Rugged yet lightweight tape is easy to use. Less likely to cause cuts than heavier tapes. Magnetic hook. Accurate imperial, metric, and fractional markings. Easy to read. Lifetime warranty. Good customer service.
Occasional locking mechanism malfunction.
Built-in marking feature helps draw straight lines while measuring. Marking feature helps for projects such as measuring drywall and marking lines.
Tape feels flimsy. Case is bulky. Measurements aren't as accurate as other models. Only a 30-day Warranty.
Sturdy. Trusted brand. Well-made, impact-resistant chrome base and secure locking function. Limited lifetime warranty.
Somewhat heavy and large. The tape is on the thin side.
Durable construction. Shock-resistant case. Accurate measurements. Magnetic hook is strong and useful. Tape retraction mechanism operates smoothly.
Tape measure is a bit heavy. Metric measurements are difficult to read. No warranty information available.
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A tape measure may be a simple tool, but it can be indispensable when tackling a home-improvement project or simply hanging a picture. Whether you need to measure the opening of the front door or make sure you have enough space in your hallway for a new bookcase, you’ll be glad you have one of these tools on hand.
Tape measures come in different sizes and lengths, and some have a few extra features you might find useful if you work in construction or intend to take on large-scale home-improvement project. If you’re not sure what you need, you’ve come to the right place.
The shopping guide below explores variou tape measure features and product types. When you’ve finished reading, we invite you to take a look at our top five tape measure picks in the product list above.
Standard tape measures all adhere to the same basic design, though there may be a few variations.
The casing is made of metal or plastic. Portions of it may be covered in rubber.
The metal blades vary in length from six feet to well over 50 feet.
The blades vary in width and may have a hook at the end to make measuring easier.
Increment measurements along the length of the blade can be taken to the 1/16 or 1/32 inch, depending on the model.
Digital tape measures use a laser to measure, which makes them highly convenient in tight spaces.
Some digital tape measures are loaded with features such as memory, a backlit display, calculating abilities, and your choice of measuring units.
Some models have a digital measurement option and a 16- to 25-foot tape measure.
Digital tape measures provide fast measurements, but the laser doesn’t provide incremental markings.
These tape measures have blades like a standard tape measure but include an LCD digital display on the top of the casing that’s similar to the display found on a digital tape measure.
These tape measures usually have memory capabilities.
These tape measures can calculate the difference between two measurements.
These tape measures can easily convert from standard to metric units.
Notably, a digital readout may be less reliable than a standard tape measure reading.
Tape measures have a true-zero hook feature. The tape measure actually starts measuring at 1/16 inch to account for the length of the hook. This allows you to measure inside an object and still get an accurate reading.
Blades vary in length from six to 100 feet. For general household use, a 16-foot tape measure tends to get the job done. If you plan to take on DIY projects or small construction projects, however, you may want to consider a tape measure that’s over 25 feet long.
A double-sided blade has increment markings on both the front and back of the blade. Often, a double-sided hook is included. A double-sided blade makes it easier to take measurements from beneath objects because you don’t have to contort the blade – or yourself – to see the markings.
Small, keychain-size tape measures may only have a 1/4-inch blade, while heavy-duty tape measure blades can be as wide as 1 1/4-inch. The extra width gives the blade better “standout.” Standout is the distance a tape measure can extend unsupported.
Wide blades usually have a deeper curve to give them extra standout length. However, a blade with a deep curve can make it hard to mark midpoint measurements because you have to roll the blade until the side with the markings touches the work surface.
The hook at the end of a tape measure blade allows you to anchor the tape measure to a seam or edge. It’s easier to take measurements without assistance with a hooked tape measure.
Hook size varies a great deal. Some hooks are barely big enough to keep the blade from rolling into the casing; others are extra-large with grip-enhancing features.
Double-sided hooks extend both above and below the blade, so you have more options for getting a good grip. Many tape measures with double-sided hooks also have a double-sided blade.
Some tape measure hooks feature a small hole called the nail/screw grab. The head of a nail or screw fits into the hole, anchoring it so the tape measure stays in place as you work.
A brake allows you to manually hold the blade at length by holding down a button. Tape measure brakes work best if the tape measure also has a lock, though not all do. A lock holds the blade at length, which is very helpful if you’re taking measurements without assistance.
Tape measures come with either 1/16-inch or 1/32-inch increment markings. Those with 1/16-inch markings are best for construction and general home use. Those with 1/32-inch markings are suitable for engineering tasks for which precise measurements are needed. Some tape measures have 1/32-inch markings on the first foot with 1/16-inch markings on the remainder of the tape measure.
Distinguishing marks can also be found at the 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-inch marks as well as at every foot. For those who work in the construction business, there are tape measures with marks every 16 inches to mark studs when framing. You can find models with standard measurements on one side (left or right) and metric measurements on the opposing side.
A belt clip can be a handy way to keep track of your tape measure while you’re working. It adds a little bulk, but even if you only do an occasional DIY project around the house, having the tape measure right at your fingertips is convenient.
“Recoil” refers to the way in which the blade gets pulled back inside the casing. You’ll have a choice between manual and automatic recoil when selecting a tape measure. Manual-recoil models require you to manually wind the blade back into the casing. Automatic-recoil models are spring-loaded; they recoil once tension is released from the blade.
Be careful when retracting the blade. The blade edge could actually cut your skin during recoil. This is a particular danger with automatic-recoil tape measures.
Inexpensive: For less than $10, you can find a standard tape measure with a metal or plastic casing and 10 to 25 feet of tape. Many of these inexpensive tape measures have brakes and locks. You’ll also see a few keychain models with a short, six-foot tape in this price range.
Mid-Range: For $10 to $40, you can get a longer tape measure with a wider blade. Some of these mid-range models have measurements on the front and back of the blade. Magnetic hooks and wider blades are also found here.
Q. I want a tape measure to keep in a kitchen drawer for occasional use. What length do I need?
A. Whether you need to hang a picture, measure a space before buying furniture, or do a simple DIY project, having a tape measure around is always a good idea. For most basic home projects, a 16-foot tape measure would be adequate.
Q. How far can I extend the tape of a model with a magnetic hook before the magnet lets go?
A. That depends on the tape measure and the strength of the magnet. However, magnetic hooks can usually hold the tape until it reaches 21 to 25 feet.
Q. What’s the benefit of a tape measure with a digital readout?
A. A digital readout removes some of the guesswork from your measuring. Built-in memory features allow you take several measurements before writing them down, saving time. Some models can also add and subtract saved measurements. Others can perform centerline calculation and quick conversion between standard and metric. Notably, some digital tape measures have been known to take inaccurate measurements. Consult the matrix above for our top recommendations.
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