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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This month:

My New BFF

Experimental Furniture – Who Decides What's "Good" and What's "Bad"?

The Down To Earth "Inventor?"

Hello, New BFF

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Figure 1 – My long-time shop companion passed on a
couple of months ago – finding a replacement proved
a challenge.

Several months ago I mourned the loss of my long-time companion and partner tape measure. You can never replace a loved one, but after an appropriate period of mourning, you can seek new companionship to help fill the void. I did. The old saying about getting right back up on the horse is apropos.

Rather than move in a linear fashion from one potentially disappointing or failing relationship to the next, I decided to play the field looking for my perfect new special "friend." The internet is today's way to seek new relationships and I did a fair bit of flirting. Of course I have standards and wouldn't take home every tape measure that crossed my path… I need a companion that is smart, fun, energetic, and, of course, interested in woodworking. I'll admit, looks matter, and for me "short" is attractive, say 12 feet or less. Thin is better, not from some media-induced aesthetic bias, but from the standpoint that I don't need anything bulky hanging from my pocket. And yes, a tape measure should clip to my pants pocket, not hide away inside… I guess I prefer an extrovert tape rather than an introvert. And if a tape measure is friendly to Southpaws, it gets bonus points immediately. Within just a few weeks, I had almost a dozen new potential "friends."

Among those seeking relationships through the internet, personal attributes are sometimes, lets say, exaggerated. One tape was particularly intriguing, billing itself as "built for a woodworker." Perhaps, but the third time we were together, it broke down… not your basic societal breakdown, but a full-scale physical breakdown. Too bad, because there was a glimmer of mutual attraction.

Most never made it to a second date. Like Seinfeld obsessing over the tiniest fault, I compared, probably subconsciously, every tape measure to my old best friend. I deemed one to have a blade too wide, one to have a blade too thin. One had a weird button to lock the tape that simply did not work. A couple had numbers too small to read, one had numbers so big it looked like it belonged in a cartoon strip.

It became obvious I would never find true love through the internet so I turned to family and friends. I like a lot of the relatives in the Festool family, so I took home a Festool tape. We didn't get along at all. Another company from whom I have bought a lot of stuff boasted a "cabinet maker's" tape bearing their own private label logo. The first time I tried to hook the clip over my jeans pocket, the clip broke free and flew across the shop. The screw that held the clip was irreparably stripped, so now the little broken tape measure is on its way back for a refund.

One day, while drinking coffee and staring out my shop window, my eyes wandered over to my marking and measuring tools. Among all the Woodpeckers Rules (too bad they don't make a tape measure), squares, and T's, are my two prized Starrett Combination Squares . A small little LED light bulb went on above my head, and sure enough, it turns out that Starrett makes tape measures. Who would have thought?

Figure 2 - The 12' Starrett Measuring Tape is just about perfect
for woodworkers. Note the rubberized bottom half and the
attractive color.

Starrett makes dozens of different models and sizes, in fact. Naturally, many are not perfectly suited for woodworking, but a couple are. Alas, Highland Woodworking, who carries the Starrett Combination Squares , did not have the tape measure. But I got one, and it was instant love. Reminded me of the car insurance ad where the actress says she loved her car, named it "Brad," and then wrecked it… she thought she would never get over "Brad." Then her insurance company bought her a new car and she broke into her happy dance. Brad who?

The Starrett tape is 12 feet long. It could really be as short as 10 and still be perfect for woodworkers, but even with the extra couple of feet the tape is small enough so as to not be obtrusive on the belt or clipped to your pocket, and will easily fit in an apron pocket without weighing it down. The reddish color is not nearly as ugly as yellow, easier on the eyes than chrome, and easier to find than black or dark blue. The tape is well built, put together with real screws. The bottom third is covered with a black rubber-like material that won't scar work pieces and gives the tape some traction for those times when you need to extend it, lock it, and leave it while you walk to the other end.

Figure 3 – The nylon coated blade is anti-glare
and easy to read. The end hook is perfectly sized.

The tape itself is covered with a nylon material that gives it a soft, satin look that is easy on the eyes and easy to read without any chance of glare. Glare was a small peeve with my old favorite tape. Look at Figure 1 at the top of the page and you will see how annoying this can be.

The Starrett tape is a left-to-right reading tape, sometimes called a left-hander's tape, meaning that with the tape extending to the left, the numbers are right side up. This is the way most tapes are made and interestingly are "naturals" for left-handed people who typically hold the tape in their right hand and mark with their left. At the top are 1/16" graduations and the bottom is marked in 1/32nds.

Figure 4 - The hook must move the correct amount to
compensate for inside and over-the-edge measurements.
The Starrett was perfect.

I checked the accuracy of the tape against the only measuring instrument I consider to be perfect, my Woodpeckers Rule . The Starrett tape and the Woodpeckers Rule matched exactly. I also did the over-the-edge and flush-to-the-wall comparison (see Figure 4) and the marks were dead-on… a most unusual attribute for any tape.

Like most tapes, there is a concave curve to the blade, ostensibly to help hold it straight while extending the tape. Fortunately, the curve is minimal and the tape hook is large enough that it is easy to twist the tape ever so slightly and avoid any potential marking/reading error due to parallax.

If I have a knock, it is this… apparently Starrett never got the memo about the industry trend toward so-called "frustration free packaging" and still uses the kind of hard clear plastic package that requires heavy duty scissors, a double-strength utility knife, and perhaps a few blasting caps to open. My only advice is to be patient and careful… your reward after prying open the package is worth it.

In fact, this is, in all likelihood, the best tape ever made for general-purpose woodworking. I fell so hard and so fast in love with this tape, that I did something I have never done before… I begged Highland Woodworking to start carrying it and placed an order for two more to be shipped as soon as they got them in stock. I never again want to be without a tape matched perfectly to my needs and desires… I never want to be without this tape.

You can get your own 12' Starrett Measuring Tape by CLICKING HERE .

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