Best Tape Measures: Reviews and Secrets of the Tape Measure
Tips, features and all-time favorites – read on for advice from people who use their tape measures all day, every day.
A Built-in Pickup Tool
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 Husky, Kobalt, Lufkin and other brands.
Big Hooks are Better
They grab better and catch on all four sides of the hook. But they can also catch where you don’t want them to, like on your tool belt. And they’re clumsy for 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 have a combination of both. For most jobs, 16ths are precise enough—and a lot easier to read.
The greater the ‘stand-out’—the distance a tape can extend without crumpling—the greater the measuring reach. 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 could a flimsy tape.
Most pro-grade tapes list the stand-out on the packaging. We found most of those claims to be accurate and sometimes even understated. Manufacturers make the blade a lot stiffer by making it just a bit wider. Most blades in the 16-ft. or over category are 1 in. wide. Stiffer blades are 1/16 in. to 1/4 in. wider than that.
Nothing wrecks a tape measure faster than working in dirt and sand. The innards get jammed up and the blade won’t slide in or out. So reserve a shabby old tape for down-in-the-dirt jobs.
If you like to carry a tape at all times, this is the one for you. It’s just over 1/2 in. thick. And unlike most tiny tapes, it’s not a cheap gimmick that will soon fall apart. The underside of the blade has a diameter scale. To get one, search online for Stanley ’33-115.’
Bet there’s a place in your shop for a peel-and-stick tape measure. Just remember that there are two kinds: left-to-right and right-to-left (like the one shown here). Search online for ‘adhesive backed tape measure’ to find various lengths.
The Best Tape for Shop Work
For woodworking and tinkering in the shop, there’s rarely any reason to go bigger than a 16-ft. 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- to 30-ft. range is best for remodeling jobs. Most of us like the upscale versions with wider blades, better 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.
Fat Tapes Need a Fat Holster
I bought my first wide-blade, long-reach tape a few years ago and fell in love instantly. But it didn’t fit into my old tape holder, and I couldn’t find a bigger holster at home centers. So I hunted online and ordered one supposedly designed for fat tapes. My tape did fit, but I almost needed a hammer to drive it in and pliers to yank it out. Finally, I found this holder, which comfortably handles every 25-ft. fat tape I know of except the Husky and Kobalt models. Search online for ‘clc 464’ to find several sources.
– Gary Wentz
Remove the Belt Clip
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 that some folks hammer the hook rivets to tighten them. Bad idea. The hook needs to slide in just a little when you push it against something for an inside measurement and slide 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.
Wrap it around anything round and instead of the circumference, you get the diameter. Even Pythagoras couldn’t do it that fast. Search online for ‘diameter tape measure.’
Just measure the overall length with the upper scale, then go to that same measurement on the lower scale to find the halfway point. No need to divide fractions! Search online for ‘self centering tape measure’ to find lots of models.
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.
Our All-Around Favorite: Stanley Fatmax
We love this tape for its combination of great ‘stand-out’ and sheer toughness. It’s easy to read, feels good in the hand and isn’t quite as bulky as some of the other wide, pro-grade tapes. The FatMax line includes lengths from 16 to 100 ft.
Field editors love it, too. When asked about their favorites, our Field Editors named Stanley’s FatMax more than all the other tapes combined: ‘FatMax tapes are the best I’ve ever used. I’m a framer and I get about six months of use out of a FatMax. I destroy other tapes in a matter of weeks.’
– Ryan Haskins, Field Editor