Tape Measure Tips and Tricks
It’s the tool that’s behind the “Measure Twice, Cut Once” adage

Tape measures come in different shapes and sizes. They can be made from either cloth, plastic, or metal. Most of them have a combination of imperial (inches, feet) and metric (millimeters, centimeters) measurements. Some of them even glow in the dark!

There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to tape measures. Although they appear as simple tools that are used for measuring length or distance, they have hidden talents. In this article, our expert repair technician Chris shows you his top 3 tape measure tricks that you could readily apply to your next DIY project!

How to Use a Tape Measure: The Basics

A retractable tape measure has a flexible ribbon that is encased in a housing and can be pulled out of it. You will find a metal tab at the end of the ribbon. The housing also has a lock, which you could push down, to hold the ribbon in place and keep it from retracting.

To use the tape measure, grab onto the tab and extend it to your desired length. Hook the tab onto the edge of the object you are measuring and firmly hold the tape so it remains taut and straight.

How to Read a Tape Measure

Tape measures found in the United States conventionally follow the imperial system. The foot (1') measurement is written on the ribbon as '1F' and is typically accompanied by a black box with a small triangle or an arrow. The longest vertical line indicates an inch (1"), the second longest line is marked as a half inch (1/2"), the mid-size line is read as a quarter inch (1/4"), the second shortest line is listed as an eighth of an inch (1/8"), and the shortest line shows up as a 16th of an inch (1/16").

Your tape measure may also be marked by black diamonds. They appear, in intervals, at every 19 3/16 inches, to indicate the spacing between floor joists. You would use these markings when you are nailing floorboards and want to quickly identify joists.

How to Use a Tape Measure Like A Pro

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take it up a notch. Here are some things that you may not have known your tape measure could do:

Trick #1: Using the Slot to Hold the Tape in Place

Metal Tab at the End of Measuring Tape
There is a slot at the end of the tape measure, called the end hook. They are used to grab the heads of framing nails or screws. This is handy for when you are measuring a flat surface but do not have anyone to hold the other end of the tape. When you hook the slot onto the nail, the nail becomes an anchor point. Chris demonstrates how you can do this:

  • Using a wooden block, he hammers the nail into its side.
  • Hammering a Nail into the side of a Wooden Block
  • He then continues to bend the nail, so it is flush with the wood. This is important, as it prevents you from including the thickness of the nail and the air gap in your measurements.
  • Bending a Nail using a Hammer into a Wooden Block
  • He then locks the tape measure in place by inserting the head of that nail into the end hook. If you follow accordingly, you will now be able to lock the tape measure in place and measure what you need to.
  • Inserting the Head of a Nail into The Slot at the End of a Measuring Tape

Trick #2: Using the Tape to Draw Straight Lines

Drawing a Straight Line with Measuring Tape

Did you know that the small ‘V’ at the end of the measuring tape can help you draw straight lines? It’s true! Place the nib of any pen into the 'V' slot, and press the housing into the side of the surface that you are working on, as Chris does in the video. You will be able to draw straight lines when you simultaneously slide both the housing and your pen across the surface. The ‘V’ keeps your pen centered. You can do this instead of drawing your lines using the length of the ribbon itself.

Trick #3: Using Magnetic Measuring Tapes to Pick up Items

The end of magnetic tapes can pick up steel items such as nails and screws. Depending on the strength of the magnet, it can even be used to carry tools such as wrenches and hammers. This is perfect for when you have accidentally dropped something and do not want to go through the inconvenience of stooping down to pick it up!

Picking up a Metal Nail with a Magnetic Tape Measure
Picking up a Hammer with a Magnetic Tape Measure

Ready to Try These Out?

You’re now a tape measure connoisseur! Interested in another read on tools? See if you already have these essential tools at home. Feeling more stoked to take on your next repair job? Follow our repair guides for some troubleshooting help or check out our wide library of appliance parts and lawn equipment parts!