How to choose a good tape measure

A good tape measure is one of the first tools any handy person should buy because it’s so useful for so many jobs. Whether you’re hanging a picture, installing a shelf, measuring for new flooring or measuring how your kids are growing, a tape measure is a must-have piece of DIY gear.

Here are the three most important tips to keep in mind as you choose and use a tape measure:

Tip #1: Understand how tape measures work

This seems simple enough, but there are tricks to using a tape measure.


First, never let the retractable end of the tape slam into the tape case full force as it’s being retracted. Always ease the tape back into the case with your hands by restricting the spring pressure as the tape slides inwards. Your tape will last longer and stay more accurate if you eliminate all slamming.

Second, all tapes have a locking button that anchors the tape blade where you want it. Learn to use it. It’s handy.

Slide the locking button every time you need to hold the tape blade where it is, resisting the internal springs that normally pull the blade inwards. Extending and locking the blade is the easiest and most accurate way to measure internal dimensions between two surfaces.

tape measure tire
This tape measure was part of a torture test involving a half-ton truck. Check out the video below to see how the test turned out.

Tip #2: Buy the right size of tape measure

Some people find a 16-foot tape measure is ideal for a variety of jobs, but don’t just buy this size without thinking. If you never measure things more than, say, 10 feet long, then a 12-foot pocket model will be perfect for you. The shorter the length of the blade, the smaller the case and the easier it is to keep in your pocket.

Self-retracting tape measures go up to 35 feet long. Specialty tape measures with a crank handle and cloth-type tape “blade” can go up to 100 feet long and are favoured by home builders and serious DIYers.

Tip #3: Buy the right quality of tape measure

Watch the video below to see a torture test applied to a name brand tape measure. How does it measure up after being driven over by a pickup truck?



There’s a big difference in the quality of cheap tape measures compared with more costly, name brand options. And as with so many tools, paying more now for a good tape measure means money saved later because of longer tool life.

And when you buy, choose one with either imperial graduations or metric, not both. Single-system tapes are easier to read because the blades aren’t as crowded with numbers, and you’ll never have to worry about accidentally reading centimetres when you should be reading inches.


About the Author

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell has been helping Canadians with home improvement, gardening and hands-on living since 1988. Visit for videos, stories and inspiration.



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