Last year I wrote about how I carry a Stanley Fatmax keychain tape measure with me everyday. At the time it was the best keychain tape measure I could find. Since then Milwaukee has released their 6ft/2m keychain into the wild. Although it is harder to find than the Stanley, I think I may have found a new EDC tape measure.
I’ll break this comparison down into four parts: size and construction, blade and end hook, locking lever, and keychain. At the end of each section I’ll mention which tape measure I think wins the category.
Size and Construction
From my measurements, the Stanley FatMax tape is 0.85″ wide by 1.79″ deep by 1.81″ tall, while the Milwaukee tape is 0.88″ wide by 1.84″ deep by 1.88″ tall. The FatMax weighs 57 grams while the Milwaukee is slightly heavier at 67 grams.
Stanley says their FatMax tape is constructed from ABS with a rubber overmold. Milwaukee doesn’t say what plastic their tape is constructed from, but it has a similar rubber overmold. Milwaukee touts a five point reinforced frame and is constructed with two more screws than the FatMax. If you use both thumbs on the top of the case you can actually pull the two halves of the Stanley tapes shell apart slightly where there are no screws.
The Stanley FatMax tape measure is slightly smaller and lighter than the Milwaukee, but the Milwaukee is constructed more sturdily. Since these are both keychain tape measures where weight and size are important, Stanley gets the advantage for being smaller and lighter.
To be honest, this is probably the most important category, followed closely by the locking mechanism. Sure the other categories can affect your experience like a subtle seasoning on your hotdish, but the blade and end hook are the real meat.
The tang of the end hook on the Stanley obscures all of the marking between 0 and 1/2″, making it really hard to read measurements in this section. The tang of the Milwaukee end hook is smaller and doesn’t obscure the inch scale markings as much, but it still could be easier to read. On the Metric scale the tang doesn’t get in the way at all.
Stanley says their blade has a polymer coating while the Milwaukee says their blade has a nylon coating. This really doesn’t help differentiate the tape measures because nylon is a type of polymer. Both blades feel similar to the touch and bend with about the same force.
Both blades are the same width, I measure about 0.49″ for both. I’d say they are both nominally 0.5″ wide, with the cup in the blade throwing the measurements off a little bit, and both are 0.003″ thick. The Milwaukee blade seems to have a slightly deeper cup.
I measured standout by holding onto the tape between my thumb and forefinger and slowly played out the tape until it broke over then I’d repeat this going back and forth several times before settling on a number. I could get the FatMax to stand out about 38″, while I could get the Milwaukee to stand out about 42″.
The markings stop at exactly 72″ on the Stanley tape, while the marking on the Milwaukee stop at 2 meters, or about 79″. Both inch scales are in increments of 1/16″, but on the bottom scale of the Stanley they are added 1/32″ increments for the first 12″.
I would have to say the quality of the printing is better on the Milwaukee. I mentioned in the Stanley keychain tape update post that I was disappointed in both the color of the blade and the quality of the markings on it.
The Stanley tape has clear markings for every 12″ inches, while the Milwaukee only has a red circle around the number. And for every 16″ interval the Stanley has a red boxed number while the Milwaukee only has a diamond (which is usually used to denote intervals of 19.2), so that is a bit confusing. As for the 19.2″ interval, the FatMax has the traditional diamond, and the Milwaukee has no denotation.
The metric scale on the Milwaukee is marked in 1 mm increments and every 10 cm increment had a red boxed number instead of black printing.
I think the Milwaukee blade and end hook quality edge out the FatMax in this category, unless you really need those markings in 1/32″ increments.
Both locking levers work just fine. The FatMax has a little less positive feeling lock compared to the Milwaukee. With the locking lever engaged you can still push and pull the blade in and out on the Stanley, while the Milwaukee locks with shorter throw, a more positive click, and the blade doesn’t move.
I’m not sure if moving the blade will damage it or rub off the markings. I’ll give this one to Milwaukee for actually locking.
The chain on the FatMax has thinner links and terminates in a larger split ring, while the chain on the Milwaukee is much heavier and ends in a swivel clip.
I was really disappointed with the quality of the FatMax chain. The links kept opening up on me. After about a month of use I had finally had it, and constructed my own chain using a fishing swivel and split rings. I haven’t had a problem since.
As for the Milwaukee, the chain is beefy enough so that it doesn’t pull apart. I also like the swivel clip, which makes it much easier to remove the tape from your keys, belt loop, or whatever you attach it to. The swivel also keeps the chain from twisting, which I think was part of the problem with the FatMax chain pulling apart.
Milwaukee clearly has the better chain.
I carried the Stanley tape measure for a year in my pocket while I’ve only carried the Milwaukee for a month. Still, I think I’ve tested both tapes enough to judge the better keychain tape measure. I’ve used both tape measures almost every day and even wore the markings off the first 8″ or so of the blade on the first FatMax I owned.
Most of the time, 6 ft was plenty long for the tasks at hand. There were times when I think the sweet spot would have been 8 feet — the max dimension on most sheet goods. Of course no matter the tape you are always going to find a job where you need a longer one, but for my uses 6 ft had been adequate for about 90% of the time.
Three negatives about the Stanley FatMax keychain tape measure stem from the poor printing on the blade, the end hook-covered markings, and the low quality keychain. The only real negatives about the Milwaukee are the non-standard and harder-to-find markings for 12″ and 16″ intervals, and how the end hook tang partially obscures the markings.
The slight weight and size difference of the two keychain tape measures really isn’t enough for me to notice which tape is in my pocket. Doing more work on my 3D printer and X-Carve, I find myself using Metric more and more so the Metric scale on the Milwaukee is really nice to have.
So, in the final analysis I think the Milwaukee keychain tape measure is just a little bit better in every category except size and weight, but I think you get a little bit more robust tool for the added size and weight.
While you can find the Stanley FaxMax keychain tape measure just about everywhere for between $3 and $4, it’s a little harder to find the Milwaukee keychain tape measure. Home Depot was selling it as a Special Buy in three pack with a 16ft and 25ft tape, but you’ll have to pay $25 right now. A select few retailers like ToolUp and Zoro are selling the Milwaukee keychain tape alone for about $4.50.
Conclusion: The Milwaukee tape is better, but the Stanley FatMax is still good and also easier to find.
*Here are a few of Stuart’s photos that didn’t quite fit into earlier parts of the post.
Which tape style do you prefer?