or subtract the number you get to 8/16 of an inch.
  • Simplify Your Fractions - Not all tape measure fractions should be in sixteenths, once you have your final reading for the length you need to simplify the fraction. For instance, turning 4/16 to ¼, 2/16 to 1/8 is just simple mathematics that you have already learned in your days in elementary school.
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Black Diamond Markings

You may have noticed on your tape measure that every so often you’ll see a black diamond appear. This black diamond shows up every 19.2 inches and is known as a “truss” marking. These black truss markings delineate the exact roofing truss sizes, with five trusses equaling 8 feet on the tape measure.

Tape Measure Markings

It truly is hard trying to measure length and width using inches and fractions, especially if you came from a place where they are not the preferred unit of length. But since the metric system (now known as the SI system) is not that popular in the United States you have no choice but to use the English system.

By just following these 5 simple steps you can make sense of the tape measure markings and take measurements precisely using the English system of measurement. Practice frequently by measuring the furniture in your house, take note of their measurements until you get the hang of it. After some time you can get the precise measurement with just one glance at tape measures. Once you’ve gotten the hang of reading tape measurements, you’ll find you don’t second guess yourself or hesitate uncertainly as often when ordering things from the hardware store.

Jeremy D

Editor at TopToolTips.com
Jeremy is the editor at TopToolTips.com where we're passionate about providing you with the best tips about a DIY and the tools to get it done. There are a lot of questions out there asked about all aspects of this topic and that's where we come in, to answer them quickly and helpfully.