What to Look For When Buying a Tape Measure
You probably use your tape measure for basic measurements, but it can do a whole lot more than that. Here are some uses you probably never knew, and tapes we suggest you buy.
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You already know that the highlighted numbers (16, 32, 48…) are for laying out studs, joists or rafters every 16 in. But what’s the deal with those little diamonds or triangles? They’re ‘truss marks’ for 19.2-in. layouts (which save on framing materials). Never heard of that? Don’t worry. Lots of carpenters haven’t either.
Tiny, powerful ‘rare earth’ magnets turn your tape hook into a handy grabber, a nice feature at no extra cost. But it’s not for those who like to carry their tape in a nail pouch. Every time you grab your tape, a cluster of nails comes along with it. You’ll find magnetic hooks on tape measures from Husky, Kobalt, Lufkin and many other brands.
Oversized hooks grab on things easier and can catch on all four sides of the hook. Sometimes, though, they can also catch where you don’t want them to, like on your tool belt. They can also be clumsy when making measurements that require more finesse, like measuring into corners. Still, the benefits outweigh the hassles, and big hooks are better for most types of work.
Some Tapes Make You Squint
Some tapes are marked in 1/16-in. increments, some in 1/32-in. increments, and some a combination of both. For most jobs, 1/16ths are precise enough — and a whole lot easier to read.
A tape measure’s “stand-out” refers to how far it can be extended before tape crumples under its own weight. The greater the stand-out, the longer the distances you can conveniently measure on your own. But even for shorter measurements, a long-reach tape is easier to use. Because the blade is stiffer, you can handle it faster and with less care than you would a flimsy tape. Most pro-grade tape measures list the stand-out on the packaging. We’ve found most of those claims to be accurate— and sometimes even understated.
Don’t Worry About the Belt Clip
Belt clips can be convenient if your tape measure is the only thing you need to carry around. But if you’re wearing a tool belt, belt clips quickly become more of an inconvenience. Lots of pros immediately unscrew the clip when they get a new tape. A clipless tape slips smoothly in and out of your tool belt.
The Hook is Supposed to Be Sloppy
We’ve heard some people hammer the hook rivets to tighten them, but that’s actually a bad idea. The hook needs to be able to move. It slides in just a little when you push it against something for an inside measurement, and slides out when you hook onto something. That movement compensates for the thickness of the hook itself. It’s smart design, not a manufacturing defect. This extra-thick magnetic hook has elongated slots to allow for extra movement.
If you like to carry a tape measure on you at all times, this is the one for you. It’s a little more than 1/2-in. thick. And unlike most tiny tapes, it’s not a cheap one that will soon fall apart. The underside of the blade features a diameter scale.
Bet there’s a place in your shop for a peel-and-stick tape measure. Just remember there are two kinds: right-to-left (like the one shown here) and left-to-right.
The Best Tape for Shop Work
For woodworking and tinkering in the shop, there’s rarely any reason to go bigger than a 16-foot tape. It’s small and light, and it slips comfortably into a pocket or shop apron.
The Best Tape for Big Projects
A tape in the 16-ft. to 30-ft. range is best for remodeling jobs. Look for upscale versions with wider blades, longer standout and a bigger hook.
The Best Tape for Long-Distance Measuring
An ‘open reel’ tape is perfect for long measurements. There’s no spring or enclosure, so it won’t get choked with dirt or sand. Unlike metal blades, the fiberglass tape won’t kink or break when you step on it. And the big crank winds in the tape fast.