Best Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Comparison Testing  

Who Makes the Best Tape Measure? Tape measure and hammer brands often cause more debates on the job site than anything else, and I can see why. When you use a tool daily, hourly, or more, you become attached to it. One of the most critical tools required by all construction trades is the tape measure. So, who makes the best tape measure?  Pro-grade tape measures must retain their accuracy while enduring the regular abuses, such as drops or bumps, that occur on job sites.

In this Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head, we put several 25’ premium tape measures to the test.

We evaluated 8 different tape measures from 7 different manufacturers, five of which had magnetic tips.

The tape measures:

  1. Dewalt DWHT 36225
  2. Klein 86225
  3. Milwaukee 48-22-7125
  4. Stanley FMHT 33865
  5. Stanley Powerlock
  6. Lufkin L1025MAG
  7. Tajima G-25BW

 

Why 25-Foot Tapes?

While there are certainly many other tape measures to choose from, we chose to look at the more popular, pro-grade tape models. We also chose to look at 25-foot length models, as they are the most popular length tape measures sold on the market. We put each tape measure through the following tests:

10-Foot and 25-foot Recoil Test

It is never a smart idea to let the tape measure blade whip back into the case– a tape measure isn’t designed to withstand a short, sharp shock over and over. When repeated, full-speed rewinding of the tape measure causes damage to the inner workings, the end hook, and the blade markings. 

However, during our testing we did just that! We tested recoil from 10-feet and 25-feet to establish a benchmark speed. We then used our benchmark speed to test the tape after abrasion, debris and drop testing. 

 

For this test, we measured and marked the distance on our clean shop floor. We pulled all the tapes out to this distance and recorded the recoil five times to determine their baseline average recoil speed.

 

The Milwaukee tape [below left] bent on the 4th recoil test, one Lufkin tape [below right] broke off on the 3rd recoil test. Several others had their hook movement stretched.

We used several of the same brands during our head-2-head testing. By using several samples of the tapes, we were able to complete and continue testing if a particular tape failed a certain test. 

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

According to our data, Lufkin had the fastest recoil speed, at 1.05 seconds, and that may have been a detriment to it tearing. Klien was second at 1.08 seconds, and Milwaukee was third with a 1.20 second 25-foot recoil.

Abrasion Test

Tape measure readability is important; over time, tape markings wear off and make the tape difficult or impossible to read. Furthermore, wear down of the tape coating is the #1 failure of tape measures.

All tape measure manufactures follow the ASTM D 968 and other internationally recognized test standards, the Falling Sand Abrasion Tester. The Falling Sand Abrasion Tester measures the resistance to abrasion of paint, lacquers, and other organic coatings.  Abrasion results from abrasive particles falling through a guide tube and impinging the test specimen, until the substrate becomes visible.

The abrasion jig we used was more aggressive. To simulate and accelerate tape-marking wear, we performed an aggressive tape abrasion test in the shop, through the use of an “tape-pull abrasion jig.”  It measured 26” long and had a hollowed-out, concave center bottom. The top of the jig had a 3/8” wide convex pressure-point. Adhesive grit sandpaper was applied to the convex point and wax was applied to the concave side.

The tape measures were placed in the jig, which had a very small gap for it to fit. We placed a 25 lb. weight on top, and then pulled the tape using a slow 1000-count back and forth through the jig. This allowed us to evaluate a 60”span of tape wear. Tape marking wear was then noted and photographed.

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

The Stanley PowerLock had the least amount of visible wear to its tape. Lufkin came in second place, Dewalt third, and Komelon came in fourth.

NOTE:

Many contractors use the first 6” or less of their tape more than the full 25-foot length. As a result, many tapes wear quicker in these areas.

To combat this, the DEWALT, Stanley FATMAX, and Stanley Powerlock all added a clear thermoplastic “Blade Armor” tape over these high wear areas.  DEWALT added 9” of thermoplastic coating, and the STANLEY FATMAX features a Mylar blade coating and 3” of BladeArmor. While the STANLEY Powerlock has a Mylar blade coating.

Milwaukee, however, uses a Nylon extrusion process. This process melts down nylon pellets through proprietary machine, which coats the entire blade. This coating is then baked in a furnace.  Komelon also uses a “sprayed on” nylon blade coating process, some like the L1025B that we tested has a matte nylon finish to reduce glare.  

Magnetic Pull Test [If Applicable]

Many contractors use magnetic tapes– from metal stud, to HVAC, and plumbing. Thus, we wanted to glean some insight on who sported the strongest magnet. To test this, we attached each tape’s magnet to 3/8” metal plate and pulled. In our opinion, all of tapes should be able to extend FULL 25-foot length, and while some did, others didn’t.

Three tapes were able to extend full-length:

  1. Klein
  2. Milwaukee
  3. Stanley FATMAX

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

The Lufkin made it to 19’4” while the Komelon made it to 16-feet. I’ll be completely honest with you, we all have favorites, mine was the Stanley PowerLock, but I was falling in love with this Komelon tape at this point in the testing.

Magnetic Weight Test

On this test, we wanted to eliminate the risk of user twist or torque. We attached the tape measures that had magnets to bottom of ceiling non-galvanized joist hanger, extended the tape, applied the tape measure lock, and then applied blue tape to the tape and body to reinforce the lock. We used the blue tape because we found that many of the tape measure locks failed, before the magnet did.

For this test we placed pre-measured weights on top of the tap measure until the magnet failed. This test gave us an indication of how strong the magnet was.

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

The Stanley FATMAX blew the doors off the competition with a 5.5 lb magnet strength. Second place was Milwaukee at 2.25 lbs. Followed by Klein, Komelon and Lufkin at 1.5 lbs or less.

Debris Testing

Trades that work in extremely dusty environments will tell you that it doesn’t take long for the recoil on the tape to get sluggish or completely stop. Water or dirt that gets on the blade of a tape measure can work its way into the mechanism and cause slug, rust or jamb up the winding.

For this test we designed a torturous debris chamber recoil test. We modified a 3” pvc pipe to hold a medley of drywall dust, saw dust and sand.

Each tapes pulled out to 25′ and allowed it to recoil slowly. We repeated this sequence 4 times. This test proved too much for most of the tapes. Many of them would not retract and close less than 6-inches. We had to pull the tapes in and out to get them to close completely.

Once closed, we tested their recoil twice, from 25-feet while measuring for time. The BEST tape measure in this torturous test was the Stanley FATMAX which stopped at 9-feet on the first recoil test and then completed the recoil test at 1.9 seconds.

Followed by Lufkin which recoiled to 10’10” on the first test, and 6-inches on the second test. The Stanley PowerLock, in third place, stopped at 10’-4” inches on it’s first test, and only recoiled 25-inches (total) on its second test. The DEWALT, Klein and Milwaukee all recoiled to 14.5 inches or greater and failed to recoil at all, on the second recoil test.

Tape Measure Standout

Stand out is big to some guys, because a long reaching tape is useful when measuring alone. Stand out basically refers to how straight you can extend your tape without it bending or losing is rigidity.

We made a jig with a 15-degree angle and tested each tape three times for an average stand out measurement. The DEWALT stood out here, pun intended, with the longest standout.

Standout Results

  1. DEWALT 11’3″
  2. Stanley FAXMAX at 10’6″
  3. Lufkin at 10’0″.

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

Hook Movement

Have you ever wondered why the hook is loose?

All of our pro followers already know why the hook at the end of a tape measure is loose. But for any novices, the looseness is very intentional and plays a key role in using the tape for both inside and outside measurements.

When you butt the end of the tape against a surface for an inside measurement, the tip is compressed  against the end of the tape by the width of that hook. (Spoiler alert – the first inch of the tape is short by the thickness of a hook.) When you go to take the outside measurement and hook it over the edge of whatever you are measuring, the hook moves away from the tape by the width of the hook.

We examined just how accurately the manufacturers built their tapes for this inside/outside hook movement. And we wanted to see how the hooks on the tapes stood up to after our retraction test. The results varied.

Out of the box, the Lufkin was most accurate with the hook thickness of .045” equal to the hook movement of .045” Most other tapes had a difference of .01” in these measurements. The Milwaukee tape had the greatest difference at .022”

After the retraction tests, we measured which tapes held their tolerances and which showed a marked difference after that test.Our theory was that the rapid 25-foot retractions would eventually loosen the tape hook, distorting its tolerance. We were right.

In this comparison, both Stanley tapes performed well. The Stanley PowerLock reading was identical and the FatMax varied by only .01”. Milwaukee also matched the FatMax performance of .01”. The Lufkin tape showed the largest difference, increasing by .045”, almost a full hook thickness.

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is about designing for the end user. Defined as the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs, ergonomics aims to increase efficiency and productivity and reduce discomfort. For ergonomics we look at:

  • Grip
  • Weight
  • Lock
  • Belt Clip
  • Ability to sit flat on a surface
  • Hook
  • Overall Construction

The best tape measure in the ergonomic category was the Milwaukee. The crew liked the detent on the back of the body, and finger brake on the bottom. The Milwaukee body has plenty of rubber over-mold on top and base. It was the MOST Stable of all the tape measures, when placed onto a flat surface. The extremely durable hook has solid rivets, a super strong magnet, a screw- nail slot with 2 upper tabs.

The Milwaukee tape measure features a unique belt clip constructed out of wire bale instead of a flat piece of metal. The clip is specifically designed to reduce wear and tear to pants and tool bags.

The crew noted that this belt clip was difficult to apply to a pant pocket one-handed, but once applied it does a phenomenal job holding the tape in place.

Best Tape MEasure

The Stanley FATMAX was a close second for ergonomics. It has a rubber over-mold on top back and bottom,  a strong, secure, positive clicking tape-lock that can resist 4 lbs.

The crew liked the belt hook, and low profile magnetic hook with its screw – nail slot on lower tab and two upper tabs extensions. Third place went to Komelon which is a very comfortable tape to use, smooth recoil, and one of my favorites.

Readability

Readability and durability are two words that stick when I think of tape measures. Three tapes tied for best tape measure readability.

  1. Milwaukee
  2. Komelon
  3. Lufkin

The Milwaukee tape features a 1/16th yellow scale and is 2-sided. On the back end of the tape the numbers allow you to read upside-down.  Additionally, there is a small 12″ long architectural scale for plan measuring featuring  a 1/8 and 1/4 inch scale. This scale starts on the back of the tape at 10 inches and runs to 22 inches.

The Komelon,features a 1/16 scale, is easy to read with its high-vis yellow on top, white tape on back side [2-sided] tape. The crew felt that the Komelon may be the BEST of the tapes to read, based on the tape color! One thing the crew noted was that after the 12-inch markings, the tape markings get a bit busy to read. [For example; 13-inches is listed at 13 and also 1F 1.] We felt the this marking pattern made the tape very busy and was unnecessary.

The Lufkin Yellow tape, is also 2-sided, with a 1/16 scale. The markings are longer on this tape, and are labeled similar to the Komelon after 12-inches.

Drop Testing from 15-feet and 30-feet

We dropped the tapes onto pavement, once at 15-feet, and a second time at 30-feet. After both drops, we recorded and noted each tapes’ condition. We set up a personnel lift to do our drop testing.

Almost all of the tapes survived our 15-foot drop test. The Klein tape measure sustained the most damage. The Klein’s hook bent and the case opened. While it’s possible that the Klien hit the ground perfectly to dent the hook, we feel that the case should not have opened up from 15-feet. Also damaged was Stanley FAXMAX, DEWALT, Milwaukee and Komelon with slight case or hook damage.  The Tajima and Lufkin came in first place on the 15-foot  drop test. Both tapes worked perfectly and had zero visible damage.

 

On the 30-foot drop test the two most durable tape measures after drop testing were the Dewalt and the Stanley FATMAX, both sustained the least damage and were still usable after the test. Lufkin and Tajima came in tied for second place with slightly more damage but less than the rest of the pack. The Klein came in last, due to its case braking open on impact.

Best Tape Measure Head-2-Head

Price

  • Dewalt DWHT 36225      – $29.97
  • Klein – Upper #86225     – $24.66
  • Milwaukee #48-22-7125 – $23.96
  • Stanley FMHT 33865      – $ 22.98
  • Stanley Powerlock           –  $ 11.00
  • Lufkin L1025MAG          –  $ 16.80
  • Tajima G-25BW               –  $ 20.91
  • Komelon 73425                –  $ 11.05

BEST Tape Measure Overall 

The BEST tape measure overall was the Stanley FATMAX. The FATMAX had the highest score in magnetic hold, debris testing, drop testing, hook durability and blade thickness. It placed second in four other categories, securing the #1 slot in our testing.

One of our crew referred to it as a “brick-shit -house” of a tape measure.

While I’m sure Stanley marketing team won’t use that description, it’s certainly a durable, robust and well-made tape measure, designed for harsh job site conditions.

$ 16.80

Scoring only one-point less than the FATMAX, in a super close race, for the best tape measure was neither a crew favorite, nor on anyone’s radar, during our tape measure testing.

This dark horse sneaked by the competition and took the #1 slot three times in several testing categories, and scored #2 three times and #3 six times.

The second best tape measure is the Lufkin.

 

 

After the testing it was apparent to me that these devices need proper care in order to provide you with accurate, reliable measurements. Caring for your tape measure is easy, here are a few steps for properly maintaining your tape measure.  

Best Tape MeasureDewaltKleinMilwaukeeKomelonStanley PowerLockTajimaLufkinStanley Fat Max
         
Ergonomics67137542
25 Foot Recoil72348615
Abrasion38741625
Magnetic Pull Test02240022
Magnetic Hold33253331
Debris Test68743521
Standout15487632
Readability23112212
Drop Testing24324112
Drop Testing18555331
Construction13213232
Hook Durability32111231
Blade Thickness23133121
Price87621435
         
TOTAL SCORE4565454748463332

Best Tape Measure Video Review

About the author

Rob Robillard

Robert Robillard is also the Editor of Tool Box Buzz and the editor of the blog, A Concord Carpenter and principal of a carpentry and renovation business located in Concord, Massachusetts. As a carpenter and web editor, Rob is a recognized leader in tool and how-to information for building professionals. He is the carpenter correspondence for and writes a Q&A column, in the Sunday Boston Globe, called "Ask the Carpenter."He hosts the Concord Carpenter Cable TV Show,, offering the do-it-yourself audience in Boston’s Metro West region expert advice on home repairs and maintenance. Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review - Video Channel, where we post all of our tool reviews and video editorials. Rob enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate on best practices in the remodeling industry. The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob

http://www.aconcordcarpenter.com/@https://twitter.com/robertrobillardRob Robillard

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19 Comments

  1. cci co.

    “Short, sharp, shock” Thank you, Roger the Hat

  2. john campbell

    Did you test for measurement accuracy across different brands?

  3. Carl Mahon

    I am in the fire sprinkler business +50 years, surveying various types of buildings, tanks & structures & prefer the Stanley 25′ tape over all other tapes.

  4. Bob Felter

    One item I didn’t see on the test is reading an inside measurement by locking the blade lock, withdrawing the tape and reading it, then adding 3″. I use that feature enough to where I wouldn’t consider a round-box tape measure, so all I ever buy for my construction outfit and my students is a sure-box chrome Stanley

    1. Hi Bob – we did check the hook in that fashion for accuracy

  5. jeff stearns

    I’m unclear on how drop testing is ranked. Is a higher score better or worse? The numeric scores don’t seem to agree with the written description.

    1. Hi Jeff- the lower graphs did better. Ill do the graphs differently next time – good feedback

  6. martin mcclurg

    not my many years of experience with tape measures at all. I haven’t tried them all but dewalt and stanley,fatmax are way overrated. Fatmax extends well and that is all. in a few months it falls apart and is very expensive. the best tape measures by far are malwalkie. they are inexpensive, easily readable and are very durible.

    1. It’s certainly a GREAT tape and is now improved. Gen 3 is out

  7. Jim

    Thank you for this article. As a tradesmen of more than 30 years I have been through my share of tapes measures. Regardless of how many tape measures I have, I often find myself buying another one if it’s a good deal. I have always liked Stanley tape measures but recently purchased a Milwaukee with the magnetic hook. The majority of my work has been finish carpentry and I liked everything about the Milwaukee except the magnetic hook. It made it impossible to read the first inch of the tape. I replaced that Milwaukee tape with there non magnetic hook and the first inch is good to read. I find it surprising how vast a difference there is in the pricing of the tapes. I guesss it proves the saying if you want something that works and is going to last you are going to pay more for it. One last thought, I find myself checking where the product was made before I purchase it. Almost anything with a built or made in the USA is good with me. Thanks again for suck a detailed article.

    1. Jim – thanks for commenting. Hope you meant Such and NOT suck 😉 Just kidding

  8. Steve B

    Any tests for accuracy?

    1. Hi Steve, we did that when checking hook

  9. How about accuracy? Recently, we laid a few different tapes, side by side and noticed a difference. Theses tapes are, I believe, all Accuracy Class II. There are a few Accuracy Class I tapes out there…

  10. Lee Johnson

    It was interesting until I got near the end and saw the prices. I have a tape in all the work stations in my shop where I might need one. These are the Harbor Freight tapes that are often free when You are purchasing something else. I lose them before they ever wear out and since I have seven tapes in my shop one at the rip saw one at the table saw one at the radial saw one at the chop saw one on my bench and one at the drill press. They all seem to work fine and if one of them didn’t I have a few more in a drawer. I can replace them for next to nothing and I will

    1. I’d be curious to check the accuracy of al those tapes to see if their the same

  11. tom johnson

    Had to replace a tape a couple of months ago and bought a stanley powerlock. Compared to my previous old powerlock, the blade itself was much thinner (at least 20% thinner than my old model when I miced it), had a stand out of just over 6 feet and curled whenever you were not holding it horizontally. Whatever stanley did with their most recent manufacturing process, it sucked. Threw it in the garbage and bought a milwaukee. Stand out on mine is at least 9 foot plus and the blade is significantly thicker. Stanley tools seem to have declined significantly in quality.

  12. Tomas

    Nice test !
    I wonder if any of those brands ever starts to produce a “lefty” version of tape ? So when I measure with the tape in my left and pen in my right hand, I will not have to read the numbers upside down. I would be ready to pay a little extra for that feature !

    1. David Carson

      Keson and Lufkin make some tapes with “vertical” markings that read well from either side.

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