Tape Measure Tips and Tricks to Make Your Life Easier

A tape measure is perhaps among the most useful tools that a person could own. Whether you’re a builder, DIY’er, homeowner, or a renter, there will most likely come a time when you need to use a tape measure. Aside from being one of the most commonly necessary tools, a tape measure can also be the most versatile. If you’re like most, chances are that you haven’t been using your tape measure to its full potential. We’re going first cover what the basic markings are on tape and how to read them, then discuss some uncommon tips and tricks that you might not be familiar with. 

How to Read a Tape Measure

Reading a tape measure is pretty straightforward, but can be confusing if you’ve never done it before. It all comes down to understanding what each mark on the tape measure means, then combining basic fractions. In the US, tape measures generally come in sizes of either 16 or 25 feet. 

The large black numbers represent inches, where the subsequent line represents a smaller division. Between each inch, there are 16 smaller lines. So the very first line behind any of the large inch lines represents 1/16 of an inch. So the second line, which is slightly bigger, would be 2/16ths, which of course, reduces to 1/8th.

The next biggest line would then be 4/16ths, or 1/4. The biggest line between any given inch will always be the 1/2 inch mark. Then the smaller line between the 1/2 and 3/4 would be 5/8. 

You’ll want to at least memorize the 1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, and 7/8 marks, as it’s important to be at least this precise when making a measurement. 

Most tape measures won’t have the fractions marked like the image above, so it’s important to get a basic understanding of what they mean, and how to quickly read them accurately. 

Tape Measure Tips and Tricks

Aside from just measuring straight lines, there are many ways to utilize a tape measure that you might not be familiar with. We’re going to cover some of those things that we’ve learned over time, and hopefully give you some tips to make your life easier next time you need to use a tape measure. 

Use the End Hook to Grab onto Nails or Screws

Did you know that the slotted hook on the end of your tape measure was designed specifically to help you grab onto nails or screws? The hole on the end of the hook is sized to fit right over the head of the screw. This is especially handy when you’re working by yourself. If you have a long measurement to make, you can just lightly tack a nail down so you have something to hold the end of your tape. 

This is also a good way to draw a circle if you need to cut or mark a circumference. Just put a nail where you need to center be, attach your tape measure, then hold your pencil at the distance you need the radius to be and draw the circle. 

tape measure hook

Most Tapes Have Stud Distances Marked

If you’ve ever noticed that some of the inch markers on the tape measure are a different color, usually red, it’s because they’re used to mark the distance between studs when framing – which is every 16 inches. So the 16, 32, 48, etc. inch marks will always be red. This allows you to not only layout studs while framing, but it can also inform you where to nail if you can’t see the stud, say in the case of hanging OSB sheeting. 

Your Tape Can Subtract Fractions

Did you know that you can use your tape to quickly subtract two measurements? To do so, just pull out your tape measure slightly passed the higher number that you need to subtract from. Then bend the tape so the hook is at the exact distance of that number, and the two lines of the tape are parallel. 

Next, while holding the tape in this position, on the hook side of the tape, go down and find the distance you need to subtract. The measurement directly across from that point is your answer. 

Use Your Tape Measure to Cut Drywall

This is a trick you can use to cut drywall if you don’t have a T-square. Pull the tape to the width you need for the piece of drywall, then hold your thumb and index finger on that line at the edge of the sheet. 

Then hold the blade of your utility knife on the hook of tape, keeping the hook between your knife blade and thumb and score the sheet of drywall by pulling both ends of the tape across the sheet. Be sure to keep the tape perpendicular to the sheet at all times. You can also do this with your pencil instead of a knife while cutting sheeting. 

Did you know: The hook on the end of the tape measure slides the thickness of itself. This allows you to get an accurate measurement whether pushing or pulling.

Find Half of Any Distance

This trick is similar to subtracting two distances, but is even simpler. To find the halway point of any given distance, simply find that number, then bend your tape and bring the hook end up and place it at that point.  Make sure the two lines of the tape are parallel. The answer to the halfway point will be in the center of the bend at the end of the tape measure. 

What Do The Little Black Diamonds on a Tape Measure Mean?

Have you ever noticed this strange black diamond on your tape measure? It appears every 19 3/16th inches. Though it’s small mark that’s easy to overlook, it actually serves a useful purpose. It’s used for laying out floor joist or trusses to accommodate equal 8 foot spacing for sheathing.

Laying out a floor in this way allows you to use one less joist under each 8 foot sheet of plywood, versus using 16″ o.c. spacing. The black diamonds can also be used for laying out certain truss systems.

Most common tape measures will have these black diamond marks, including the Stanley brand.

Here’s a video of the guys over Pro Tool Reviews talking about the overlooked black diamond.

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