Tape measures. There are so many types, yet don’t they all do the same thing?
Justus Roe & Sons began manufacturing steel tape measures in 1865. A patent filed on July 14, 1868 by Alvin J. Fellows of New Haven, Connecticut brought an “Improvement in Tape Measures”—a spring-powered retracting mechanism. The spring-powered tape measure, which we’re all so familiar with, gained popularity in the 1900s, when it started knocking folding rules off the work site.
These days, I tend towards easy jobs: kitchens, baths, windows, doors, and trim. A 16-foot tape will handle 90 percent of the measuring I do. I have found that the wider blade allows for good standout, and has larger numbers for old eyes. My 25-foot tape and laser handle the “long” and “longer” distances.
This article will focus on the features of 16-foot-long blade tapes. Long-term durability will not be discussed because that kind of real life testing would take an extremely long time. Also, the variability of how tapes are handled on the job site would certainly affect their survivability. I have field experience with some of these tapes, but I’ll try to be as objective as possible. That said, this comparison should give you a basis for an informed purchase.
|Stanley FatMax • 1 1/4″ x 16′ blade • www.stanleytools.com
This may have been the first wide type blade tape. 3/4 of the yellow plastic case is cushioned. It is somewhat fat (which you would expect, given its name) but it has a 1 1/4″-wide blade. It also has easy-to-read numbers. (Note: Click any image to enlarge. Hit your browser’s “back” button to return to this article.)
Tajima GP-16 • 1″ x 16′ blade • www.tajimatool.com
What can I say—candy apple red and chrome, this is the best looking tape I have ever seen! This is a 1” wide tape, so the case is smaller. The hook end is protected by the design of the case, and it has slotted surface protection. While a nice feature, this means you can’t “hook and edge” without first pulling the tape out. I am able to do this one handed without much difficulty, though. The belt clip is a weak point—it seems to bend very easily if the case catches while you’re working in tight quarters. My brake button broke after one of these falls. Overall, this is a good size for those who like a wide blade in a smaller format.
|Komelon 61416 • 1.06″ x 16′ blade • www.komelonusa.com
The Komelon has a rounded case, with a 3/4 wrap.
|It also has unique vertical markings on the convex side of the tape.|
|Malco T416M • 1″ x 16′ blade • www.malcoproducts.com|
|The Malco has magnets in the hook end for sheet metal and metal stud work. While this is a nice feature, it may start collecting metal debris if you carry it in your tool bag.|
|Bostitch 33-000 • 1 1/4″ x 16′ blade • www.bostitch.com
Similar in size to Fatmax, the Bostitch has a chrome case with 3/4 wrap. It also has an extremely large hook (see “Hook Ends” below).
|Fastcap PS-16 • 1″ x 16′ blade • www.fastcap.com
The Fastcap is fully encased in a protective covering. The writing surface is a nice feature for those of us with memory issues.
Unique to Fastcap is a pencil sharpener, blade brake, and a levered belt clip:
Some tapes have claims for standout. I extended each tape two ways. First, I extended the blades until they bent only while holding the case (the first number below). This would represent when you are on a ladder and need to hold the tape with one hand. I then extended each tape supporting the blade about two feet from the case (the second number below). When the blades are at their full extension they have a severe bow. This would not let you really measure anything, unless you could hook and edge.
Standout length results:
Tajima – 8′ & 9′ 6″
Fastcap – 7′ 6″ & 9′ 6″
Malco – 7′ 6″ & 9′ 6″
Fat Max – 11′ 6″ & 13′ 6″
Komelon – 9′ & 10′ 6″
Bostitch – 12′ & 15′
The curve in the blade means the blades are actually narrower than their tape width. The edges of the wider tapes are also farther off the surface. Critical measuring would necessitate rolling the blade to contact the surface. I measured these with a General 6 inch steel rule. These are the actual widths and depth of curve, respectively.
Tajima – 7/8″ & 3/16″
Fastcap – 7/8″ & 3/16″
Malco – 7/8″ & 5/32″
Fat Max – 1 1/16″ & 1/4″
Komelon – 15/16″ & 7/32″
Bostitch – 1 1/8″ & 1/4″
The hook ends vary from a simple L-shape on the Fastcap to the huge upper and lower hook on the Bostitch.
The FatMax and Bostitch are simply riveted, while Tajima, Malco and FastCap have plates on the underside. Komelon’s hook is sandwiched between an upper hook and lower plates. No matter what the design, they will all get caught in a seam. You know where: the gap between the flooring and the drywall, when measuring for base molding. So you will still have to pull up any hook so as to not kink the blade.
|Blade color and marking vary among the brands. Markings are somewhat similar, up to 12 inches, and all have 19.2 diamonds.|
|After 12 inches they tend to differ.|
The Bostitch (on the first 6 inches) and FatMax (on the first 5 inches) have “Blade Armor,” which appears to be a clear plastic tape covering:
Tajima has “Hyper Acry Coat,” which gives the blade a matte finish:
The others make no mention of blade protection. All of the blades have varying degrees of gloss.
Personally, I feel that if they don’t do the first 8 feet, why bother?
The design of all of these cases would make inside measuring difficult, if not impossible. The Malco and Tajima have no case size markings. FatMax and Bostitch put theirs under the tongue of the belt clip. Komelon and Fastcap are readily visible. I would say that most of us just roll the blade in the corner and read the scale. When I need very accurate dimensions, pinch sticks are my choice.
Flat Surface Stance
I discovered something else when comparing these tapes: When extended to 12 to 18 inches, and set on a flat surface, some blades will sit on the surface and some won’t. This is obviously a result of how the cases were designed.
Have you ever lost your grip on a tape while on a ladder, caught it by the hook, and then had to yo-yo it back? I held these tapes by the hook at a height of 42 inches (my waist height) and let go of the case.
I repeated this several times to “work” the spring before recording distances. Here are the results:
Tajima – Stopped at 38″
FastCap – Stopped at 19″
Malco – Hit ground and extended to 50″ for retrieval
FatMax – Hit ground and extended to 78″ for retrieval
Komelon – Hit ground and extended 39″ for retrieval
Bostitch – Hit ground and extended 50″ for retrieval
If it had a better belt clip, the Tajima would be, hands down, my first choice. I give the Tajima and the Komelon a tie for first. If you keep your tape in your bag instead of on your belt, it’s a toss-up. FatMax comes in at a strong third, with a proven track record. Fastcap provides good bang for the buck—it may not take a beating, but you’ll get your money’s worth. The Bostitch has that giant hook that not only catches too much, but projects past the case. My last choice would be the Malco, with its angular case and magnet hook. I couldn’t get a comfortable grip on it, and the magnets—while beneficial for metal stud work—are also metal bit collectors.
I know there are many schools of thought on tools. While not looking for an heirloom to hand down through the generations, I think we’d all like to get some life out of a tape. You can buy a $5 tape and throw it away after every job. You can buy a $20 tape and get a year or two out of it. Conversely, you may have that $5 tape last a year, and accidentally drop the $20 one into an inaccessible stud bay the day after you buy it. The choice is yours, and it’s the luck of the draw as to how long they last. Hope this helps in your next purchase.
• • •
Steve Christopher got into the game later than most. Four years of painting jets for Uncle Sam in the Air Force after high school turned into—after being discharged—12 years of painting cars in body shops.
Steve’s wife, a nurse, kept after him to give up all that painting because of the fumes. Small remodeling jobs on nights and weekends led to “Steve Christopher Home Improvements” in 1985.
Decks, and kitchen and bath remodels were the main focus, but he also did trim, windows, and doors. 26 years later, now subbing out the demo and drywall, the business is still going strong.
Steve holds a State of NJ Construction Official license, a Building Sub code license and a HHS Inspector license. “Steve Christopher Home Improvements” is a NJ Registered Home Improvement contractor, and an EPA-registered RRP contractor.
Steve and his wife, Mary Lou, have two kids: a daughter, who has her own house in Lake Hiawatha NJ, and a son who lives in Chicago. Steve and Mary Lou are currently in the process of purchasing a vacation lake house in lower NY.