by Christopher Cunningham
That shopworn adage “Measure twice, cut once” has sown in me the seeds of doubt, and I frequently back away from my bandsaw, tablesaw, or chopsaw to remeasure. The habit can save me from wasting expensive materials, but it eats up time and verges on an OCD behavior. My potential for error with a tape measure is in reading the hashmarks incorrectly and mistakenly recording or remembering the numbers.
The eTape16 takes my fallibility out of the process. It is a 16′ tape measure with an onboard computer and a digital readout. The 3/4″-wide tape has the usual markings in inches and centimeters, but between them there’s a row of what looks like a Morse-code message in rectangular dots and dashes. I’m guessing the markings pass by some optical scanner inside the polycarbonate case and translate them into the numbers in an LCD display powered by a 3-volt CR2032 button battery.
There are four buttons on the side of the case. The top button, marked hold, will flash the distance you’ve measured so you can let the tape retract and not lose the measurement. The button on the left has arrows pointing in opposite directions. Pushing will change the measuring from the front of the case for outside measurements or to the back, for inside measurements, adding the 3″ length of the case. (The hook on the end of the tape has the usual sliding feature for inside/outside measuring.)
The button on the right has two functions. A click will halve the distance measured, giving you the measurement for the item’s midpoint. The second function, re-zeroing, will turn the measurement displayed to zero. You can then move the case to a second point to get the distance between it and the first point. The bottom button changes the units between feet with fractional inches, fractional inches, decimal inches, decimal feet, and centimeters.
The tape is accurate to 1/16″ or 1mm. The display will change its reading about halfway between each mark on the tape, so if I need better accuracy, I’ll look at the tape and see if I need to refine the measurement with a plus or minus sign as is often done in a table of offsets.
On the top of the case there are two memory buttons. Holding a button down for a second will store the measurement, pressing it again will recall the measurement. You can record two measurements in the memory, then save a third with the hold button. After I’ve picked up the measurement I need, I can take it to the workpiece I need to cut, hook the tape over an end, and pull the case out until the measurement I want appears on the display. With a sharp pencil I can draw a mark along the appropriate end of the base. Using the back side, and with the eTape16 set to take an inside measurement, gives me the unobstructed end for my mark; set for an outside measurement, enough of the base extends beyond the tape to make a readable mark. Moving the case very slowly to get to the number you want on the display delays its response, and then it’s best to verify the measurement using the markings on the tape.
The measuring tape of my dreams would not just record measurements but record a setting when measuring and then lock the tape at the same setting when it is pulled out along the work piece. That may not be in the offing, so in the meantime, the eTape 16 promises to save me time and eliminate errors.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
The eTape16 is available for $29.95 from manufacturer as well as some woodworking and home improvement stores and online retailers.
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