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Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 5-12-2012
The days of having a single tape measure for everything in my shop have officially come to an end. The number of truly usable variations has exceeded my willpower – but not my common sense. The thinking behind some of these tape measures makes them more than a little handy in virtually any shop. At the end of this review we will look at a Lufkin metal “stick” type rule that is definitely specialized but interesting nonetheless.
The folks at Lufkin have been making measuring tools for a very long time and have gotten very good at coming up with designs that actually work and have utility in the shop or workplace. We need not get into detail about the spring wind-up system or the thumb brake/tape lock on the tapes shown in this review because Lufkin has had those features handled for decades so there is nothing new in that regard.
Lufkin also set the standard for printing clear, easy to read scales and graduations on specially curved metal tapes that extend further before “falling” through. Lufkin also applies a plastic-like protective coating on the tapes to keep the markings clear longer in the abrasive laden world we expect them to work in.
I still get asked this quite often so yes – the hook on the end of the tape is still loose and supposed to stay that way. You will notice that almost all of the steel hooks at the ends of tape measures are “loose” the same amount. That is because when you measure inside of something, the tip pushes back onto the tape so you get a true measurement. However when you hook the tip over the outside edge of a board to measure, the tip slides out an amount equal to the thickness of the steel tip. An automatic compensation so you still get a precise measurement. So, don’t hammer the rivets down to get rid of the play at the tip!
The L625 is the plain Jane of the trio of tape measures we look at here. It has the tough steel tape with precise markings that are sized to be easy to read. Double black-boxed numbers (foot on top, inches below) appear at each one-foot increment and red indicators appear every 16-inches for framing work. And they include the mysterious black diamonds used for laying out roof trusses for snow loads. Using the black diamonds you get 5 trusses rather than 4 within an 8ft sheet of plywood. Count down the tape to the fifth black diamond and presto, it’s on the 8-foot mark!
The case surrounding the L625 tape and mechanism is nicely rounded to be comfortable when hanging on your belt using the tough steel belt clip. The thumb button for locking the tape is placed where it should be and works positively.
The L625SCT has all of the same features as the L625 above except that we now have two numbering formats. Across the top edge of the tape is the expected inch scale that is broken down with easy to read 1/8” graduations separated by finer 32” markings.
Along the bottom of the tape is a scale that shows the exact center of the pieces width as shown on the top row of numbers. Put the tape on a 12”-wide piece of wood. Look directly below the 12” mark and you see the 6” in red telling you where the center of the board is. I know this is simple with a nice round number but when the boards aren’t sized to nice round numbers to make life easy for you the L625SCT tape measure steps up and makes you look smart. It also makes you faster and more accurate.
Once again this tape has all of the same internal mechanisms and tape qualities of the previous tapes but with a very important exception. The numbers run down the tape, not along the edges. The foot/inches markers are included as are the 16 framing layout patterns and the black diamonds.
What isn’t so common are the labeled 1/8” graduations with 1/16” hash marks filling in the spaces between those. On the other edge of the tape are decimal figures for each inch. If you are working with tech drawings or blueprints, this scale could be what makes your project come out right the first time.
Easily the most specialized measuring device here the Tinner's Steel Circumference Rule is a valuable, labor and timesaving tool when in educated hands. This stick rule is 1-1/4”-wide, 48”-long and made from 1/16”-thick steel. All of the lettering and graduation marks are very bold, etched into the steel and then black filled to enhance readability.
Along the top edge is a simple inch scale with graduations every 1/16”. Look along the bottom edge and the wheels come off if you are not in the sheet metal trade. The circumference scale just looks foreign but makes laying out the parts for circular containers and other pieces much easier. To make the circumference even easier to use the back surface of the Tinner's Steel Circumference Rule is covered with charts and formulas such as Flaring Wet and Dry Measures and size tables for making pitched and flat top cans. I get the feeling that all of the necessary tables/formulas are on this rule because they left the last 12-3/8” of the back surface blank!
The Tinner's Steel Circumference Rule is a very interesting tool and could be of interest to even part time metalworkers who want to explore making their own cans and containers. This rule is very flexible so could also be handy in any shop for laying out projects that are not perfectly flat.
I have not used the Tinner's Steel Circumference Rule yet because I am not that kind of sheet metal worker. However, it has been given its own space in the corner so I can bring it out later when I have some time to see if I can actually make a can or something with it.
The remaining tapes were used in my shop for this evaluation and all performed very well. The numbers and graduations on all three are clear and large enough to be seen clearly by even my 60-something eyes. The cases are comfortable to the hand and their rounded shape does not dig into your side when stored on your belt. The coiled-spring return springs are plenty strong and the locking slider button works exactly as you expect it to.
I like the various numbering formats on these Lufkin tapes as well as their 25-foot length which seems to be about right for most home and home-shop work. The Self-Centering tape has been my favorite for years because it makes me more accurate and way faster when laying out a centered job. The vertical numbering on the QUICKREAD tape is handy and really does seem to make layout a little easier and faster. Something about the numbers aligning across the tape rather than down and edge just seems to work for me.
I compared all three of these tapes against the two tapes I have been using for years because they are very accurate. All three of the Lufkin tapes look to be right on the money according to my own tapes. At least I now have 5 tapes that all read the same so that has to show accuracy.
If you expected anything but good quality measuring tools from Lufkin you just do not understand the world as it really is. These folks have been producing measuring devices for a very long time and have been considered at the head of that class pretty much the whole time.
The L625 tape has a street price of around $9.00, the L625SCT Self-Centering tape around $6.00 and the QRL625 QUICKREAD carries a street price of about $11.00. (5-12-2012) The Lufkin 1 1/4" x 4' Tinner's Steel Circumference Rule turns out to be the most expensive with a common retail of $80.00! Prices will naturally vary from outlet to outlet but there is no way that the Lufkin measuring tools reviewed here can be considered expensive. That means that they can be considered a very good deal that will last a long, long time.