A tape measure is a must-have item in any homeowner’s toolbox. The first tape measures were simply strips of leather with regular markings; the earliest known recorded use was by that of the ancient Romans.  Much later, in the 1920’s, Hiram Farrand patented the “Farrand Rapid Rule” and the design continued to undergo iterations. A tape measure can be seen in many different lengths, shapes and sizes.  Certain professions, like seamstresses, require flexible measuring tapes made of fiberglass or cloth, while site surveyors require extra long tape measures for plotting out property. The most commonly known design is stiff with a metal lip on the end, which is better for construction.

With all the differing types of tape measures developing, it’s important to know what your tape measure can do, how to properly use it, and why you should have one in your toolbox at home.

What is a tape measure?

A measuring tape is a simple tool that can be used in many home improvement projects. Whether you need to find the square footage of a room, measure the length of artwork you plan to hang on a wall, or figure out if the width of your bed will fit in your bedroom, this handy device is a portable measuring instrument that can assess the size of an object or the distance between objects. Tape measures can vary in length, ranging from 12 – 100 feet or more. The easiest tape to use can be the 12-foot tape measure as it can easily be maneuvered, but there are many instances where you may need a longer tape. The following is a breakdown of a few different measuring tape lengths.

12-foot measuring tape

A more compact and simple form of a measuring tape can be better for DIY projects by consumers. Try the Stanley 12-ft SAE Tape Measure at Lowe’s for less than $5. For smaller, more specific projects, a 12-foot tape measure is portable, lighter, and usually comes with a locking steel blade, making it easy to carry around for measurements. The 12-foot measuring tape is marked every eighth of an inch, up to 144 inches.

25-foot measuring tape

The most common measuring tape for builders is the length of 25 feet. This tape is marked in 16-inch increments and measures by feet to better suit to measuring larger distances, such as the space between wall studs. This longer measuring tape has a greater amount of durability than the smaller 12-foot tape, as well as a stronger ability to lock lengths in place while measuring distances, such as the length of your living room wall. Although longer tape measures can be more expensive, such as the Stanley 25-ft Locking SAE Tape Measure for $22.48 at Lowe’s, it can benefit you with extra amenities like a detachable hook and auto lock mode, increasing efficiency.

100-foot measuring tape

For much larger projects, such as measuring property boundaries or exterior areas, the 100-foot measuring tape can be used. This type of tape differs from the 12 and 25-foot tapes by the material. Most are made of fiberglass, which provides an easy and flexible, open reel movement of tape for survey work or general distance measuring.

Parts of a measuring tape

A standard tape measure, such as the 25-foot tape, has distinguished parts meant to simplify your process for easy accessibility and reading when measuring. The following are a few parts to better understand your tape measure:

Tang or hook

The tang of a tape measure, otherwise known as the hook, is connected to the end of the tape to support measuring. It is usually found as a metal piece that has the ability to hook or hold onto objects for stability. Make sure to slowly retract your tape when finished measuring, as the metal material of the tang can be bent or broken over time if retracted at a high speed. While most tangs have a 1/4 –inch space that sticks out from the tape to hook or hang onto objects, it’s important to take this additional length into consideration when doing your measurements. Tangs can come in the form of smooth and riveted, large and small, or even magnetic. Depending on your type of project, you may want your tape measure to have a certain type of tang.


The stand-out of your tape measure is the distance it can extend without snapping or bending. Most stand-outs for a 25-foot tape measure is around 10 feet, but some may range lower around 8 feet, which in most cases is enough. Having a measuring tape that is sturdy rather than flimsy will make your measuring process easier and most likely mean you have a good quality tape.

Lever lock

A lot of tape measures have auto-lock, meaning once the tape is pulled out, a lever will automatically lock the tape in place so that it won’t retract. Most traditional tapes have a button used to retract or lock the tape that is manually used, but an auto-lock can be beneficial for accuracy as measuring becomes more hands free.

How to read a tape measure

Although there are different lengths and types of measuring tapes, there is a standard format to reading the tape. The simplest way to begin reading measurements is to look for the whole inch markings. Each 1-inch measurement is marked with a larger number to determine the inch length making it easy to read and determine. Centered between each whole inch there will be a longer line marked for the half-inch. Next there is the quarter-inch mark, which will have 4 marks per inch and are the same length as the eighth of an inch markings that have 8 lines marked per inch. The shortest line markings are for the sixteenth-inch. Feet will be marked in larger numbers to easily determine each increasing foot length.

If you were to measure the length of a picture to hang on a wall with a 12-foot measuring tape, you would hook the beginning of the tape on the corner of one side of the picture frame, then pull the tape to the opposite end corner of the picture frame. Laying the tape flat, read the foot marking first, following with the whole inch mark, then line up the end to the next closest marking to the whole inch and determine the fraction. For instance, if the foot marking was 6 feet with the closest whole inch of 6, and the next line marking was 3/4 –inch, the length of your picture frame would be 6 feet and 6 ¾ inches, or 78 ¾ inches.

Why should you have a tape measure?

As simple as a tape measure may seem, it is a key tool to providing accuracy and efficiency when construction home improvement projects. Regardless of the size of your project, you may need to measure the length of your couch, height of your TV, or figure out the greatest amount of square footage you can have for your bathroom addition you’re building onto your master bedroom. A tape measure will bring you results on the spot without the use of any complex technology or higher knowledge than simple math. Consider putting a measuring tape in your toolbox along with your other tools, like your drill, screwdriver, or spirit level before beginning your project.