I was trying to measure how long a piece of PVC pipe was with my EDC Milwaukee keychain tape measure, and I pulled the tape out too far. I pulled the tape so far and so hard that I broke the spring tab that attaches the blade to the internal mechanism.
I wasn’t immediately aware that something was wrong until I heard the telltale sound of the spring unwinding inside the tape measure case.
Stuart’s Note: I’ve had that happen in a drill press spring coil before. It’s a very dejecting sound enough to break one’s spirits!
Unfortunately, I can’t find a replacement Milwaukee keychain tape locally and I didn’t want to wait for one to ship. I was really bummed, not only because I broke one of my favorite tapes, but because I was having a bad day.
So if I couldn’t replace it that day, I was going to attempt to fix the tape — I needed a win to turn the day around no matter how small and how futile the win was. At the very least I was going to get to take something apart which always cheers me up a little.
I examined the blade, and it looked like it was undamaged. I then removed the 5 screws that hold the case together and opened the tape measure. I noticed right away that there was a broken piece of spring steel that is supposed to hold the tape.
To make the tape work again, I needed to create a new tab to hold the tape in place. At first I tried to cut the spring with a pair of side cutters and found that it just dented the spring. I knew that trying to cut the material with a saw wasn’t going to work without completely supporting it.
I sandwiched the spring steel between two pieces of wood, and made two shallow cuts on one side with a fine tooth hacksaw blade. Then I flipped the spring over and made two more cuts.
When I was done with the cuts, I bent the tabs until they broke off. The result? A new blade retention tab. The blade retention spring is now shorter and has some jagged edges, so it probably won’t be as robust as is was before, but it’ll work for now.
Once I hooked the blade back on the the spring tab, I wrapped the blade tightly around the spool. Past this point I don’t have any pictures, because you need 3 or 4 hands to hold everything in place with the spring wound, but I can still describe the process.
Looking at the photo above, the inner coil spring on the reel fits into the slot of the split center shaft integrated into one side of the case. You can also see how the inner spring is bent over to prevent it from slipping through the split shaft.
Just putting the reel in place with the spring through the shaft doesn’t provide enough recoil to get the tape back into the case when you pull it out. You’ll need to wind up the spring very tightly. By trial and error, I used pliers to wind the spring up tighter and tighter to get the right amount of recoil.
I found out that I had to wind the spring at least two more rotations than I thought was physically possible, and then slip the spring end into the split shaft without the spring exploding outwards.
I still don’t think I got it tight enough, as the tape still doesn’t have the same snap it used to. Once you get the spring on the shaft, you slip the spring cover over the reel and replace the other side of the case, all while making sure nothing unwinds and the lock is in the right location.
Once the other side of the case is on, it’s easy to replace and tighten all the screws.
My first observation is that it’s much easier just to not break the tape in the first place. Don’t pull the blade out past the multilingual “caution” and “stop” markings.
Speaking of the end of the tape, this tape was built so you can replace the blade, but when was the last time you saw a replacement blade for sale? I doubt we’ll see one for a keychain-sized tape measure that retails for $4 or so, but what about for 25′ tapes and other popular sizes?
Sure, I can find some replacement tapes online after some deep searching, but I swear I remember seeing them in brick and mortar stores. When I was a kid, I remember my dad replacing the blade in one of his old tape measures.
Have tape measures just become another disposable item, or are they so specialized that it’s not worth it?
Stuart’s Note: Could it be because some tapes are designed to be cheap and almost disposable, and more premium models are designed to endure much more abuse?
I was very surprised at how thin the tape lock was. It doesn’t seem like it’s thick enough to stand the abuse, but somehow it works.
Finally, I’d like to posit that you never really own something until you fix it or modify it. Of course I mean that more in the metaphorical sense. Personally, I usually become more attached to things that I have more intimate knowledge of, and one good way to get that knowledge is to break it.
Buy Now(via HD, or not, as it keeps going between in-stock and unavailable)
Safety Note: When working with springs and things that can fly up at your face, wear safety glasses. Ben’s showing you how he fixed his tape measure. How you use his guidance is at your own risk. Also, not all tape measures might be fixable.