Accuracy: Tape measures have two danger points when it
comes to accuracy, the tang and blade stretch. The loose tang
is designed to facilitate accurate inside and outside measurements. (Don’t get me started on stories about nimrods who
tried to “repair” the loose tang.) The amount of tang travel
needs to be exactly the thickness of the tang. That can get
sloppy over time, especially if the rivets loosen up or the holes
enlarge. Additionally the tape itself can stretch with use. I
once visited a shop where their policy was to replace all the
tapes annually. When they ordered new tapes, they would
order 10 at a time, and pull them all out to full length side by
side. The five that agreed closest on full measurement they
would keep; the other five would be sent back.
Durability: Some of the new tapes, including the Milwaukee, have special coatings designed to increase the longevity
of the blade. Many tape cases are armored with rubber to
help withstand inevitable drops from on high. What you can’t
see is how well the mechanism inside will hold up to continual use and abuse. Always slow the retraction so the tape
doesn’t slam into the case. That will definitely extend the life
of the blade. Stepping on or kinking the blade won’t help
Alternatives to tape: We’ve previously reviewed a few laser
measures, and they certainly have advantages over tapes in
larger areas, but you have to use them carefully to guarantee
accuracy. It should be noted that many of our friends in European shops disdain tapes altogether, preferring folding rules
for convenience and accuracy. In North America, we mostly
think of folding rules as obsolete, but try it; you might like it.
In the final analysis, personal preferences and the kinds of
things you have to measure dictate your measuring choices. I
gravitate to smaller, handier tapes with the write-on feature,
but I keep a couple of the bigger tapes handy when nothing
substitutes for their added length. In building my house, we
used some 25- and 30-foot tapes, as well as a wind-up 100-foot
tape on occasion. But mostly, small 16-foot tapes do the trick.
I use folding rules or metal meter sticks in the shop to measure diagonals to check the square of boxes. And I like small
metal rules for setting tools such as the depth of cut on hand
routers and table saws. With all these choices, there is just no
excuse for inaccurate measurements in the shop. Measure
twice (however you like) and cut once! ✚
Introduction on page 88...
Some tapes, such as this one from Hafele and those from
FastCap, have flat white spaces on the cases designed to
write on with pencil and wipe off to erase.
The lever on the belt clip of FastCap tape measures makes it
much easier to clip the tape on your belt one-handed.