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.
Good reviews on an important tool. I’ve owned the Tajima for over 2 years now. That’s 2 years of nearly daily use from up on roofs to precise measuring & marking in the shop. This is my longest lasting tape measure to date. Beyond its durability the most important feature to me – that makes the Tajima a true standout – is that I can measure with consistent accuracy whether I am pulling or pushing a measure. Just checked it again before sitting down to comment & amazingly the hook has still the perfect amount of play to read the same result as an inny or as an outy. I have been frustrated by needing to pull the tape out with my teeth when one hand is otherwise engaged but the protection of this tape hook turtle feature may be why the hook is so accurate after 2 years. I agree with Steve that the belt clip is deficient, but long ago I gave up on all belt clips for working in the field & started carrying a tape holster. Always take clips right off. Not such an issue in the shop.
I was never happy with the Stanleys, Fat Max or otherwise, or the Fast Cap that just sits on my shelf. Have no experience with the other brands. Tried a Lufkin once & that was not money well spent. My next tape (if need be) will be another Tajima.
Thanks for the review Steve.
Thanks Steve, great reviews. I’ve been using a Stabila for about three years and like it, but it’s starting to show wear, and I was going to replace it soon. I need a metric tape, i was thinking of going with a fastcap, mostly because I know they make metric, and I did want the writing surface. Now I might look for the tajima, I have one of their chalk lines and like it.
Thank you, Uncle Steve.
I am partial to the Tajima and the Komeleon, but you’re right, the belt clips on both are terrible.
One thing to note is that Komeleon makes a tape (which I use frequently) with a stainless steel blade. It won’t rust like a standard steel tape.
Thanks for the reviews. Ok I’ll admit I’m a Fastcap tape user and I personally like the 16′ lefty/Righty. The one thing that really bugs me about the tape is that it’s too easy to fall over… I extend my tape out and set the tape on the saw extensions will trying to be precise measuring mouldings and get pretty annoyed when the tape won’t stand up. Can you provide a little more information on tape stabilty when measuring crown, etc.? Thanks again…
Thanks for all the comments !
Chris, one word about measuring crown on the wall – laser.
On the cutting table. The Komeleon, Fatmax and Bostitch have a pretty wide footprint which may help. If you look at the “Flat surface stance” picture though, you’ll see why the tapes are susceptible to flopping over. The design of how the blade exits the case causes them to tip forward on the front edge making them unstable. You may want to try the Fastcap “Flatback Tape”, it’ll lay flat on the table.
Very well done! Keep up the good work
I have a selfish reasons to own a fatmax. I have huge hands. (Palming a basketball all day long isn’t a problem.)
I must admit that this fatmax is now 5 years old, approximately. The tape part has now worn the paint off. Yes, it has fallen quite some distances. I kinda like the philosophy of Milwaukee: It must survive an 8′ fall.
I can’t stand any of the clips that hold the tape on you. I went with the three rare earth magnets, by Endever. Apparently they went out of business, however. I can’t find them on the web. If any of you know where, TELL PLEASE!
You know of this ?
Something new on my must get list!
I really liked my Fastcap Lefty/Righty as it essentially removed the necessity to read the numbers upside-down. BUT, as the three tapes that I had to “euthanize” against the nearest brick wall might attest, the Fastcap stuff is NOT built for heavy-duty use. In this instance I was using a 16′ tape in the shop and quite often (like 50 times a day) I would pull the tape out to 12′ to 14′. The Fastcaps tended to get weak-kneed and not fully retract without a nudge by the end of the first month and were useless by the end of the third. Maybe its just me, but shouldn’t a 16′ tape ought to be able to run out to 16′ without killing the spring? Otherwise, it isn’t a 16′ tape is it? I’ve switched over to a Starrett Tru-Lok and have been very happy with it. I’ve had it in use for six months and haven’t had any problems.
Nicely done Steve, every time I am in need of a new tape I find myself picking up every single brand but in the end I always end up with my old faithful Stanley. Mostly because I hate change I guess even with something so seemingly insignificant.
I too like some of the features on the other tapes you tested, and as you and Eli mentioned, being able to write on your tape is pretty handy. I have found though, if you peel the sticker off the face of most tapes you can spend a few minutes with a sander and create your own writing surface.
FYI Fastcap make these writing pads in multi-pak form.
I put them on all my tapes,regardeless of brand. Not only do they provide a nice writing surface, but since alot of carpenters have similar brands of tapes, this differentiating white disc keep mine from walking away from my toolboxes. Those little tape critters sprout legs more often than any other tool I know.
The first thing I do after buying any tape is peel off the sticker and use it for a template to cut out 2 or 3 writing pads on the bandsaw out of scrap formica. When 1 gets beat up I peel it off and replace it. (White or tan mostly). All you have to do to erase it is wet your finger and wipe it off.
Nice article, Steve! I went out & counted before I wrote this and I have 11 various tapes in the shop; from the big 25′ & 30′ Fat Max to a little 12′ cheapie from the time I got 1/2 way to a potential clients house to measure for a bookcase and realized I’d forgotten a tape measure. I like the Fast Cap’s for the shop for the white, non glare tape and the lever clip that saves wear & tear on my pockets. The 16′ Fat Max gets little use because the spring is so strong that it has actually made the tape jump out of my hand when retracted from 8′ or more. After reading your article, I’m now going to have to search out a Tajima for my collection…let’s see, that’s 2 for the chop saw, the Max at the table saw, 1 for the band saw, a couple in the truck…..
I have found that if I extend and lay two tapes (even same brand) side-by-side,they don’t always “read” the same. Likewise, the hook end movement can vary such that a “pull” measurement can be correct while the “push” measure be wrong, and vice-versa.
So this makes me wonder just how accurate the brands that you tested were.
I certainly agree with the comment that if you buy a 16′ tape that you should be able to extend it to 16′ on a regular basis without ruining it.
It is good practice to every now and then I check the push/pull accuracy. The rivets/holes tend to wear over time. As far as tape to tape, when one guy’s measuring, another is cutting ALWAYS check the tapes against each other, even if they are the “same” brand and type.
Thanks for the review. I live the 16′ tajami also. And also the fast caps. Both work very well. The fat max are to big for my hands
The belt clip n the fast cap does get loose and falls off a lot when clipped onto my Blakenlader pants pocket tape strap.
Craftsman tapes are good also however they do not lifetime guarantee them anymore
Yes, Steve, I know, & have tried that other type.
Another reason for the Endever is that their circle is divided into 120* with little partitions with a little ramp. A quick twist & you are measuring!
Over many years I’ve trashed my share of tapes. I used to do concrete work, the dirt & grit make short work of any tape. Used Stanley’s for awhile but there were lots of variations in their scales. I have a commercial shop now, lots of European tools so the Fastcap with both Imperial and Metric works well. The clip is nice, so are the pencil sharpener, when you are on site, and the marking surface. We buy them by the case for the shop. We’ve got a few of the flat ones too for our curved work. They’ve had some quality control issues in the past but seem to be better now.
Thanks Steve, for the review. At fastcap we are continually improving and adding features to our tapes. 90% of the features are the result of our customers ideas and feedback. IE The belt chip, note pad, pencil sharpener, left right read, story pole, blades that you can write on, flat blades, and on and on. I will take the feedback and continue to make our tapes the best on the market. All fastcap products are guaranteed for life including our tapes. 888 443 3748
Nice review of the tapes. I have been a fan of the Fat Max for a long time. I agree that the springs seem a bit strong but everyone knows you are supposed to ease the tape back in the last several feet. After using them anything that has the thin blades seem to just be to thin.
Never seen some of the others listed but may look at a few of them.
Glad to see someone who uses the 16 ft tapes and likes them.
I do wonder about the guys who carry the 25 and 30 ft tapes with them all day long. I thought every one was always talking about making their work belts lighter. I rarely work in anyone’s house that has a room over about 15 ft long, cannot tell you how many tapes I have had over the years that it was the last one or two feet of tape that gets worn off and probably the other 14 feet of the tape rarely sees the light of day. Anything much more than a 16 ft tape seems like overkill to me.
Here is a quick video on how our tapes are made.
I made my own writing surface by gluing a piece of formica to the side of my tape. A little spit and the writing comes off. Thanks for the article.
I like to use my Fastcap tape measure. I love the pencil sharpener and use it all the time, but it does not sharpen mechanical pencils.
The new belt click (“lever”) is a flaw always catching something and causing the tool to fall. The old belt clip never caught anything and pulled the tape off my belt. I have my old clip and replace the lever clip every time I replace my worn tape measure; never falls off my belt.
I use a Bosch laser measure for all my long distance measuring projects. Absolutely love the thing. It is accurate, can reach very far and never bends or retracts unnecessarily.
Ryan, would you do a short review of the Bosch laser? Really reliable? Easy to dial in for accuracy? etc. etc. That is a type of tool that has great appeal but I’m inclined to be dubious. Any info from a happy user would be a welcome read.
The Bosch laser is dead on accurate! When I first got it I would double check on known distant targets but that got to be a waste of time, it was always dead on. I can use it for measuring crown and know its right. Mine is always a “tight ” fit so knowing that lets me know when i can back off the actual measurement by a 1/16 or so. The Bosch is an entry level laser and as such doesn’t store a bunch of measurements in memory so you have to carry around a note pad. The more you pay the more bells and whistles you get.
Make sure what you buy is a laser and not those pos sonar things black and decker used to sell. They don’t work at all.
I used to use the Craftsman tapes. Sears would replace them every time the blade broke. They no longer have lifetime warranties of their tapes.
I also used to b the craftman tape they would have all the numbers on them and were decent quality. So the last time I took my tape in for warranty they exchanged them with the new improved piece of junk. Worst tape ever. Now I have been using the silver stanley or the orange lufkin tapes. Next tape will be the tamaji
I have a bunch of tapes as well. I loved the tajima when I got it until a month or so later it unwound inside the case and now you cant pull it out. My fatmax far outlasted that. I will also attest to the weak belt hook on the Tajima. The fastcap tape too needs a better hook, and I wish I could get one with standard markings at the 1st 12 inches. I cant get used to the 32nd markings.
Weak belt hook?! Geeeez, I had to bend my out it was so strong I couldn’t get it to slip over my belt. And I’ve never had a Tajima tape fail on me. Ever. The only thing that bugs me about the Tajima tapes is that I can’t hook the hook on the edge of a board because the rubber casing is a bit proud of the hook. I guess that’s so the hook will be protected, but maybe that’s a good example of too much protection.
In regards to the Tajima belt clip. If you “pluck” the clips on the other tapes they have a “twang” to them and snap against the case. The Tajima emits a “clunk” and more than likely just bends. I’m not a metallurgist but I would say the Tajima is made from a weak,if at all, spring steel. My first one dropped a few times. The brake button broke due to this and an email from Tajima informed no parts are available.
You are right! I had to bend my clip to get it over an extra-thick belt and now it slips off thinner belts.
The Tajima is a great choice when I’m in finish work surroundings on or off job site (vacuum attached tools, work table, surrounded by jigs etc) but you NEED a wide FatMax for just about everything else. And you all know this is true.
So if you could only choose one tape it would have to be the FatMax because of it’s proven durability, ability to either hook or span wide/long distances in awkward stances or situations (safety first), rock like shape for throwing at helpers etc.
As for the accuracy issue just check for any slop and calculate that 32nd into your measuring. But frankly the fact that none of these are metric or at least half metric is completely ridiculous.
I learned a while ago that not all tapes are printed accuratly when they are manufactured. The easiest way to test this is take a couple of tapes and run them out to 6-8 feet oppossing directions on a table, then lign up the numbers and see if they change or if the marks all line up.
We used to use a brand of tape mentioned here in the cabinet shop and finally figured out that they could vary 1/32″+or- in an inch so in places 2″ apart was almost 1/16″ off
Check out Fastcap’s New Square ‘n Tape. An awesome tape measure that has 9 unique features.
I am looking for a 10-20′ tape measure that the belt clip is on the right side of the tape measure instead of the left. This would allow me to clip it on my left side.
I am right handed so I grab the tape measure with my left hand, pull the tape out with the right then yes, you got it, mark my line with my right hand. When a clip is on the left and I have to grab it with my right handm I either have to switch hands or mark with my left hand and that just doesn’t make sense.
Does anyone make a good locking tape measure that has the clip on the right side or where it could be moved to the right?
Great review but you missed one terribly important issue: Accuracy.
Tapes I’ve owned from my favorite a 30 year old Klein with a steel body to my Starret tape all of ’em are terribly inaccurate. It must be in the printing where the tape must squirm during the printing process. The problem of course is different tapes tend never to agree with each other. and with multiple tradesmen in one large job – – well you get the point.
Now sure how you’d review for that but it’d be worth trying.
Thanks for reading. If you go through the comments you will find it is addressed.
Hi thanks for the info and perspective. Well done. I personally see the Fatmax and the Bostitch as far superior in the field moving fast, particularly the wide/long extension and their ability to ‘hook an edge’ fast and easy and hold strong. But now i want to go get a 16″
Tajima for sure!
Also does anyone else see it being a little odd that all tape measures are made for righties to hold in their right hand, when so often the task of measuring involves or requires writing…..with your right hand….which the tape measure is in…..so you read upside-down LOL
Was the inventor a Lefty or somehow manufacturers had no idea of this aspect or what? Whats everyone here know? I’m looking up Alvin J Fellows, inventor of the tape we all know today, see what i find.