The Best Tape Measure

After over 25 hours of research and testing, we found that the 25-foot Stanley PowerLock is the best tape measure to have on hand for general needs around the house. It’s not going to wow anyone with snazzy features like an on-board pencil sharpener or a space age rubber over-mold, but features aren’t what you want in a tape measure. You want something that’s durable and affordable, with a working blade lock and a solid belt clip. The PowerLock has these. It also has a sterling reputation attached to a proven 50-year track record.

The PowerLock was good enough to be packed on the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.
With its long history, the tool is also something of an icon. And while we’re interested in performance here and not historical status, the fact that the PowerLock was good enough to be packed on the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission means that it’s probably good enough for your kitchen drawer.

We found that the PowerLock is strong enough to take a spill, but if you’re someone who is really getting into the DIY side of life or if you’re clumsy to the point that you need an elevated level of durability out of your tools, we have a recommendation below for a tape that can spend all day bouncing down the basement stairs.

Why a tape measure?

Regardless whether you live in an apartment, a condo, a loft, or a house—if you get one tool and one tool only, make it a tape measure. It can be used to figure out the square footage for a room painting project, help hang pictures accurately, assist with sizing furniture, or direct you in buying a new rug. It will measure new gutters, window boxes or how much rope to get for the kid’s swing. It might also be a workbench tool if you’re a part time DIYer/tinkerer. There, it might help make a birdhouse or build a science fair project. It’s also something you’ll want to bring with you on your trips to Ikea or the flea market to make sure that the desk that you like will actually fit where you want it. Tape measures can also perform meaningless tricks like this one where just by folding it at the right place, you can quickly figure out someone’s age or the year they were born. Probably not an essential use, but it’s still pretty cool.

What makes a good tape measure?

The construction industry is swamped with tape measures. There is not a single tradesman who doesn’t carry one. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, HVAC guys, masons and landscapers all keep tape measures by their side. There is an equally large selection of tapes available for more general use. There are big ones, small ones, durable ones and flimsy ones.

But as ever-present as tape measures are, they’re not a commonly-reviewed tool so there wasn’t a lot of published material to guide me in my search. I found only one comprehensive review of multiple tape measures and that was in Pro Tool Reviews. The piece, written by Clint DeBoer, compared 12 popular models from well-known manufacturers that ranged in price from $2.50 to $20. Most of the tapes landed in the $10-$20 range.

Another tape measure article is at Popular Mechanics and it happens to be written by me. I remember it fondly because I tested durability by throwing tape measures off the roof of a house onto an asphalt driveway. While it was entertaining to write, the article did not help much here because it only looked at three tapes and was geared toward testing one of the gold standard tape measures (the Stanley FatMax) against two multi-function tape measures.

To get a better sense of what makes a good tape measure for the general user, I read what few reliable articles I could find online and talked to Clint DeBoer, the writer of the Pro Tool Reviews piece and the editor-in-chief of the magazine, as well as Mark Clement, a tool expert, licensed contractor and co-host of the MyFixItUpLife radio show. I also relied on my own experience—10 years in the construction industry as a carpenter and job supervisor as well as 6 years writing about and reviewing tools.

From these conversations, it emerged that the most important features are blade durability, stand-out, ease of locking lever, tang size and case durability. Both Clement and DeBoer warned against tapes loaded with additional features. Clement summed things up: “go simple. Keep it clean.”

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Durability

For a tape to have a long productive life, the most important factor is blade durability.
For a tape to have a long productive life, the most important factor is blade durability. As Clement said, “the blade of the tape measure almost always goes first.” What happens is that over time, grit, dirt and debris enter the tape through the mouth and grind against the blade as it gets extended and retracted over and over. DeBoer points out that the blade also “rubs the point of entry every time it retracts.” This eventually takes off any protective coating as well as the printed numbers and leaves exposed metal which then begins to rust. Many manufacturers combat this with additional nylon coatings that DeBoer says are essential if you want to buy a tape and keep it a long time.

Case durability is also important, but less so. Any quality tape can take a normal four to five-foot fall and the heavy-duty construction ones, mostly outfitted with a rubber over-mold, can truly withstand abuse. For the Popular Mechanics piece, I dropped a Stanley FatMax 25 feet on to asphalt and it only showed some scuff marks. But at the same time, no tape is indestructible. I’ve also seen the locking switch on a FatMax break after an 8-foot fall. There is really no tape that will last forever under all circumstances. DeBoer makes note that it’s not uncommon for working carpenters to go through a tape every six months…and those are the durable ones.

In an article in Tools of the Trade outlining the everyday carry tools for someone on a framing crew, Tim Uhler explains, “in the dry part of the year (summer), I’ll get six or seven months out of a FatMax. When it’s wet (winter), the same tape won’t last more than a month or so. Once enough mud and grit are pulled into the case, that’s it for the tape.”

Stand-out

The stand-out of a tape is the distance that the blade can extend unsupported from the case and not collapse. In the industry it has become bragging rights to have the tape with the longest stand-out. It looks like the current champ is the Stanley FatMax Xtreme which, according to them, can be suspended 13 feet. This mega distance can be helpful on a jobsite, but it’s really unnecessary for the home. Both DeBoer and Clement agreed that something in the 7 to 8′ range is more than enough for standard use. DeBoer also sees stand-out as an indicator for general quality of the tape. He said, “If your tape breaks downward at just 5-6 feet then it’s likely going to be a product that doesn’t last long in other areas as well.”

A large factor of stand-out is the width of the blade. This generally ranges from ¾” up to 1¼”. Anything less than an inch is going to be flimsy, but the fatter blades (those above the 1″ mark) make for a much bulkier tool. The 1¼” tapes are generally made for the construction site, so the wide blade also coincides with additional over-mold. As with everything, there is a tradeoff here: overall size for stand-out.

Tang

The tang is the metal hook at the end of the tape and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most basic is a simple right-angled foot. Most tangs have a ¼” slot along the front face that allows you to hang the tool off a nail or easily mark a circle with the tape. To do this, pound a nail in at your center point until the head is just barely above the surface and hook the slot into the nail head. Then, take your pencil and hold it at the 10″ mark and spin it around. Now you’ve got a circle with close to a 20″ diameter. It’s a neat trick, but really not important to the average user. Some tapes, like the Lufkin Hi-Vis Control Series Tape, have one slot on each side of the tang that are angled so you don’t need to twist the tape as you’re making the arc or hanging the tape.

The tang is riveted to the blade and needs to have a nice, smooth back-and-forth movement to it.
The tang is riveted to the blade and needs to have a nice, smooth back-and-forth movement to it. This is so the tape can be accurate with both pull measurements, where you hook the tang over something like the edge of a board, as well as push measurements, where you press the tang against an inside corner. The amount of movement should equal the thickness of the tang to ensure accuracy for both styles of measurement.

Some tangs, particularly those on tapes with wide 1¼” blades, are massive; both Clement and DeBoer warn against these. Clement used the term “headache” and DeBoer used “unwieldy.” What can happen is that tangs can get so large that they catch on everything except what you actually want them to hook on—particularly the ones with the top hooks that extend above the tape. The purpose of these is so you can send the tape underneath something and then hook it from below, like a closed door. These can be useful in construction settings but are unnecessary for your everyday tasks.

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Left to right: PowerLock, FatMax, Lufkin Control Series, Johnson Big J, Komelon SS Gripper. Notice the compact size of the PowerLock and FatMax’s tangs compared to the rest.

Larger tangs can cause other problems as well. In Clement’s experience, “they tend to roll the tape over when you’re extending to hook something. It seems as though they literally catch the wind and the tape comes crashing down in a really thin heap of loud, flaccid steel.”

Other tangs are magnetic; unless you’re working with steel studs or metallic electrical conduits they’re a problem. First, the magnets are usually so powerful that they stick to everything, so don’t even try to take a measurement near your refrigerator. Secondly, they attract all manner of metal shavings, filings and debris, making them difficult to keep clean. There is certainly a place for magnetic tapes, but the kitchen drawer is not it.

Locking Lever

I only looked at tapes with traditional locking levers. Some companies make ones with auto-locking features that automatically lock the tape in the once it is extended. A button, located where the normal toggle would be, retracts the tape. In the PTR piece, DeBoer explains them by saying, “people either love or hate auto-locking tapes.” I’ve always found them awkward to handle and if you use a standard tape, you can “auto-lock” it by shifting your forefinger forward until it rests against the bottom of the tape. It makes sense to just learn that little trick and then have the full range of tape motion if you need it. A tape measure is not a difficult tool to operate.

Measurement Markings

Some tapes have markings on the convex side of the tape, but Clement sees this as a “solution without a problem.” My own experience is that in a decade of construction work, I don’t think I’ve ever used or felt I needed markings on the back side of the tape. While researching for this piece, I didn’t include or exclude any tapes based on this feature. If it was there, great. If not, it won’t be missed.

As this map shows, the US is one of the only countries that doesn’t use the metric system. Still, we’re based in the US, so I only looked at tapes that use the standard imperial scale. A couple of the tapes, including the recommended PowerLock, are available with a dual metric scale, so if that’s what you’re looking for you should be able to track one down easily enough.

I also didn’t spend much time looking at tapes with additional gizmos, gadgets and added functions. There are tapes that will make a mark for you, ones that have telescoping measuring rulers, and others with centering scales that show you the center point of any measurement. In Clement’s opinion, “a tape measure is a beautifully simple machine…and should not be muddied up with stuff that other tools can do.” In this category of tapes with added features, I did look at the FastCap tapes which have pencil sharpeners and an erasable writing surface, due to their reputation in the construction industry. More thoughts on those in a bit.

For length, I only looked at 25′ tapes. Common lengths are 12, 16, 25, 30, and 35 feet. DeBoer says that he primarily uses a 16, but he feels safe knowing that he has a 25 close by. Clement says that a 25 is the way to go because there are times when it will come in handy, giving the example of building a small surround for a kid’s swingset. It’s not uncommon for a room in a house (or a hallway) to have a wall longer than 16 feet and because someone might use this tape to measure a wall’s square footage for painting or sizing up a potential hall runner, the 16′ length might not fit the bill. Here, it’s better to have the length and not use it than to need it and not have it. There is a price bump-up, but tape measures aren’t expensive to begin with so it’s worth it.

As far as cost goes, I spent most of my time in the $10-$20 range, with a few outliers considered based on the reputation of the company or some other feature that seemed appealing. Additional cost equals additional durability and stand-out (wider blade). The tapes with a 1¼-inch-wide blade are usually in the $15-$20 half, while the 1-inch blades are in the cheaper $10-$15 range. There are definitely exceptions to this—the most notable being the Tajima GP25 at $22 with a 1-inch blade. The M1 was the most expensive 25-foot tape that I ran across. At $35, it does look like a nice tape and it has an interesting self-marking system on it, but the cost makes it unreasonable for a tool that will live in the kitchen drawer.

During my research, I checked all of the major manufacturers and retailers. I also looked at retail sites dedicated to specific trades. For testing, I used the criteria above to narrow things down and settled on the following tapes: Stanley Powerlock, Stanley FatMax, Stanley PowerLock with Blade Armor, Keson PG1825SS, Lufkin Control Series, Johnson Big J, Johnson Professional’s Choice, Johnson Jobsite, Komelon SS Gripper, FastCap Old Standby, FastCap Lefty/Righty, Snap-On Professional, Tajima G25, Tajima GP25, DeWalt, and the Starrett Exact Plus.

How did we test?

The largest portion of the testing consisted of me using the tape measures as I completed a number of carpentry projects. From this, I could discern general quality and feel, such as how the tapes felt in the hand, how easy they were to read, whether or not the tangs hooked on what I wanted them to and how well the belt clips worked.

I also tested the strength of the locking mechanism. When the lock is engaged, it should be strong enough to withstand a little pulling and tugging. A lame blade lock can be intensely frustrating. If you’re hanging the tape in order to mark shelf heights, or you have the blade locked at the right length to check a rug dimension in a few different rooms, you want the tape to stay locked. You don’t want it to come loose and start retracting every time it gets bumped. Oftentimes, I’m taking a measurement on a horizontal surface like a tabletop and I lock the blade so I can work with both hands. In that situation, I want to be able to give the tape a tug to make sure it’s securely hooked. Also, you may just want to hang the tape while you take a measurement from the top of a window casing or from your gutter. It’s a very aggravating thing if you do this with a locked tape and it slides and falls.

To test this, I locked each tape at 24 inches and jiggled it slightly, holding it from the tang.

I extended the tapes and dragged a piece of 60-grit sand paper, weighed down with 5 pounds of pressure, down the blade for a distance of a foot.
To check the durability of the blade itself and to simulate the destructive grinding that takes place once dirt and grit make their way into the case, I extended the tapes and dragged a piece of 60-grit sand paper, weighed down with 5 pounds of pressure, down the blade for a distance of a foot. I performed this three times with each tape. On some tapes the coating and printing came right off, but others held up admirably to the abrasion test.

Accuracy was a piece of the puzzle, but in reality it was just a very small piece. Taking a queue from DeBoer’s article in Pro Tool Reviews, I tested all of the tapes against a Lixer Tape Measure Calibrator. The little tool checks the accuracy of the tape on both the push and pull measurement. Of the 16 tapes tested only the FastCap Old Standby was off by as much as 1/32″. Ironically, that was also one of the only tapes that marked increments of 1/32. All of the other tapes were either perfect or off on one of the measurements by 1/64″ or less. 1/32″ may be something to quibble about for the working carpenter, and only furniture makers, cabinet makers, or machinists are really going to be concerned by 1/64″, so the accuracy issue was basically a wash with all tapes performing within the margin of error.

This brings up the issue of increments. For the most part, the tapes I looked at utilize standard 1/16-inch increments, meaning each inch for the length of the tape is divided into 16 equal parts. Three of the tapes (Keson, Lufkin, and the FastCap Old Standby), added 1/32″ for the first foot and then went straight 16ths for the remainder. On the DeWalt tape, which has 1/16ths, the 1/8″ increments are labeled as fractions along one edge of the tape. The FastCap Righty/Lefty has 1/16″ increments, but each one is labeled as a fraction. The tape is also divided down the middle the long way with a mirror image of the printing on each side so that the numbers will be facing you regardless of which hand you’re using to extend the tape. If you’re truly that uncomfortable with reading a tape measure and understanding the basic math that it takes to know where you’re at in any given inch, these two fractionalized models are probably worth a second look. As Clement said, “If the tape labels the inch gradations as fractions and that makes you happy, so be it. You will get laughed off a construction site, but not out of your own living room.”

I also checked the stand-out of the tapes by extending each one to the breaking point 4 times and taking the average. 

Finally, everyone has different hand so in order to test general ergonomics I gave the top contenders to my wife and some other friends to play around with and considered their feedback.

Our pick

The Stanley PowerLock is the best tape measure for a number of reasons. It has a strong lock, a nice stand-out, a durable blade, and a convenient belt hook. The PowerLock is a very basic tool and that pared-down simplicity makes it very light and easy to handle. It was also the only tape that combined sturdiness with value; it was one of the most inexpensive tapes that we looked at. The other tapes all had failings—a poorly protected blade, a gigantic tang, a lame stand-out, or an impossible belt clip.

It all starts with the durability of the blade. The Stanley blade is coated with a Mylar polyester film which our testing proved to be superior to most of the other tapes. Remember, this is the key point in the durability and longevity of a tape measure. When I dragged the weighted sandpaper over the PowerLock, the coating showed some surface scratching, but the printing remained fully intact. On many of the other tapes, like the Johnsons and the FastCaps, the printing came off like I was erasing a pencil mark. The Stanley was in the small class of tapes that held up to this abuse.

Top to bottom: Tajima GP25, Stanley PowerLock, FastCap Lefty/Righty. The PowerLock held up to the abrasion test.

Top to bottom: Tajima GP25, Stanley PowerLock, FastCap Lefty/Righty. The PowerLock held up to the abrasion test.

The PowerLock has a blade stand-out of 7 feet, 10 inches which is on the upper side of the limit indicated by Clement and DeBoer. This length is attained with the PowerLock’s 1-inch-wide blade and was the second furthest standout of the 1-inch tapes (the Starrett had a bizarro-long 10 feet, 5 inches).

The locking lever is strong and easy to use. Once it was locking in place it didn’t budge as I bounced the tape on its own weight.

Because of the 1″ blade, the PowerLock is a slim 1½ inches wide. It’s one of the taller tapes, with a classic “D” design, but it’s not unwieldy. In Clement’s review of it, he says, “No one will accuse me of having large hands and the PowerLock fits in my hand nicely.” He goes on, “The squatter, rounder topped tapes with wider (1-1/4 inch) blades feel too bulky. I can hold the [PowerLock] in my hand, pay out tape, and bend the tape—say for measuring across a floor or from floor to ceiling—in a fluid motion without having to readjust the tape in my hand.”

The people I had handle the tapes had similar experiences. A couple of them commented on how light it was compared to the others, especially the 1¼” tapes (the PowerLock is 13¼ ounces, tied with the Keson for the lightest tape tested). They also noticed the solid feel of the tool and the smooth locking lever. Because the PowerLock was the standard tape measure for so long (and the one that everyone’s dad owned) it seems to have become what people are comfortable with. “Yeah, it’s a tape measure…it’s what you expect,” one person said. Everyone thought that the 1¼” tapes were all bulky and heavy. The Tajimas and FastCaps got high marks for their compact size, but they each have their own flaws that I’ll get to in a bit. 

One of the projects I used the tapes for was to measure for 20 custom storm windows, a task consisting of seven measurements per window. For the diagonals, I planted the tang at the lower corner, extended the tapes and then bent them over with a twist so I could read the upper corner. I was surprised at how quickly this repetitive twisting and bending and snapping back into the case worked over some of the tapes. The Keson and the Tajimas developed slight warps and wrinkles in the thin blades. The PowerLock carried on with no problems. The point here is that the durability of the PowerLock’s blade extends beyond a resistance to grit and debris, but kinking and general abuse as well. After getting a feel for the variety of blades, I wasn’t surprised that the PowerLock can handle a stand-out of nearly eight feet.

An added feature to the PowerLock is that the tape case is marked for inside measurements. The body of the tape is 3 inches long, printed on the side of the case. If you’re measuring a room from wall to wall, you can extend the tape until the back of the case touches the wall and then just add the 3 inches to what you can read on the tape. About ⅔ of the tapes that I tested had this feature, but the Stanley was one of six that kept this measurement to an easy-to-use 3 inches. Using the DeWalt, you have to add 3¼ inches and the Snap-On makes you add 3⅛ inches.

On the underside of the case, right where the tang sits, the PowerLock has a slightly loose piece of black plastic. This acts as a shock-absorber when the tang comes slamming back into the case.  A few of the other tools had something similar with varying degrees of success. The Johnson Jobsite, Johnson Big J and Keson tapes also had a bumper, but when it was pressed, it actually forced open the seam along the underside of the case. Better versions were found on the Starrett and Tajimas, but those tapes had other issues covered below. The Komelon, Lufkin and Snap-On extended their ample rubber over-mold up to the nose of the tool, so that it directly acts as a bumper. Again, those tools didn’t fare well in other categories.

The Powerlock was dead-on accurate when I tested it.
The Powerlock was dead-on accurate when I tested it with the Lixer Calibrator. Both the push and pull measurement were right where they were supposed to be. This indicates the quality of the tang as well as its relationship with the tape blade. In the PTR round-up, DeBoer writes, “believe it or not, we found the Stanley PowerLock to be the epitome of how a tang should move – forward and backwards with almost no lateral movement. Maybe that’s why the tape has been around for 50 years.”

The PowerLock has traditional increments, which are probably only seen as traditional because they’re on the 50-year-old PowerLock in the first place. From start to finish, inches are divided into 16ths of an inch. Once the 1′ mark is reached, a second number in red starts to appear next to each 1-inch increment indicating which inch it is within the current foot. For example, the inch mark for 26 inches also has a 2 next to it because it is the 2 foot, 2-inch mark as well. Every 16 inches is marked in red to indicate contemporary framing spacing – with studs placed 16″ on center. So if you’re hanging a picture and you locate one stud in your wall, it should be easy to find the rest. Also every 19-3/16″ is a diamond known as the black truss mark. It has to do with a roof truss framing technique that has very little to do with hanging pictures or measuring for rugs. Don’t worry about it.

Stuart Deutsch of ToolGuyd.com also reviewed the PowerLock and the only fault he had with it was saying that he felt the smooth design of the case and sweaty hands don’t mix too well. He ended by saying, “Overall, I highly recommend Stanley’s Powerlock tape measures, especially given that they’re cheap enough to replace if or when they’re dropped too many times.”

This last point he makes is worth emphasizing. The Stanley PowerLock is one of the less-expensive quality tapes on the market. At around $10, it’s at the low end of cost in the “quality tape measure spectrum.” DeBoer also picks up on the cost analysis in the PTR piece. His bottom line verdict with the tool is that it’s “the affordable, no-frills standard.”

Unfortunately, the one thing that has changed over time for the PowerLock is the case. Somewhere along the way, most likely for cost reasons, Stanley stopped making them out of metal and started making them out of plastic (but they made sure they painted them to look like they were metal, which seems just a little sneaky). Of the tapes I tested, only the Johnson Big J had a significant amount of metal in the case. The rest were plastic, so while there are those who fault Stanley for making this switch, plastic tapes are simply the norm these days.

The Powerlock has a fairly typical warranty. It doesn’t cover any user wear and tear, but if there is something inherently wrong with the tool, they’ll give you a new one. They even have a special section for tape measures with pictures that show what is covered and what isn’t.

We need to note that Stanley sells another version of this tape measure that they refer to as the PowerLock with Blade Armor. I tested this model out too and even though you’d think it would be the superior tape, it pales in comparison to its more stable sibling. On the good side, the Blade Armor version has an “industrial thermo-plastic” coating over the first 3 inches, where the wear is the hardest. This is a nice touch, but there are too many downsides to give this tool a recommendation. While using it during a carpentry project, I had trouble getting it to consistently recoil. It kept getting gummed up around the 18-inch mark. I had hardly been using it, so there wasn’t anything stuck in the case. This defect is actually covered by their warranty. But still, beyond that it had one of the weaker blade locks, allowing the tape to slip with only the slightest movement.

A step up for durability: The Stanley FatMax

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.
It's heavy, more expensive, and more intense than the average household needs, but it can definitely survive a construction site.
If you want a tape measure with a proven track record of durability, one that can withstand a true jobsite beat-down, we recommend the Stanley FatMax. Over the years it has replaced the PowerLock as the standard on jobsites. It’s twice the price of the PowerLock, but that additional cost gets you a wider blade with a longer stand-out and a rubber overmold that provides greater protection as you’re watching it fall out of your second story window while measuring for a new air-conditioning window unit.

I’ve personally had a lot of experience using this tape and can attest to its brute durability. I’ve seen it go off scaffolding, down stairs and off roofs. As I said earlier, for the Popular Mechanics article, I tossed one from a height of 25 feet and as I wrote then, “the FatMax showed only scuff marks. We actually heard it laughing at us.”

Durability isn’t the only thing the FatMax offers. It also has a wider tape (1¼”) and a greater stand-out (we got 11 foot, 3 inches). The tape is covered with the same coating that encases the PowerLock, but it also has the additional “industrial thermoplastic” covering over the first 4½inches.

The FatMax has a top-hooking tang. While this was a feature that took many other tapes out of consideration, the tang on the FatMax is designed differently. Compared to most of the 1¼” tapes, the tang on the FatMax is small. In other words, it’s perfectly manageable. On the sides at the top of the tang are two slight horns that stick up above the concave side of the tape. These can be used to hook something from underneath. The horns are small enough so that you really don’t notice them during normal use and they don’t get hooked on things you don’t want them to.

The tradeoff for all of this goodness is weight and bulk. The FatMax tips the scales at 1 pound, 2¼ ounces, the heaviest of the tapes we looked at. The chubby case is nearly two inches wide and it fills up any hand that is holding it.

DeBoer, in the PTR round-up called the FatMax “the rugged ubiquitous tape to beat.”

Recently, Stanley announced the release of another version of the FatMax. This new tape has an auto-locking brake and a unique tang extension system. It looks like there is a detachable piece that turns the standard FatMax tang into a much larger one. According to the press release, “[users] can connect the over-sized hook attachment for framing applications or remove it for standard applications.” The tape is projected to cost around $25. While the tool will likely have the FatMax’s durability, the added cost and the unusual tang put it out of the range of the average person.

The competition

Of the other tapes I looked at, there were a few stand-outs (ha-ha). The Starrett Exact Plus may have been the recommended tape if it hadn’t been for the sheer size of it. With its ergonomic locking lever and durable blade coating, it was a contender, but the fact that it’s as tall as the PowerLock and as wide as the FatMax made it difficult for smaller hands to grasp and use comfortably. At $18, it was also on the pricy side for a 1-inch tape. A big-pawed carpenter on a jobsite, though, would find a lot to like about this one.

The Snap-On and Keson were nice compact units, but each had its failings. The Snap-On had the weakest blade lock that we looked at and as mentioned earlier, when I pressed on the Keson’s tang bumper, the seam at the bottom of the case opened up a little.  Snap-On also went a little extreme with their rubber over-mold, adding all kinds of nubs and ridges. We also noticed that the Klein 25-foot tape appears to be identical to the Snap-On.

Two out of the three Johnson tapes I looked at (Professional’s Choice and Jobsite) had weak blade locks while the third (Johnsons Big J) had a massive tang and a fairly stiff locking toggle. None of the Johnsons performed well in the abrasion test.

The Komelon also had an over-engineered protective case, and was the most futuristic-looking tape we found. The tang was very large and had a vertical piece that could hook from underneath. Both the knobby rubber overmold and the huge end clip made this one tricky to use compared to simpler models.

I liked the Lufkin for its blade durability and bright orange coloring (I can’t start to explain how many tape measures I’ve lost over the years), but the lanyard attachment made the tape a little too bulky for my liking, at least for around-the-house use. The Control Series moniker comes from a cutaway on the underside of the tape right up at the mouth that exposes the bottom of the tape as it moves in and out of the case. The theory is that you can easily press a finger against the tape to control how fast it retracts as well as brake it and hold it at a certain length. I’m neither here nor there on this one. It’s an interesting feature, but as mentioned earlier, most people familiar with tape measures unconsciously do this already just by sliding their index finger forward and braking the blade at the mouth of the case instead.

The FastCap tapes have a similar feature, but it’s a button at the bottom of the case rather than a cutaway. I actually found it more difficult to press the button and maintain pressure on it than to just slide my finger forward and stop the tape the way everyone else does. Along with the button-stop system, blade durability was a weak point for the FastCap as was the thumb-operated belt clip (it works like a snack bag clip and is tedious to use). Also, one of the FastCaps was off 1/32″ in the accuracy test and the blades of both tapes barely made it across the 7-foot mark when I tested stand-out.

The most successful feature of the FastCaps is the erasable writing surface that sits on the side of the tape. It’s nice to have the option to jot down some measurements, particularly for the carpenter. The onboard pencil sharpener is also a nice touch, again, for the carpenter, and probably not the home user.

FastCap tapes are also available with a variety of marking styles, from the standard 1/16th scale to the Lefty/Righty explained above. They also sell tapes that have no rigidity in the blade so they lay flat on your work piece. For the most part, these oddballs are geared to the trades.

Two other tapes tested, the DeWalt and the Johnson Big J, have locking switches that are so stiff they literally took two hands to operate. DeBoer had a similar experience with the DeWalt 16-foot version, but he didn’t test the Big J.

The two Tajima tapes, the G25 and the GP25 were nearly identical, despite the price difference ($16 and $24, respectively). They were both comfortable to use, and my test group liked their size, but the blade durability was subpar with both tapes showing wear and slight kinks after some standard use. One handling issue that I had with these tapes is that the overmold extends down from the case and covers the sides of the tang. This means that you can’t pull the tang out by coming at it from the side. Instead, you need to pull it straight out. Of all the tapes tested, the GP25 was the most expensive, but it only housed a 1″ blade. From what I could tell, in most ways it’s identical to the G25 (same blade, same size, same tang, almost the same locking switch), so it appears that the additional cost is because of the spaced-out over-mold aesthetic.

A lot of the other wide-blade tapes were taken out of the running because of their massive tangs. The Stanley Bostitch, nearly all of the Kobalt’s, and many others, all had this issue.

Milwaukee Tools has recently released a line of tape measures that appear to have exceptional blade durability. This video shows one of them surviving a bout with a sandblaster. Due to their massive tangs (the largest ones I’ve ever seen), they’re not a practical choice for around the house. Geared towards the tradesman, each tape even has an architectural scale in 1:4 and 1:8.

I didn’t consider any Craftsman tape measures because, well, they’re no longer made. For some reason, the company gave them up. But they seem to have been replaced on the shelves by Stanleys.

Longer Tape Measures

If you need a longer tape measure, depending on your needs, it may be worth investing in a 100-foot tape measure, like this Komelon. These are not spring-loaded auto-retracting tapes like their smaller cousins, but rather, they work on a spool system like a fishing rod. Any time you consistently need long measurements, one of these can save you a tremendous amount of time. If you’re planning an addition and want to mark out the proposed dimensions in the grass or maybe you’re measuring the perimeter of your property for a fencing project. The added length makes these much easier to use than dragging around a 25-foot tape measure.

Laser Distance Measurers

Another category of measuring tools are the laser distance measurers. These items, some as small as a pack of cards, shoot a laser point and give the distance on a little screen. There are very basic models that can do distance and calculate area and volume, but others, like the Stanley TLM330 (with a 330-foot range), can even figure out a distance through triangulation. If it can read the distance between you and the house and you and the 2nd story window, it can tell you how high the window is off the ground. If you’re interested in more on these tools, Tools of the Trade has a nice round-up of the pro models, choosing the Bosch GLM 80 as their overall favorite.

Wrapping it up

But for basic use around the house, the PowerLock is the way to go. It was the only tape that we looked at that had a high level of success in all of our tests. It’s easy to use, has durability where it counts and is about as basic as it gets. Oh, and don’t forget, one was on the moon.

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Sources

  1. Clint DeBoer, Review: Going the Distance—A Survey of Tape Measures, Pro Tool Reviews, June 14, 2013
    "From time to time it’s just good to get back to the basics. And I can’t think of anything more basic than a tape measure. After all, this is probably the first tool I ever used…I was three, but that still counts."
  2. Doug Mahoney, Tale of the Tape (Measures): Abusive Lab Test, Popular Mechanics
    "Stanley's FatMax has been the reigning champ of job-site tape measures. But I-Mark's new 16-footer with an inked tip can mark a measurement without a pencil, and Johnson's Stud-Squared has two sliding gauges to assist layout tasks. Can either measure up to the Stanley standard?"
  3. Mark, Tool Review: Stanley PowerLock 25 Foot Tape Measure, My Fix It Up Life, December 24, 2011
    "...for my work and the way I roll on a jobsite, the PowerLock does more—better and faster—than other tapes."
  4. Stuart, Stanley Powerlock Tape Measure Review, Tool Guyd, December 26, 2008
    "It can be quite tough to find a good tape measure these days - unless you have access to a Stanley Powerlock, that is. Powerlocks have a classic no-frills look and feel which make them easily recognized amongst hobbyists and pros alike."
  • http://sr105.com/ Harvey

    Given all of the constraints you start with and your desire that home owners should learn to use the tape correctly, your choice is good. However, for everyone else whom simply want to hang a picture or see if a couch will fit, the 12′ Stanley LeverLock is a superior choice (currently $3.77). It’s small and lightweight so it’s easier to use for women and even children. I’ve seen people new to tapes try to use the traditional locks and they always use two hands. They don’t do that with a lever lock. They just get it; they squeeze their hand. I’d recommend the 25′ version as well, but according to reviews, the latest model isn’t as good as previous versions. Although, it is worth noting that the bad reviews still say that lever lock is a better design.

    http://www.amazon.com/Stanley-30-810-12-Foot-LeverLock-Tape/dp/B0002CX9CW

    • Marcy Holmes

      I prefer the lever lock myself, having used traditional thumb lock tape measures most of my life, so it’s not a technique issue. It is just more ergonomic for me and I love the Stanley leverlock.

  • http://www.lazyprogrammers.com Eugene Kim

    My dad still uses the metal PowerLock he bought nearly 30 years ago. Who knows, maybe I can keep using it when he’s done. Too bad they stopped making the metal case. I guess one purchase lasting 30 years just doesn’t pay the bills for them.

  • Eric Lofgren

    I would recommend specifically avoiding any dual-scale (standard+metric) tape measure. If you need metric, buy a all-metric tape. It’s just too important to have the measurement you need on both edges of the tape. Inevitably you’ll need to mark an inch on the cm side, and try to guesstimate by eye where the measurement falls.

  • Tim__M

    I have an M1 tape, made buy a fellow who lives a few towns over. A far better tape than any I have seen.

    http://www.M1tapes.com

    Stands out, fractional markings, built in scribe so you don’t have to hold a pencil, more durable than anything. I’ve started giving them as presents, too.

  • eaadams

    For your laser distance measures I would highly recommend people look at the Leica Disto E7100i. It is now only $150 and it comes with a free Leica app and has bluetooth 4.0. I’ve had 4 Distro and I love them. (I do gymnasium flooring in California and accuracy for a 100′ long gym can be expensive, 1s/f off and you are suddenly talking 100 sf off at $10 sf that is real $$$$)