Made to measure

Made ToMeasure

There’s a lot more to the good ol’ measuring tape than most tradies realise.

On April first in 1963, inventor and Stanley employee Robert West revolutionised the hand-tool industry. He filed a US patent to adapt the existing short tape rule and introduced the first-ever slide-locking mechanism with a coilable spring and the iconic D-shape that’s widely recognised today. This novel innovation meant users were able to lock the rule in an extended position for the first time, providing greater accuracy and ease of use. This radical tape measure was known as the Stanley Powerlock tape rule and even featured as part of the lunar landing gear for NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission.

Badge of honour

More than 50 years later the tape-measure market has moved on. Technology and materials have changed. Laser distance measures and laser levels are commonplace and new smartphone and tablet-based technology boasts of making everyday estimating as easy as a few swipes and a few button presses. Does that mean the days of the tape measure are numbered? Mat Burke of Stanley Tools Australia says that, in fact, the opposite is true. “The market has never been so strong,” beamed Mat. “Today’s tape measures are more hi-tech, more affordable, more durable and more accurate than ever. They’re basically a tradie’s right hand and, regardless of profession, a tradesman will most likely own multiple tape measures at any one time. “A quality tape measure hanging on a belt is very much the tradie equivalent of a cowboy’s sheriff badge – it tells everyone the wearer knows his tools and his trade.”

A few tips

What features should we be looking out for and why in today’s tape measures? Here’s a few to think about…

Blade durability: The most important part of a tape. It’s the blade that has the most wear and tear. It’s constantly being bent and scraped, so it needs to be good quality to last. Cheap tapes will have a small, thin blade with a coating of lacquer to prevent rust and wearing of digits, while bigger, pro-quality tapes will have a thicker blade coating such as nylon or super-tough Mylar. The legendary Stanley FatMax tape has an additional layer of BladeArmor to protect the first few centimetres of the measure that’s exposed to the most wear and tear.

Hook type: Big hooks are great for some trades as they offer additional points of grab, but some find them a bit frustrating as they do tend to grab everything. That can be a bit annoying. Magnetic end hooks are great for anyone working with steel, but how the magnet attaches to the end hook can affect accuracy and they often pick up tiny scraps of metal doing their work.

Stand out: One of the key tests. How far will the tape extend without buckling? Although very macho, this does have a whole bunch of real life advantages, especially when working alone. The longer the stand out, the easier it is to measure alone. Entry-level tapes will barely clear a metre, while top-end Stanley FatMax tapes will achieve up to four metres!

Readability: An obvious one, but a critical factor. Some tapes – especially lacquered blades – reflect sunlight and make it hard to read in bright conditions. High-visibility blades make the numbers pop.

Accuracy: Most tapes will adhere to a localised or international standard of measuring to ensure accuracy. Markings referring to the standard can usually be found on the blade. One key point that always perplexes the uninitiated is that the end hook moves backwards and forwards to ensure accuracy. The movement is designed to compensate for the thickness of the end-hook material. That is, the end hook will move to subtract the hook thickness when measuring up to a surface, and will pull out to include the width when measuring away from an object.

Size: Self-retracting tape measures are available in a range of sizes from twometre to 30m. As you’d expect, the size grows as the length and quality of the blade increases. If you’re only regularly measuring short distances, select a shorter tape. It’ll fit easier in the pocket and won’t weigh you down when working.