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.
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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.
Benjamin, I feel like you need a comment, so here it is……
I found an “old” style 6′ Fatmax at Lowe’s a day or two after you had your last 6′ tape article and I’m quite glad to have it, it’s quite handy.
Either this article is just in time, or I made the wrong purchase. I just bought 6 of those tape measure for me & as gifts. They are a very convenient size. Now I always have a tape measure with me if I have my work coat. I’ve used it several times in the last week, rather than remembering how far up my arm the measurement was.
Thanks for the
Kudos Ben! Hope your day was better! Reading this made my day better.
whilst I agree taking things apart often makes me feel better too. I don’t know I would have put the effort in.
Yes I consider tapes to be disposable items these days. sorry but as cheap as some exist and as solid but cheap other offerings are I think my most expensive one is the fatmax auto version I bought off a review from this site. and that was under 20 something when I bought it
Hope the day turned around.
Your words and quote,
“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.”
No more needs to be said.
What’s your point?
It’s as if you just said “Speeding is bad”.
You’re merely restating the obvious!
My point is……that it was printed for a reason,.
So you do not wreck it.
There are ome people should not use tools.
However,I am sure that Benjamen can speak for himself, without your help.
Sorry. That should have said:
What I didn’t say in the post was the reason I broke the tape. It really didn’t fit into the narrative I was trying to tell.
I usually leave the key chain tape clipped to my belt loop and pull out the blade far enough so that I can use it. Usually I’m only measuring something a few feet or less. When I was outside dealing with my sump pump drainage pipe and tying to figure out how I was going to keep it from freezing in the upcoming 10F overnight, I pulled the blade out to measure a section of pipe that was about 4 feet long. I didn’t even think about the fact the tape was still on my belt loop and I yanked it out way farther than I should have.
To be safe, if you are going to leave the tape clipped to your belt you should probably use something longer than your arm span plus a few feet, like a 10 footer.
My observation section after the fact was meant to be more of a general case, not necessarily pertinent to my situation.
I have done this a few times, whit diferent results.
I hate when the tape claims 8m and you are measuring 7,80m and sounds like is falling apart. That happened me with a non cheap Stabila “made in germany” tape measure.
As you said is near impossible to tight the spring back to ideal point.
But is fun to try…
I think like you: when you open something it’s yours forever.
I’ve done pretty much the same thing a couple times but I used a Dremel tool to notch the spring. I found that if you leave the end of the spring ragged it drags on the inside of the case/reel. Using a Dremel tool allows you to smoothen the end of the spring so it works slicker. I can’t tell for sure without taking your tape apart, but I’m willing to bet that is at least partly why it doesn’t retract with the snap it used to.
Yes! I was just considering how an abrasive cutter might be able to make those cuts without the wood-clamping trick.
That’s a good point, I was more worried about the rough edges of the spring eventually cutting through the blade, but it’s possible that it could be causing more friction too.
I’ve noticed these Lufkin tapes poking around alot of checkouts lately, anyone try one?
Haven’t used that particular one but have had good luck with Lufkin in general.
I haven’t seen that one yet either. I’d pick up a few on the spot.
I bought a few Lufkins this holiday season, will see how they hold out. I’ve had good luck with a few past models, and current models left me with a good first impression. Their online reviews are sometimes less than stellar though.
Tape measures are definitely disposable for me. I have a set of nice ones from Milwaukee that I got from Home Depot last christmas on a deal (BOGO for $25). Then I have probably 8-10 more that I get free from Harbor Freight when they put out their sales ad, there is always a coupon to get a free one if you buy anything, so I go buy something super cheap and get my free tape. However, they aren’t too bad and have held up better than I thought.
I usually try to find a coupon for a free flashlight when I go to HF to buy a box of chip brushes or nitrile gloves – two of about the only things I find that I buy there.
I have and have given away some of their tape measures – and sometimes our local HF add offers them with no purchase necessary. I’m not sure that I like the 1/8-7/8 fractional “easy-read” markings on their bottom edge.
To Jerry’s comment about using a Dremel – it might also help the new notch be a bit more resilient to future failure if you could not cut square corners – thus providing some stress relief.
Always fun and enjoyable to fix something that you broke even if like, in this case, it wasn’t really worth the work. I would have tried to fix it even if it was only a 4 dollar item, If it couldn’t be fixed or I couldn’t do it I would just chuck it. No real lose there. Nice job.
“Have tape measures just become another disposable item . . . ”
In some cases, yes. I have some excellent older Stanley tapes that are used sparingly to extend there life and have cheapy tapes for everyday use. One of my new favorites a Komelon 12′ self lock push button tape. It’s light weight, small enough to pocket and works great. Best of all they currently sell on Amazon for only $3.46 with “free” Prime shipping. Bought a boat load of them to hand out as gifts and everybody loves them. The 5/8″ blade stands out 4′ on it’s own and a very useful 6′-7″ using two hands. Also, the blade color and markings are almost exactly the same as a Stanley which makes it very easy to use for us longtime Stanley users. Have used and abused one for many months on the job and it’s still going strong.
I second the Komelon. I have that same one in front of my right now as a matter of fact… 😀
Jay, thanks for mentioning this deal. I needed some stocking stuffer gifts and a $3 something Komelon tape measure is perfect for that. That is what I’d call a screaming deal as the same tape is over $8 locally. Ordered several and get your order total aboven$25 and I got free 2 day Prime shipping.
Should say I ordered several and got my order total above $25 and got free shipping. Still waiting for that edit button, LOL!
Benjamen, look like you have fun that’s what matter. I have attempt to fix my 25′ Dewalt before. It broke while I was measuring something about 15′. As soon as I open the cover I realized it would be a lot of work to rewind the 25 footer once I fix it so I quickly discard the entire idea all together. So off the the home depot I went…
I know this is a review site, but more articles like this please.
Yes, I overextended my tape measure once again. Just the second time it’s happened. I live in Mexico City and this Truper-brand Mexican made $2 tape cannot be opened but I figured out that if you insert the end of the (yellow) tape back in over (not under) the end of the spring, it’ll reset it. I just held out the spring with my hand to prevent to lose it inside. It worked like a charm. Maybe it could work with other brands. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t spent more than $4.50 on a tape ever. That’s what I paid for my 40′. Maybe you can save at least a trip to the store.
What the article about why tape measure blades are disposable and the author can’t easily find replacement parts, is the LINK TO REPLACEMENT PARTS.
Where did you find the new spring?
I’d rather not trash the 20′ tape measure!
After overextending my 12 foot tape measure, I looked at your directions. Being a handy gal, I had mine fixed in about 5 minutes since it was not broken, just over extended. Took longer to go find the screwdriver than to fix it! Thanks
Thank you for the useful information! I was able to fix my mini tape measure using your post. I found that a spring clamp holding the spring down as I wound it was helpful, and a second clamp at the ready on the end of the spring if needed – you need fewer hands then, and can even walk away mid-assembly without it unraveling.
I don’t have a caution note on my measuring tape I found a different way to fix it all I did was try to put it back in and keep on locking it and unlocking it over and over.
I just wanted to say thank you for posting instructions on how to repair a tape measure. I had a rather bad day trying to home school my daughter after her computer broke and no amount of Googling and updating could fix it. I decided to go try something else and measure my office for the square footage since I was remodeling it. I over extended it and it broke since I had no idea how long it was or how sturdy it would be. I Googled how to fix it and found your instructions. It took me 4 times to try to wind it with the pliers without it unwinding, but I was able to fix it where it would quickly snap the tape measure back inside. It was a small but determined win that let me at least end the day on an upbeat note. Thanks again!
Thanks for this.
I put a longitudinal cut in a brass rod with the same diameter as the spindle in the tape measure and wound the spring using a drill cordless drill at slow speed holding the spring in my hand (using heavy duty gloves to avoid cuts). I held the split brass rod open with a washer.