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How to Choose and Use a DIY Tape Measure by Hi-Spec

How to Choose and Use a DIY Tape Measure

A tape measure is an essential tool for any DIY enthusiast, handyman, or homeowner. In this in-depth guide, we will explore the various aspects of choosing and using a tape measure for various DIY projects, from beginner to expert level.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Tape Measures 
  2. Types of Tape Measures 
  3. Units of Measurements on Tape Measures
  4. Features to Consider When Choosing a Tape Measure 
  5. Using a Tape Measure Correctly 
  6. Maintaining Your Tape Measure 
  7. Expert Tips and Tricks 
  8. Conclusion 

Introduction to Tape Measures

A tape measure is a flexible ruler that can be easily carried around and used to measure length, width, and height. It is an indispensable tool for anyone working on DIY projects, whether a hobbyist or a professional.

Types of Tape Measures

There are several types of tape measures available in the market. Let's take a look at the most common ones:

  • Retractable Tape Measures: These are the most popular type of tape measures. They come with a spring mechanism that allows the tape to retract into the housing when not in use. Retractable tape measures are easy to use, portable, and suitable for most DIY tasks.
  • Long Tape Measures: These are designed for measuring long distances, usually over 25 feet. They are made of fiberglass or steel and come in a reel or case for easy storage. Long tape measures are ideal for larger projects, such as measuring the dimensions of a room or outdoor space.
  • Short Tape Measures: These are perfect for small projects and tight spaces. They usually measure up to 12 feet and are compact enough to fit in a pocket or toolbox. Short tape measures are great for measuring furniture, small rooms, or objects.

Units of Measurements on Tape Measures

Tape measures come in various units of measurements, with the most common being SAE (Standard American Engineering) and metric units. Understanding these units, their graduations, and how to read them is essential for accurate measurements in your DIY projects.

SAE Units

SAE units are based on the imperial system, which uses inches and feet as the primary units of measurement. These units are commonly used in the United States and are often found on tape measures designed for the American market.

  • Graduations: SAE tape measures typically hhhoave graduations marked in inches and fractions of an inch (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, and so on). Each inch is divided into smaller increments, allowing for more precise measurements. Some tape measures also have markings every 12 inches to indicate feet.

Metric Units

Metric units are based on the International System of Units (SI), which uses meters, centimeters, and millimeters as the primary units of measurement. These units are widely used internationally and are found on tape measures designed for global markets.

  • Graduations: Metric tape measures typically have graduations marked in centimeters and millimeters. Each centimeter is divided into ten equal increments, representing millimeters. This system allows for easy conversion between units and precise measurements.

Dual SAE/Metric Tape Measures

Some tape measures have dual markings, displaying both SAE and metric units on the same tape. This feature is useful for those who work with both systems or need to convert measurements between the two. When using a dual-marked tape measure, ensure you're reading the correct unit of measurement for your project.

Features to Consider When Choosing a Tape Measure

When selecting a tape measure for your DIY projects, consider the following features:

  • Length: Choose a tape measure with a length that suits your needs. For most DIY tasks, a 16 or 25-foot tape measure is sufficient. However, if you plan on working on larger projects, consider a longer tape measure.
  • Width: The width of the tape affects its rigidity and readability. Wider tapes are easier to read and can extend further without bending. A 1-inch wide tape is suitable for most DIY tasks.
  • Material: Tape measures are made from various materials, such as steel, fiberglass, and polyester. Steel tapes are durable and accurate but can rust over time. Fiberglass tapes are more resistant to moisture and wear but may stretch with use. Polyester tapes are lightweight and flexible but may not be as accurate as steel or fiberglass tapes.
  • Graduations: The graduations on a tape measure should be easy to read and understand. Look for high-contrast markings and clear, bold numbers. Some tape measures also have fractional markings for precise measurements.
  • Locking Mechanism: A good tape measure should have a reliable locking mechanism to hold the tape in place while you take measurements. This prevents the tape from retracting or slipping during use.
  • Belt Clip: A belt clip allows you to easily carry your tape measure, keeping it within reach when working on a project. Look for a sturdy, durable belt clip that securely attaches to your belt or waistband.

Related Article: Layout Tools Every Serious DIY Needs

Using a Tape Measure Correctly

To ensure accurate measurements, follow these guidelines when using a tape measure:

  1. Extend the Tape: Slowly pull the tape out of its housing, keeping it taut and straight. Be careful not to let the tape bend or twist.
  2. Position the Tape: Place the end of the tape (also known as the hook) at the starting point of your measurement. Ensure that the hook is securely anchored, either by hooking it onto an edge or pressing it firmly against a surface.
  3. Read the Measurement: Extend the tape to the desired length and lock it in place. Read the measurement at the point where the tape meets the end of the object being measured. Remember to include the length of the hook if it is not already accounted for in the tape's markings.
  4. Double-Check Your Measurements: To ensure accuracy, take multiple measurements and compare them. If there are discrepancies, reposition the tape and try again.

Maintaining Your Tape Measure

Proper maintenance will prolong the life of your tape measure and ensure accurate measurements. Follow these steps to keep your tape measure in good condition:

  • Clean the Tape: After using your tape measure, wipe the tape with a clean, dry cloth to remove any dirt or debris. This will prevent the tape from wearing down and becoming inaccurate.
  • Prevent Rust: If you have a steel tape measure, apply a light coating of oil or rust preventative spray to the tape's surface occasionally. This will help protect it from rust and corrosion.
  • Store Properly: When not in use, retract the tape completely and store it in a cool, dry place. Avoid exposing your tape measure to extreme temperatures or humidity, as this can cause the tape to warp or become damaged.

Expert Tips and Tricks

Here are some expert tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your tape measure:

  • Use the Hook as a Pivot Point: When measuring internal dimensions, such as the inside of a cabinet or frame, use the hook as a pivot point. Press the hook against one side while extending the tape to the other side, and take your measurement.
  • Utilize the Tape's Built-In Markings: Some tape measures have built-in markings for common measurements, such as stud spacing or truss layouts. Familiarize yourself with these markings to save time and effort.
  • Measure Twice, Cut Once: As the old saying goes, "measure twice, cut once." Always double-check your measurements before making any cuts or adjustments to your project.


A tape measure is an indispensable tool for DIY enthusiasts, handymen, and homeowners alike. By understanding the different types of tape measures, their features, and how to use them correctly, you can ensure accurate measurements for all your projects. 

Remember to maintain your tape measure properly and utilize expert tips and tricks to get the most out of this essential tool. With the right knowledge and skills, a tape measure can help you achieve professional results on all your DIY endeavors.

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