How to Read Fractions & Decimals on a Tape Measure

Written by tom ryan
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How to Read Fractions & Decimals on a Tape Measure
Not all tape measures feature both inches and centimetres. ( Images)

A tape measure is a tool that everyone should have in his tool box -- its adjustable length, small size and versatility make it useful for virtually any home improvement project, but only if you know how to use it. If you can't properly interpret the hash marks on your tape measure, you are unable to take accurate measurements -- fractions of inches and centimetres are the key to precise measuring. When you know what the different markings mean, you can measure down to fractions as small as 1/16.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Look at the inches side of your tape measure. The hash marks between 1-inch increments come in four different lengths. The longest, which is centred, represents 1/2 inch. The second longest, of which there are two, represent 1/4 inch and 3/4 inch. The third longest, of which there are four, represent 1/8, 3/8, 5/8 and 7/8 inch. The smallest hash marks each indicate 1/16 inch.

  2. 2

    Simplify fractions when measuring to make your tape measure easier to use. For example, instead of marking down a measurement as "14/16," mark it as "7/8." The varying lengths of the hash marks make it easier to keep track of each fraction.

  3. 3

    Flip your tape measure to the centimetre side. The hash marks between centimetres each indicate 1/10 centimetre, with a longer one in the middle to indicate the 1/2 centimetre mark.

Tips and warnings

  • Some tape measures break inches down into increments of 1/32 instead of 1/16 -- double-check your own tape measure before making any assumptions.

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