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The Best Tape Measure for Workshop Projects or At-Home Tasks

The earliest patent for a tape measure was awarded in 1922. These early models were imprinted on cloth and were intended more for use by the clothing industry but shortly afterwards, metal tape measures came into being for use by carpenters and other tradesmen, using a spring return patented a half century earlier.
 
Before the tape measure, carpenters used a folding rule. While effective, it was difficult to perform inside measurements with the folding rule and it was limited to six feet in length. If a carpenter needed to make a longer measurement, he had to measure it in pieces and add them together. Anyone who's ever done that knows that every time you add another measurement, you reduce your accuracy.
 
Today, we have both metal and cloth tape measures available. Cloth is still in use by the clothing industry, but also for some longer tape measures (50 and 100 feet) used in the construction industry. Metal retractable tape measures have become the standard for construction work, as they are faster and easier to use than cloth ones.
 
These steel tape measures now come in sizes ranging from three foot long pocket measures to 100 foot long reels. The most common size for the construction trades is 25 feet which is long enough to cross most good sized rooms. Blades are curved across their width, in order to provide them rigidity. The wider the measuring tape, the more rigid the blade which makes it easier for one person to use on their own because if the blade is too flexible, it will buckle as it’s being extended, especially when having to support itself across a span. For the measurement to be accurate, the blade must be straight, not buckled.
 
The end of most steel tape measures has a sliding hook on it, allowing it to be used with equal accuracy, whether measuring inside or outside dimensions. The hook slides to the appropriate position for the measurement. These hooks are held in place by four rivets on some tape measures, but better quality ones use four rivets.
 
One very important feature on any tape measure is the locking mechanism. Since the tape is spring loaded to return back into the case, a worker would have to hold the tape in place with one hand without a lock. Not all locks are created equal and any tape measure with a lock that doesn't work well ends up being more trouble than it's worth. 
 
The tape itself is marked in inches and fractions with this varying considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some being easier to read than others. Tape measures designed with carpenters in mind will have an obvious marking every 16 inches for stud spacing. A few tape measures come with both inch and metric markings, but that is rather rare.
 
When using multiple tape measures on one project such as in construction, always do a side-by-side comparison of their markings before beginning the work. Some may vary from others, causing problems when one person is measuring the place where a piece of wood needs to be installed and another is marking the wood to be cut. Taking a moment to make this comparison can save a lot of wasted material. Check out our list of the best tape measures in 2021.

Compare The Best Tape Measures Of 2021

Lufkin Power Return Engineer's Tape Measure - Best Tape Measure Overall

Lufkin started out making folding wooden rules for carpenters and while they still make those folding rules, today most of their business is in steel tape measures. They are a specialty manufacturing company, only making measuring devices which means that you can expect higher quality as well as better form and function.
This is a chrome-plated steel cased tape measure and while plastic cases are rugged, they'll never be quite as durable as metal. The blade hood is held in place with five rivets, making it considerably stronger than standard while the blade itself features a Ny-Clad nylon powder coating, which provides superior wear resistance and should last five times longer than a standard, painted blade.

Lufkin has supplied a longer blade as well, with a full 33 of measurement. The belt hook is removable for use in a tool box or tool belt and the ribbed, non-slip lock button gives you superior control over locking and unlocking the blade.

Komelon Monster MagGrip Tape Measure - Runner Up

Komlon calls this tape measure a "monster" and while 30 feet of length is extraordinary, I think what they're really talking about is the unique features they've built into this tape's design. To start, the blade is marked on both sides ensuring that you can read it no matter how you hook it up. It’s also nylon coated to prevent the measurement imprinting from wearing off. The end hook is appropriately a double sided hook, allowing you to connect it from either side as well. Not only that, but it's magnetic, so you can get it to hold itself in place to any ferrous metal object.

Stanley FatMax Tape Measure - Most Quiet

You'll probably find more Stanley 25 foot tape measures on a construction site than all other brands put together. The FatMax line from Stanley is 1-1/4 inches wide, rather than the standard one inch, meaning it has some extra rigidity when you need it. In fact, you can extend this tape measure 11 feet in the air, two feet longer than a one inch tape will go. The first six feet of the blade (which is the part that usually breaks) is protected with BladeArmor coating for extra durability.

Fastcap ProCarpenter Tape Measure - Consider

FastCap has taken a slightly different approach to this tape measure, making the tape flat, rather than the more common concave tape. While this means that it won't stand out in the air from the housing, it makes the blade lay flat on the material you are measuring to help you get more accurate measurements. They also have conventional concave tape measures available but for cabinet work in the shop, this flat blade is superior. You can also use it to measure around curves, something that you just can't do with a concave blade. There's also an erasable note area right on the side of the tape measure, a very handy feature to have.

US Tape CenterPoint Tape Measure - Best Tape Measure

This tape measure from US Tape has a very unique feature in that it’s designed so that you can quickly and easily find the center of any measurement, even down to a fraction of an inch. Considering how common that is when building something, I'm surprised that more tape measure manufacturers haven't stolen their idea. The one inch by 25 foot blade is housed in an impact resistant plastic case, with rubber overmolded grips to make it easy to hang onto.

Buyer's Guide

It’s always best to be prepared when picking out anything new. You might be surprised to know but buying a tape measure that is perfectly suited to your needs requires a whole lot of preparation as well. But don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through all the steps.

Types Of Tape Measures

There are four main types of tape measures that you should consider when deciding which one to get. You can’t just go into a store and pick one at random, if you’re serious about your craft then you need to get serious about your tools too. Here are the four varieties you’ll find in tape measures.

Cased Tape Measures

This is the most common and versatile design you’ll find out there. It keeps the blade, which is the measuring strip made of either fiberglass or metal, in a holder that could be made of metal or rubber, and is easily stored away safely in your pocket or attached to a tool belt. The length of this tape measure is the standard 25-foot which is perfect for several craft and building purposes, such as hanging photo frames, wood-working and installing different decor items like shelves.

Long Or Open-Reel Tapes

These are the tapes that are most popular among contractors, builders and engineers because of their ability to retract. The length of these tapes is between 25 and 500 feet and can usually be found made of what we call coated fiberglass. For the user’s ease, they have markings in both meters and feet and contain a bottom spike that helps increase stability when you need to measure ground distances.

If you require measuring of circular objects like columns then a diameter tape (D-tape) is your best bet. Although it is very similar to a cased tape, it has an ultra flexible blade of metal or cloth that helps you measure around poles and pipes. It uses pi to calculate circumference and diameter, providing an accurate measurement. You can get these tapes in several different lengths, ranging from 12 inches to 50 feet.

However, if you’re looking for a tape to assist you in sewing projects using a cloth or vinyl model since they tend to mould easily to the body then you need to use sewing tapes. These come in various lengths, starting from 60 inches to 120 inches. Sewing tapes are fairly simple with one strip with two metal ends in order to prevent fraying if they’re made of cloth. You can also often find them stored away in a retractable case.

Features Of The Best Tape Measures

The Blade

The tape itself is also known as the blade of the tape measure. It should be straight and stay firm when it has been extended. A key factor in determining the quality of your tape measure is the tightness of the blade. If it bends easily or dips in places then you know you have yourself a cheap tape measure. If you have a quality blade that is either made of steel or fiberglass then you will note that it “stands out” for 10 feet or more. In the case of metal blades that have a coat of nylon, they will last a long time and are extremely versatile in nature.

The Tang

The tang is the metal end-hook you’ll find at the tip of the tape measure that helps you secure an accurate reading. However, the tang is often the most vulnerable part of a tape measure. So when shopping for a new one, make sure the tang has a solid feel to it without being static. What you should be looking out for is a slight in-and-out movement known as “floating” when you tug on the tang gently. When you use a tape measure, you’ll notice that when the tang hits anything solid, it tends to retract a bit but if you use it around an edge, it will pull out, albeit only a bit. The tang is something that has been specifically designed to float in order to compensate for its own width so that there is consistency and an accuracy when it comes to measurement. If the tang has a magnetic feature then it just works better as an additional tool as well.

The Belt Holder

You will usually find cased tape measures to come with a nylon or steel pincer that will attach to a pocket or tool belt called a belt clip. While some professionals find the clip annoying because of the added bulkiness it brings to the table and the harder it makes to hold or stow in your pocket, however, an easy solution to this is just unscrewing the clip or opting for a clipless model for your convenience.

Auto-Lock

You need the auto-lock when you are either working alone or working in tight spaces. This feature will help the tape measure automatically lock when it is pulled out, so if you’re using it to measure the inside of a wardrobe then the blade will just stay in position by itself and you will have a delightfully accurate reading. All you have to do is simply press the button and the blade will either fully retract or shorten depending on when you take your finger off the button.

Markings

The information you will find printed on the blade is called the markings. The most important are the measurements. While most tape measures have the imperial system including inches and feet that are used in the US, if, for some reason, you need to make conversions then you may opt for a tape measure that also includes metric markings.

FAQs

Q: Why are there 16 inches on a tape measure?
A: Since wall studs are separated by 16 inches as per US’s standard construction practice, it would be helpful for any carpenter or worker who uses the tape.

Q: Why is a tape measure curved?
A: The tape has a concave structure with a curve so that the blade can keep straight when it is extended. The curve also helps the worker to get accurate measurements.

Q: What safety measures do you need to be considering?
A: The open sides of a blade shouldn't be too sharp, your hands should be clean and children should always be supervised when using the tape measure.

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