Do You Know How to Read a Tape Measure by : ellen A or measuring tape is a flexible form of ruler. It consists of a ribbon of cloth, plastic, or metal with linear-measure markings, often in both imperial and metric units. Surveyors use tape measures in lengths on the order of hectometres. It is a convenient, common measuring tool. Until you want to cut a board to 4'11-3/8" and pick up the tape measure and realize that there is no clear marking for 11-3/8"! Now you need to understand how to read a tape measure.It's actually a lot simpler than it looks. The first thing we need to clarify is the symbols used in most woodworking plans. The symbol ' (apostrophe) represents feet. The " (quote) symbol represents inches. So a plan calling for a board to be cut to 4' 11-3/8" is asking for "four feet eleven and three eighths inches". Because this can be confusing most plans will call out this measurement only in inches; in this case 59-3/8" or "fifty nine and three eighths inches". Now that we've covered the basics it's back to understanding all of those little marks on the tape measure. A standard tape measure (or ruler) in the United States is divided up into feet and inches. Each foot is divided into 12 inches. The problem starts with the subdivision of the inches. In each inch there are a number of lines of different length. The longer the length of these lines, the larger the unit of measurement. On the typical ruler the basic (smallest) unit of measurement is 1/16". If you count the distance between two inch marks (one inch) you will find sixteen lines. This is because an inch is 16/16th of an inch long. Because we like to express fractional numbers in the largest unit possible we call it one inch. So it follows that if you have 8 lines, or 8/16" you have a half-inch or ?". And likewise, if you have 4 little lines, or 4/16" you have a quarter inch and so on.