While less exciting than using a circular saw or electric screwdriver, owning a reliable tape measure is a must for anyone interested in repairing or improving upon their home as almost every project you may undertake will involve some kind of measuring.
After hours of research and testing, we discovered the Crescent Lufkin Black Widow(available at Amazon) is the best tape measure you can buy. Its unique end hook helps hold the tape measure in place while measuring, while its high-contrast black and green printed tape is easy to read under most lighting conditions.
Here are the best tape measures we tested, ranked in order:
Crescent Lufkin Black Widow L1025B
Stanley FATMAX 33-725
Craftsman Chrome Classic CMHT37330
AmazonBasics Big Button
Stanley 33-425 PowerLock 33-425
Komelon Gripper Speed-Mark SM5425
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With a large 1 and a quarter-inch wide and 1-inch deep hook at the end of the Crescent Lufkin Black Widow's tape, I found that the tape measure was able to hold on to any edge that I used it on during testing. While the width of the tape is similar to the Stanley FATMAX (allowing for easier horizontal measuring without the tape twisting), the hook stability and the high-contrast print on the Black Widow's tape bumped it into first place.
The Black Widow's unique, high-contrast fluorescent-green-on-black printed measures, printed on both the top and bottom of the tape, was easy to read in dim lighting or under daylight conditions. This distinctive print on both sides of the tape measure allowed for a reading to be taken no matter which way I held the Black Widow, making it the most versatile and useful of any of the tape measures I tested.
While most of the tape measures in this guide were scuffed up after drop testing, the Black Widow remained unblemished, thanks to its protective, easy-to-grip rubber body.
However, during abrasion testing, I found that the coating on its tape did show signs of wear after being rubbed down with sandpaper. If wear on your tape is more of a concern, Stanely's iconic FATMAX might be worth a closer look. That said, the Black Widow outclasses the FATMAX in every other way.
My name is Rebecca Boniface. As I live full-time, in a 40-foot long motorhome, my path to homeownership might not be the same as yours. However, much of the maintenance I do inside of our RV is similar to the repairs you might encounter in your house or apartment.
During my time at reviewed.com, I've evaluated tool kits, electric screwdrivers, closet organizers, and other tools to help you make the best purchases. I understand the importance of owning affordable, dependable tools in making a DIY project or a repair go smoothly.
When researching which tape measures to call in for testing, I selected ones produced by recognizable names in the tool industry, as well as ones from lesser-known brands that had been well-reviewed by trusted publications and DIYers like you and me. I was also curious about a couple from Amazon's HomeBasic line, as their price was around half that of some of the other tape measures in this guide and the quality of tools found in AmazonBasics' tool kits, which I've written about previously, were surprisingly good. In the end, out of a seemingly infinite sea of tape measures, I ended up calling in 12 for testing.
I divided testing up into three phases: practical use, subjective, and destructive.
During practical testing, I measured the dimensions of a closet in my home and a large, sturdy box to verify the overall accuracy of each tape measure.
For my subjective tests, I assessed each tape measure's hook (that bit that holds the tape on the edge of whatever you're measuring) to see if it stayed in place while in use, without altering the length of the measurement I was taking. I tested how reliably each tape measure's auto-retract and locking mechanisms worked. And, as it's a common practice to clip a tape measure to a belt or a pair of pants, I checked on how trustworthy the clips on each of the models I called in for testing were. Additionally, I looked at the stand (how far the tape measure can extend, while self-supported, and still stay erect) by pulling out the tape measure slowly until it folded over.
Finally, the destructive phase of testing: I dropped each tape measure, six times, from a height of four feet onto a concrete floor to simulate the damage that they might incur over years of use. To simulate wear on the measures printed on each model's tape over years of use, I gave each one three passes with a piece of medium-grit sandpaper.
Given how simple using a measuring tape appears on the surface, measuring is a complicated business. I was surprised at how much of a difference there was between tape measures while measuring the same lengths. Through testing each of the 12 models in a controlled environment, I was able to quickly uncover the issues with each measuring tape.
What You Should Know About Tape Measures
A tape measure is made up of five visible parts:
Tape: also called a blade, is the curved metal part that retracts and extends. It's printed with lines and numbers to help you get an accurate measurement of an object.
Hook: the hook is found at the end of the blade. It's attached to the blade by rivets that shift if the hook is pushed or pulled. The shifting movement of the hook should be equal to the width of the hook, to compensate for measurements that include the hook (like inside a box or closet) and measurements that do not include the hook (like when measuring lumber or the outside of a window frame).
Thumb Lock: the button on a tape measure that you press down to lock the tape in position. It provides a useful way to hold a measurement, for a moment, on the blade.
Case: the outside of the tape measure. It protects the blade when it is retracted.
Belt Clip: attached to the back of the case, a belt clip offers the means to keep a tape measure within reach, without the need to tuck it into a pocket. If you do prefer to keep a tape measure in your pocket, just remove the belt clip. It's usually held onto the case by a single screw.
What to Look for in a Tape Measure
When shopping for a tape measure, consider the following:
A good tape measure should keep working despite enduring a fair amount of abuse. Look for one that comes with a rubberized case to protect it from bumps and being dropped. and wear on the blade.
The print on the blade should be covered in a mylar coating to protect the measures from being scratched off.
A hook that's large (at least one-inch wide) and shaped to allow it to hold onto the edge of whatever you're measuring.
Wider blades allow for easier reading of measurements. A 1 and 1/4-inch wide blade is preferable to narrower blades.
A Word About Accuracy
Measuring objects is difficult. Generally, the best you can achieve is an approximation of length, based on the level of accuracy of your measuring tool. Unfortunately, tape measures are not the most accurate of tools. Where a high level of precision is necessary, it's possible to check the accuracy of your tape measure using a tape measure calibration tool, like this one from Lixer Tools.
For most people, the accuracy of a tape measure is only an issue if you're using more than one on the same project: one to take a measurement and then a different tape measure to mark a board before cutting it, for example, Keep things simple: use a single tape measure on a project, whenever possible.
If you do need to use multiple tape measures, calibrate them before starting on your project. An easy way to do this is to use your tape measures to measure from a particular point on a wall, down to the floor. Doing so will quickly illustrate how far off each tape measure is in accuracy, from one another.
Other Tape Measures We Tested
Stanley Fatmax 33-725
The mylar polyester film on the Stanely FATMAX's tape shrugged off the sanding I used to simulate wear, leaving barely visible scratches on its measures. In addition to this protective film on the tape, the FATMAX has an additional clear plastic layer on the first three inches of tape, providing it with additional protection. Compared to other tape measures that had the paint completely worn off the aluminum blade of their tapes, the lack of damage to the FATMAX was really impressive. The lines printed on this tape measure's blade are large, easy to read, and include extra markings for studs for construction users.
The FATMAX's ranking was hurt by the fact that its hook has a smaller surface area than our main pick's does, making it more difficult to keep it in place while measuring.
The Milwaukee 48-22-6625 comes with some helpful markings on its measure. After the first foot, the markings continue in inches, fractions of an inch, and feet. However, this tape measure's many faults make it hard to recommend.
Its hook was smaller and shorter than both the FATMAX and the Lufkin Black Widow and its tape was thinner. This made it more difficult to hook on to edges while measuring and when its tape is extended, more prone to bending. Additionally, after drop testing this tape measure, I found that extending or retracting the tape caused it to make a wheezing noise. This speaks to a potentially poor build quality.
If you like the way Milwaukee marks the 48-22-6625's measuring tape but can't stomach its faults, check out the MulWark MLK-53752. The markings are similar, marking out feet, inches, and the fractions for each inch. It features a magnetic hook and, like the Lufkin Black Widow, The Mulwark's measures are also printed on the bottom.
However, I was annoyed by the MulWark's rubber wrist strap: It was stiff and kept poking me as I used the tape measure. If you buy the MulWark, consider cutting off the strap. It makes this tool a lot more pleasant to use.
If you prefer a tape measure with minimal measurement markings, making room for larger, easier to read numbers, the Craftsman Chrome could be right for you. The black-on-white print on its tape is large and easy to read, with red accents to highlight each foot along the tape. The tape's hook is identical to the one found on the Stanley FATMAX and Dewalt DWHT36107. However, the tape itself isn't as thick as either of these tools, causing it to quickly droop and bend, once extended.
You should know that, during durability testing, the Craftsman's case presented a new scuff or dent each time it was dropped, presenting an argument against its long-term durability.
As advertised, The AmazonBasics Big Button has, well, a large button to lock its tape in place after making a measurement. While the button held up well in testing, the sound that the spring that holds the button in place made, each time I locked it, made me wonder about this tool's build quality. I liked that the end of the measure hook is ribbed to help hold onto edges and has a comparable hook depth to our top pick. That it did well during drop testing is another feather in its cap.
However, I found that its measure markings were confusing to read, with inches and feet printed next to each other, identifiable only by a difference in color and font size. While I appreciated that the Big Button's tape also includes markings for measuring in centimeters, the additional numbers only added to the confusion.
The Stanley Powerlock has a lot in common with the Stanley FATMAX: the blades on both tools stood up well against my abrasion test and feature similarly styled easy-to-read measurement text. I liked the fact that the body of the Powerlock measures exactly three inches, in length. This makes it possible to easily use it as part of any measurement you're taking—an incredibly useful feature in tight spaces.
Unfortunately, the Powerlock can't match the FATMAX, or our main pick, where durability is concerned. After drop testing, its chromed body showed a number of scratches. That said, its tape and lock button still worked just as well as before I beat it up. I was disappointed to find that while the Powerlock's tape looks similar to the FATMAX's, it's slightly narrower, making it more difficult to read.
The print on the Komelon Gripper's tape is relatively easy to read; it includes fractions for each inch as well as a colored number for each foot, after the first foot of the tape. However, unlike our main pick, the Gripper's tape is only printed on one side. This tape measure passed my drop test with flying colors, coming out the other end of it without a single mark on it.
The Gripper's name feels like a bit of a misnomer: the hook on the end of its tape was smooth and shallow, making it challenging to hook it onto the edge of the box I used during testing.
Despite Dewalt's reputation, their DWHT36107 tape measure didn't test well.
The DWHT36107's thin blade makes vertical measuring difficult as it folds over on any length longer than three feet. If the tape folds over, the hook can't engage the edge of what you plan to measure. I was disappointed to find that my abrasion test took the paint (and the markings) right off of the DWHT36107's blade, stripping it down to bare aluminum. Finally, its thumb lock slows down how fast the blade of the tape measure can be extended but doesn't lock it in place.
The main thing that the Kutir 56-7525 has going for it is that its tape comes with markings for both metric and imperial measurements. After drop testing, the Kutir started making purring/whirring noise inside its case when moving the blade. However, the retraction and extending the tape measure continued to work just fine.
The main issue with the Kutir is the movement of its blade when it's supposed to be locked in position. The tape rolls back, slightly, into the case when the thumb lock is engaged, changing the measurement. Additionally, the hook on the end of its blade doesn't hold on edges when taking a horizontal measurement.
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