A few weeks ago we wrote about Milwaukee’s new line of tape measures. Milwaukee’s new measuring tapes (tape measures, tape rules, call them what you will), are engineered with longevity in mind, but are nonetheless based off of the same design concepts that have changed little over the years.
Tape measures, which as you know come on many different sizes, shapes, and styles, are heavily used at jobsites, home workshops, and commercial settings.
I have begun testing Milwaukee’s new 25-foot magnetic tape measure and couldn’t resist the chance to compare it to Dewalt’s flagship 25-foot tape measure.
Milwaukee 48-22-5125, 25-foot magnetic tape measure, $25 via Home Depot. (Not-magnetic models and additional styles and sizes are coming soon – our Milwaukee tape measure preview includes an availability schedule.)
Main Selling Points
Milwaukee: tough nylon blade protection, durable case, large magnetic hook, finger-stop, vertical markings and architectural scale on back of blade.
Dewalt: 13-foot blade standout, large blade hook, Mylar blade coating, 3M plastic film helps protect first few inches of blade from damage.
Blade Lock Design
The ability to stop the blade with your finger – safely – gives Milwaukee an edge, but we must look passed that to the lock itself.
Milwaukee: prior to using the tape measure, I was concerned that the blade lock looked a bit smallish. However, I can find the lock quickly and easily by feel, and in practice it’s as comfortable to thumb forward or back as could be.
Dewalt: the blade lock is a little large and bulky for my liking, but is relatively comfortable to use. Dewalt advertises the blade lock as being duo-durometer for comfort and durability, which means it has a soft rubber overmold.
Blade Lock Engagement
Milwaukee: lock engagement is exceptionally good. Once the lock is engaged, pulling or pushing on the blade doesn’t cause it to budge.
Dewalt: lock engagement is generally poor, but passable. Gentle pressure will cause the blade to slip back into the case, and gentle pulling will disengage the lock where it’s largely ineffective. I suppose some users might prefer a lock where you can apply variable friction, but I like a lock that works properly.
It should be noted that I have two tape measure samples that were provided by Dewalt several months apart. The first appears to be an early production model (based on tape color) – and had a much worse locking mechanism that would slip every time. The one described here is a later production model.
Blade Retraction Spring Power/Recoil
I prefer tapes that have strong but gentle springs. I extended both tapes to 3′, 6′, and 10′ three times each and let them retract fully. The Milwaukee tape measure is slightly more gentle, the Dewalt transferred more of the blade retraction impact energy to my hand.
(By a small margin)
I found that both are equally easy to read. The Dewalt has a high-visibility green blade color, and the Milwaukee standard yellow but with high contrast markings. In theory, the Milwaukee tape reflects less glare.
Milwaukee: the nylon-bonded blade (1-1/16″ flat, 15/16″ bent) feels really good and evinces quality. It feels different, sounds different, and according to Milwaukee it will last appreciably longer than competing tapes. The print quality is a little more uniform, but you can only tell from close up.
Dewalt: this blade is a little wider (1-1/4″ flat, 1-1/8″ bent), which some users prefer, and has a plastic coating across the first 6-inches for greater durability. Dewalt and Stanley found that these first few inches are where a lot of blades fail. The Dewalt tape feels like glossy tin foil compared to Milwaukee’s, but so do all other mylar-coated blades.
Although I find myself preferring Milwaukee’s tape, being different does not necessarily make for better quality. Only time will tell whether Milwaukee’s tape design is more durable or not.
Milwaukee claims that their blade has a 9-foot standout. I cannot extend the blade more than 8-1/4 feet without supporting or reinforcing it with my other hand. 7 feet is the practical extension limit, and near 8-feet the standout becomes very unwieldy.
Dewalt claims that their blade has a 13-foot standout. Their tape can be extended to 9 feet comfortably, and even 10 feet without blade deflection. It deflects too much and becomes unwieldy after that, and pops at 12 feet.
Both brands have exaggerated standout claims, but if you need more than ~7-1/2 feet of standout, go with the Dewalt.
Both tapes have oversized blade hooks. Ignoring the magnetic properties of Milwaukee’s tape measure for a moment (Dewalt does not offer a magnetic tape, but Stanley FatMax does), both hooks are thoughtfully-shaped and engineered. Both are shaped to reference materials from top, bottom, or side edges, and both hooks have nail slots.
Comfort & Ergonomics
Milwaukee: I find that this tape measure fits my hands quite comfortable. The soft-overmolded case isn’t overdone and seems to be very carefully designed and engineered. It’s the perfect size for a 25-foot tape measure and has no pressure points.
Dewalt: I actually found this tape to be a bit too large for my hand. It’s only a tiny bit wider than the Milwaukee, but I can feel the difference. The width of the case, size and position of the locking lever, and high blade retraction recoil makes this a less than ideal choice for my medium-sized hands.
(Unless you can’t do without the extra-wide blade.)
Milwaukee: the wire-loop belt hook is a little more difficult to slide onto my belt, but is more secure.
Dewalt: the bent-metal belt hook slips on easier, but is less secure.
(By a small margin, based on preference.)
Milwaukee: Milwaukee says that additional structural fastening points makes for a stronger case.
Dewalt: Dewalt says that their tape measure is “Dewalt Tough”.
(Until one proves to be stronger in practice.)
Scorecard: Milwaukee: 5 | Dewalt: 1 | Tie: 4
Overall, I find myself preferring Milwaukee’s 25-foot tape measure over Dewalt’s. From as objective a standpoint I can muster, both are very high quality tape measures. But tape measures are the kind of tool where subjectiveness and opinions make a world of difference.
With Stanley’s long history producing great tape measures (the PowerLock just hit its 50th anniversary), I wouldn’t have expected anything other than absolute perfection from Dewalt’s flagship tape measure. The Dewalt tape measure is well designed and well built, except for the blade lock, which was exceptionally poor on an early production sample and passable – but still crummy – on a later production model.
By itself, the Dewalt tape measure is better than a lot of the other options on the market. But when compared to Milwaukee’s, the Dewalt falls short in 5/10 categories. 4/9 if we assume the flawed blade lock was another fluke defect. The only area the Dewalt tape measure bests Milwaukee’s is in standout.
I found that both brands’ standout claims were higher than my tests showed, but with its wider blade the Dewalt is controllable past 10 feet, while the Milwaukee limit is between 7 and 8 feet. I anticipate that Milwaukee’s 35-foot tapes might offer greater standout.
I am still working on a full review of the Milwaukee 25-foot tape measure, but I think my mind’s made up. It is very thoughtfully designed and well built. Quite frankly, Milwaukee got everything right, which is surprising given that this is Milwaukee’s first in-house attempt at bringing professional-grade tape measures to market, but not surprising given their recent track record with hand tools. (They made a 25-foot magnetic tape measure a while back, but I don’t believe it was engineered in-house.)
At the end of the day, Milwaukee’s 25-foot magnetic tape measure blows Dewalt’s 25-foot tape measure completely out of the water.
Both brands’ tape measures are priced at $25.
Thank you to Dewalt for providing a review sample unconditionally. Review samples are typically given away, donated, or retained for benchmark and comparison purposes. The Milwaukee tape measure was purchased at full retail price from Home Depot.