A durable, trusty tape measure may be the most important tool in your woodshop. Not only can a high-quality tape measure provide consistent measurements, but it can also hold up to years of heavy use in your workshop. But what’s the best tape measure for woodworkers?
We answer that question with our in-depth buying guide. Read on for a full rundown of our in-house tested picks and the essential information to help you pick an accurate and durable woodworking tape measure.
Features of the best tape measures for woodworkers
Consistency over accuracy
While accuracy is important in woodworking, it’s more likely you’ll be using another precision measuring tool, such as a precision t-rule, when there’s little margin for error. The value that a tape measure adds is that it is easy to use and consistently accurate, which is critical when making repeated cuts.
But this doesn’t mean we overlooked accuracy, quite opposite actually. We tested all models to an accuracy tolerance of 1/32“.
All woodworking tape measures that made this list were consistently accurate with loose floating tangs that are easy to lock in place without much pressure. A tape measure with a tang that doesn’t easily set in place can lead to inconsistent measurements that are off by up to 1/16”.
Great ergonomics for one-handed use
Tape measure ergonomics are important for woodworking, especially since these tools are used frequently throughout a project. You don’t always have an extra hand to extend the blade or lock it in place. A great tape measure has a casing that easily seats into the palm of most hand sizes, an easy-to-set lock, and a strong retraction mechanism.
Several picks on our list of the best measuring tapes for woodworkers have shorter blades than the most common tape measure length of 25 feet. Some of this rationale comes down to improved ergonomics – the shorter the blade length, the smaller the casing, and the easier it is to hold. We also included some shorter-length models on this list because it’s rare to need to measure beyond a few feet with most woodworking projects.
Without a durable blade, you’ll be left tossing your tape measure in the trash with minimal use. That’s because the tape measure component most likely to wear out first will be the numbers and markings on the blade. Taking accurate measurements is difficult when the markings are no longer visible.
Great blade retraction
A strong retraction mechanism can help with efficiency around the shop. A tape measure that doesn’t retract by itself and requires hand assistance to reel it in can be frustrating and slow down your workflow.
DIY Gear Reviews’ best tape measures for woodworkers
- Best tape measure for woodworking: FastCap Lefty/Righty 16-Foot
- Auto-lock pick: Milwaukee 16-Foot Auto-Lock
- Compact pick: Stanley 12-Foot Powerlock
- Pick for woodworking and more: Craftsman Pro Reach 25-Foot Magnetic
- Durability pick: Klein Tools 25-Foot Magnetic Double Hook
- Self-retraction pick: Crescent Lufkin 25-Foot Command Control
- Keychain pick: Milwaukee 6-Foot Keychain Tape Measure
- Blade includes easy-to-read fractions
- Clever design features built for woodworking
- Ergonomic finger break
- Convenient belt clip
- Competitively priced
- Tang lacks versatility
Bottom line: The FastCap Lefty/Righty 16-Foot Tape Measure is purpose-built for woodworking, and it shows with its thoughtful design and unique features. Without a doubt, this is the best tape measure for woodworkers wanting to own only one tape measure. The standout features are the blade with fraction markings that are readable for lefties and righties, the smooth finger brake, the scratchpad on the face to pencil in measurements on the go, an easy-to-use-belt clip, and the included pencil sharpener. This tape measure also performed among the top of the pack in most of our in-house tests.
- Auto-locking blade
- Blade durability
- Includes easy-to-read fractions
- Great ergonomics
- No magnetic tang
Bottom line: The Milwaukee 16-Foot Auto-Lock Tape Measure is an easy woodworking pick for three reasons. First off, the blade includes fraction markings for easy readability. Second, the auto-lock mechanism is easier to set than many sliding locks, making it great for one-handed use. Finally, it has great ergonomics with a small casing and grippy rubber in the right places.
- Metal casing
- Smooth sliding lock
- 1/32? markings
- Competitively priced
- Metal casing can be slippery at times
Bottom line: The Stanley Powerlock 12-Foot Tape Measure is the perfect size and price to buy a few to sprinkle around your shop so that you always have one within reach. It is also one of the few tape measures that include markings down to 1/32”, which can be useful when there’s little margin for error. One feature that also stands out is that this Stanley tape measure is the only one in the Powerlock lineup that is made of metal, not chrome ABS plastic. The added weight from the metal results in great build quality and is reminiscent of decades past when most tape measure casings were made of metal.
- Long blade standout
- Compact for one-handed use
- Smooth sliding lock
- Overall durability
- Weak blade self-retraction
- Tang lacks versatility
Bottom line: The Craftsman Pro Reach 25-Foot Tape Measure shined in our blade durability testing. There’s no doubt that its casing will take a beating as well. Both features make this a rugged pick that’s great for the woodshop and for any DIY project around the home. Its smooth sliding lock, magnetic tang, and high-visibility blade markings are also impressive.
Bottom line: The Klein Tools 25-Foot Magnetic Double Hook Tape Measure brings professional-grade durability to the woodshop. There’s no doubt that this tape measure will endure years of rugged use. While it is built for general DIY and professional needs, woodworkers will find durability and versatility are welcome additions.
- Strong self-retraction
- Smooth sliding lock
- Great ergonomics
- Includes a finger brake
- Poor blade durability
Bottom line: If you want a tape measure that doesn’t require two hands to retract the blade, then the Crescent Lufkin 25-Foot Command Control Tape Measure is your best pick. We didn’t run into a single scenario in our testing where the blade needed a second hand to assist in reeling it in. In fact, the self-retraction is so strong that the tape measure jumps in your hand when retracting the blade throughout its range. Add in the smooth sliding lock, and you’ve got a tape measure that shines for one-handed use. We just wish that its blade was more durable.
A great tape measure to keep in your pocket or tool belt so that it's always in reach when needed. The blade also includes both imperial and metric markings.
- Smooth sliding lock
- Blade has imperial and metric markings
- Blade isn’t highly durable
Bottom line: There are a few items that you should always have within reach within your woodshop. The Milwaukee 6-Foot Keychain Tape is a quality measuring tool at a bargain price that is great for buying several to place around your shop and home. Even better, the 6-foot blade has both imperial and metric markings for versatility. This can come in handy in instances when you’d rather simplify multiple measurements using the metric scale instead of fussing with converting imperial fractions. But remember that this tape measure isn’t built for durability, which shouldn’t come as a surprise at such a bargain-bin price.
Comparing the scales, markings, and tang styles
|FastCap Lefty/Righty||Imperial with fractions||1/16”||Bottom tang only|
|Milwaukee Auto-Lock||Imperial with fractions||1/16”||Bottom tang only|
|Stanley Powerlock||Imperial||1/32”||Bottom tang only|
|Craftsman Pro Reach||Imperial||1/16”||Bottom tang with magnet|
|Klein Tools Magnetic||Imperial||1/16”||Magnetic top and bottom tang with wings|
|Crescent Lufkin Command Control||Imperial||1/16”||Top and bottom tang with wings|
|Milwaukee Keychain||Imperial and metric||1/16” and millimeters||Bottom tang only|
Scale and markings
While most woodworkers are familiar with how to read a tape measure, having one that includes fraction markings can be helpful. Both the FastCap Lefty/Righty 16-Foot Tape Measure and the Milwaukee 16-Foot Auto-Lock Tape Measure include fractions for easy reading.
If you’re looking for an extra level of precision, then consider the Stanley 12-Ft. Powerlock tape measure. The blade has markings at 1/32” intervals.
Otherwise, the other tape measure picks on this list offer standard scales and markings.
Ultimately, tang styles are based on personal preference. Tape measure tangs for woodworking need only to be durable and not easily bendable. All tape measure picks we tested to meet these standards for high durability.
But if you seek a tape measure with the most hook versatility, consider the Klein Tools Magnetic Double Hook Tape Measure and the Crescent Lufkin 25-Foot Command Control Tape Measure. The former has all the bells and whistles with a magnetic top and bottom tang with wings. The latter has all the same, minus the magnet. Such features make it easier to latch the tang onto various work surfaces and in different orientations.
Comparing self-retraction, blade durability, and warranties
|Craftsman Pro Reach||Good||Great||Lifetime|
|Klein Tools Magnetic||Good||Good||Lifetime|
|Crescent Lufkin Command Control||Great||Poor||Lifetime|
We tested blade durability by wrapping a large dowel in 150-grit sandpaper and rubbing each of the tape measure blades for a few seconds.
While most of our picks include an extra level of blade protection with nylon coatings, not all coatings are built the same. That outcome was evidenced throughout these tests.
If blade durability is critical, then it’s best to pass on the Crescent Lufkin 25-Foot Command Control Tape Measure and the Milwaukee 6-Foot Keychain Tape Measure. Both performed poorly in our abrasion testing and suffered scratches that penetrated through the blade paint. On the other hand, the FastCap Lefty/Righty 16-Foot Tape Measure impressed us with the best blade durability of any model we tested.
All other models scored ratings of Good or Great, and they will provide years of rugged use around the shop before the markings potentially become unreadable.
MORE >> You can see firsthand how each tape measure’s blade performed in our durability tests by checking out our in-depth reviews. These product reviews include a video of each model’s testing and performance. Review links can be found below each product image at the top of this page.
Tape measures that didn’t make the cut
The Milwaukee 25-Foot Magnetic Tape Measure (full review) is a solid pick outside of the woodshop. But its feature set is on par with or slightly less robust than the other 25-foot tape measures that made the cut.
We tested the Ryobi 25-Foot Tape Measure (full review), but its blade durability didn’t compensate for its great price and overall good-enough performance elsewhere.
The Stanley 25-Foot Powerlock Tape Measure (full review) is rightly popular among woodworkers, professionals and DIYers. But for woodworking, we prefer the metal casing and shorter-length blade of the 12-foot model that made the cut.
We tested other auto lock tape measures than the Milwaukee version that made this list, including the Stanley 25-Foot Magnetic Lever Lock Tape Measure. But the Milwaukee tape measure outshines the Stanley model with a better casing, build quality, and a more durable blade.
The Komelon 25-Foot MagGrip Pro Tape Measure (full review) has great self-retraction and is grippy in the hand. But the fussy sliding lock takes two hands to set. This instantly removed the model from consideration since one-handed use is important in a tape measure for woodworking.
The Stanley Fat Max 25-Foot Tape Measure (full review) is durable, but other 25-foot models on this list offer more versatility. Importantly, these models also offer better self-retraction, which is an area where the Fat Max didn’t shine.
How we tested the picks
Our research for models to test started by searching user reviews at several online retailers. That research resulted in us narrowing down the choices on the market to the models we wanted to review in more depth. Tape measures that appeared over-priced or didn’t offer great build quality were immediately cut. We eventually purchased 12 models for in-house testing.
Our in-house testing involved reviewing the tape measures for their feature sets and their ergonomics, accuracy, and cost. We paid special attention to several critical items, such as ease of one-handed use, casing and blade durability, good self-retraction, and a smooth sliding lock. In total, the tape measures were assessed across 16 factors. The performance in each category determined our overall editorial ratings and the sub-ratings for durability, features offered, and value.
Types of tape measures used in woodworking
While some woodworkers choose to use a folding tape measure, we will focus on cased tape measures and the types available.
Imperial or metric
The imperial measurement system of feet and inches is the standard in the U.S., with the metric system used in the rest of the world. There’s no doubt that the metric system is much simpler to use since there’s no need to convert fractions. But the U.S. loves the imperial system and isn’t going anywhere. The most readily available selection of measuring hand tools on the U.S. market uses feet and inches.
Whichever system you select, there’s one critical factor for woodworking: Standardize on just one measurement scale for every tool in your woodshop. Doing so drastically simplifies measuring since there’s no need to convert between imperial or metric. For example, you won’t get consistently accurate measurements and cuts by measuring with inches and then cutting with a tool tuned to centimeters.
Tape measures come in all shapes and sizes, including models with different blade markings. At a minimum, the best tape measures for woodworking will offer 1/16″ intervals. This will be accurate enough for most projects.
But an argument can be made for buying a tape measure that includes markings up to 1/32″. The added precision can be critical for projects with no wiggle room for being off, even by just a hair.
Beyond the number of intervals between each inch marking, consider a tape measure that includes numbered fractions on the bottom of the blade. This added feature helps you easily determine your measurements without much effort.
LEARN MORE: How to Read a Tape Measure
Auto-lock vs. sliding lock
Choosing the type of locking mechanism will come down to personal preference. For this reason, we’ve included picks on this list that offer both capabilities.
An auto-lock tape measure doesn’t require you to slide the lock in place to set the blade, whereas a sliding lock tape measure does.
A sliding lock may make the most sense if your tape measure always stays attached to your tool belt or shop apron while taking measurements. This way, you can extend the blade to make your measurement and let it retract back into the housing without skipping a beat. Efficiency for the win.
With an auto-locking tape measure, you’d need to stop for a moment to hold the button to retract the blade. Otherwise, your blade stays retracted and risks damage.
What is the best length tape measure for woodworking?
A tape measure with a blade in the range of 10 to 20 feet will be suitable for most woodworking projects. Rarely will you be measuring beyond several feet, whether you’re building a coffee table, bedside nightstand, cabinetry, or drawers. Tape measures in this length range also have smaller casings than the 25-foot models commonly used for DIY projects, construction, and general finish carpentry.
But if you’re buying a single tape measure for woodworking and other general needs, consider a 25-foot tape measure for the added length that may be useful outside of the woodshop.
Tape measure tips and tricks for woodworking
A tape measure is a handy tool in the workshop, but it becomes even more essential when you know a few tape measure tips and tricks Our suggestions can increase your speed and accuracy and save you time and money.
Keep a few tape measures around the shop
With how essential a tape measure is to woodworking, you don’t want to be left searching around the shop wondering where you left it as you jump from step to step. Many great tape measures can also be found at bargain-bin prices. Place a few around your shop where you most often make measurements.
Don’t forget to stash tape measures in your shop apron and on your workbench. You will always have a tape measure within reach when you need it.
Don’t break the bank buying one
An accurate tape measure for woodworking can be purchased for around $20 or less. None of the premium-priced tape measures we tested offered much more than lower-priced models. In fact, several premium tape measures we tested performed worse than ones half their price.
Get consistently accurate measurements
The tang on a tape measure floats by 1/16“ for a reason. The floating tang ensures accurate measurements whether you’re measuring an interior or exterior dimension. But the tangs on some tape measures can take some finagling to ensure they’re consistently extended or pushed in.
Always be sure to add some tension when latching the tang onto your workpiece for an exterior measurement. On the other hand, always be sure to push the blade moderately to properly inset the tang for interior measurements.
Another tip that will result in consistently precise measurements is to ensure the blade is kept parallel to the edge of your workpiece. Unintentionally holding the blade off parallel by the slightest amount will result in inaccurate measurements that are shorter than intended.
LEARN MORE: How to Use a Tape Measure
Check for square
A tape measure can come in handy when you don’t have a woodworking square to check for precise 90-degree angles for boxes. Once your box is constructed, just measure in an “X” pattern from the opposite corner to the opposite corner. Your box is square if the two measurements are exactly the same.
Use a tape measure as a compass
A tape measure can be used as a compass to draw circles and arcs in a pinch. All tape measure tangs have a small slot on the leading edge. This is to latch the tang onto a screw or nailhead.
To use a tape measure as a compass, insert your chosen fastener into the center of your workpiece and then slide the tang onto the fastener head. Extend the tape measure to the desired radius and hold a pencil vertically on the back of the tape measure casing. Then move the casing and pencil around the circumference of the circle. This method isn’t suggested for situations where accuracy is critical, but you’d be surprised how well it works for many needs.
Measure once, cut many more times
Consistent measurements are more important in woodworking than accuracy.
Using a tape measure in combination with a stop block results in precise cuts at both the miter saw and when using a crosscut sled. Just use a tape measure to strike a measurement once on your workpiece, line it up to the saw blade, and set a stop block. Then put the tape measure aside and make repeated cuts.