Flexible Tape Measures

You can't do a project accurately without this tool.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 10, 2013 7:55 PM

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Today, the tape measure may be the carpenter’s best friend, but in dozens of other trades, too, the tape measure can perform countless tasks. From dressmaking to dressing stone, all kinds of jobs are made possible by this compact and convenient tool.

Tape measures come in a variety of lengths, ranging from a few feet to one hundred feet or more. Depending upon the nature of your work, you may wish to carry a pocket-size model with you everywhere you go, keep a long tape in your glove compartment to measure off building sites, or have several different models available for various purposes. For most home applications, one of each of two kinds of tape measures will help you accomplish what needs to be done.

Push-Pull Tape. This familiar device is spring-loaded so that the tape retracts into its metal or plastic case when not in use. It is also known as a flexible rule.

The push-pull tape comes in lengths from five or six feet up to twenty-five feet. It can also be purchased in metric lengths. The blades (as the tapes themselves are formally known) come in hall- inch, three-quarter-inch, and one-inch widths. Wider tapes are bulkier, but the wider they are, the farther you can extend them, vertically or horizontally, without the supporting hand of an assistant at the other end. A practical size for most home applications is three- quarters of an inch wide and twelve or sixteen feet long.

The hooked tip of the tape has a pair of rivets that fasten it to the blade. The tip slides back and forth a fraction of an inch, compensating for the thickness of the tip when measuring inside or outside dimensions.

Many models come with a built-in locking mechanism that can be used to hold the blade in place, preventing it from retracting until the brake is released. The tapes on some models come bearing not only measurements (to sixteenths or thirty-seconds of an inch) but with stud markings at sixteen-inch intervals. Some also have other information like nail sizes printed on the reverse side. Many models also come complete with belt clip.

Windup Long Tape. This design is available in 50- and 100-foot lengths. The tape must be retracted by cranking the built-in handle clockwise.

Used less frequently than the shorter tapes that retract automat­ically, this tool features a metal or fabric tape inside a steel or plastic case. Its primary uses are in situations where large dimensions are in­volved, such as in measuring structures or entire rooms.

The end of the tape features a ring that can be slipped over a nail to hold it in position and a hinged hook that can be opened to catch on a stud or edge. Both make one-person use of the tape practicable.