The Best Tape Measure Ever

I have been through a lot of tape measures. I either lose them, break them or loan them out to measure lumber and they inadvertently end up in someone else’s pocket. I have tried to combat these loses in many ways. I thought I had the system beat when I used Craftsman tape measures. They worked well, weren’t too expensive and when they broke I could get them replaced for free. But, that didn’t do a thing for the ones that I just lost outright. So, outsmarting the system again, I went with the $2.00 tape measures from the paint store. They were pretty good for two bucks, and at that price I could by six at a time and not have to worry about losing them or breaking them or letting someone borrow them for a very long time.

During this $2.00 phase, I also tried other tape measures. At Woodcraft, they sold a flat tape measure designed for more accurate marking. That intrigued me. I always felt like the curve of the tape measure felt a little inaccurate, a bit too forced. Maybe this flat thing was the way to go. It did lay flat on the board and I felt like my marks we accurately transferred. Other than that, I wanted to burn the thing. After working forever with a tape measure that had a backbone it was impossible to work with a spineless substitute. When I pulled out the tape and wanted it to extend just a foot beyond my reach, it would just curl up into a ball. Hate, hate, hate.

At the same time my $2.00 tape measures were quickly fading. They were 16′ long, but not very wide. They were easily bent and creased, the numbers wore off, the springs locked up, and still, I couldn’t part with them. They weren’t totally dead, so I couldn’t justify pitching them, but they were getting worse by the day. So, it came down to decision time. What to do? Six more $2.00 tape measures, a new Craftsman, or maybe something altogether different?

A friend that I worked with at the time, had a Stanley Fat Max that he always used. I never used it because it was so big. It seemed like it would always be in the way and pull down my pants with the weight. Plus, I didn’t need to carry around a 25′ tape all day, every day, since the longest thing I usually measured was 16′. I convinced myself that I was a medium-sized tape measure guy anyway, more delicate perhaps, but not some hack carpenter with a crazy-big tape measure. But… more and more guys had the Fat Max. And not just guys. Danielle, a female carpenter that I worked with on several jobs was carrying the Fat Max. So, I checked it out. $25-$30. Pass. Weeks go by. Check it out again. Still $25-$30. I’m a cheap skate. Pass. Head to the paint store.

Then Christmas comes along. Christmas is a time for gift cards to the Home Depot (at least for me) and the quandary that follows. Do I buy stuff for my business, or not? I opt for not, but I never know what to buy. I want to purchase something for myself that I normally wouldn’t, but at the same time I want it to be something that I will use. For a lot of woodworkers, it is usually a hand tool that is nicer than necessary, and for me it was the Fat Max Extreme. It was chrome-coated plastic and looked like a million bucks. It was fat with a PH and still $25-$30. I took it home, unable to believe that I spent that much on a tape measure. Buyers remorse set in. In no world, was I going to get that much value out of a stinkin’ tape measure. That was two years ago and that tape measure is still going strong.

Here's what a new Stanley Fat Max Extreme looks like.

I have others as back up, but I might as well only have one. I will search high and low for it, even when I have the backup in my hand. It is no longer as pretty as it used to be on the outside, but it still works awesome. It will extend out 11′ without flopping to the ground. That may not seem like a big deal to us fine woodworkers, but it comes in handy every day. The tape is strong overall and doesn’t easily bend (mine has no creases yet). The tape itself is super bright and well-coated so the numbers don’t rub off. And, one of the things I like the most is one that I was sure I would hate – the big tongue. That tongue is strong. I have dropped my tape measure countless times and the tongue is just as square as the day it was made. It just measures accurately day after day. All my other tape measures have mangled tongues that only get me within plus or minus 1/16″ of an inch.

Here's what mine looks like.

The Fat Max is by far the best tape measure ever. It solved all of my problems. It is accurate and rugged, so no more busted tape measures. I like it so well, that I don’t let anyone borrow it, so no more walking-away tape measures. And, here’s the kicker. Since it is so expensive, I always know where that thing is, so no more lost tape measures.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

3 responses to “The Best Tape Measure Ever”

  1. Tony Piel says :

    I hope you got paid for that post!! If not you should!

  2. David Boring says :

    I had one. I killed it. (a chop-saw jumped up and attacked it.)

  3. Jefro says :

    Just thought I’d add my two cents. I use Lufkin 1000 HV1312 12′ tapes and love them. I was a welder for 5 years and that’s all we used. They’re very durable and only $12. I use the Lufkin in the shop and when I’m doing something big where I need more than 12′ I have a 25′ Stanley Leverlock that I’ve had since ’97! That’s what they made before the FatMax tapes. Supposedly they’re gauranteed for life. I took one back before that one that I screwed around and broke the end off and Wal-Mart exchanged it no questions.

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