You’re going to love this. Here is a tool review of a brand new tool that I’ve had in my pouch for XX years…I mean xx years…since high school, how’s that?
I bought my first tape along with my first tool apron and hammer at Town Paint and Supply—a place that was old then. (And apparently is still old; so established are they, they apparently have no need for a website.) It was a Stanley PowerLock 25 footer and I have a brand new one (model # 33-425) on my desk as I write this.
I’ve given some thought to the circular notion that I use it now because I used it then, but its not the case. I use neither the same hammer nor tool pouch from Town Paint. But for my work and the way I roll on a jobsite, the PowerLock does more—better and faster—than other tapes.
Size. It starts with the size. No one will accuse me of having large hands and the PowerLock fits in my hand nicely. A 30-footer feels a bit too big and a 35 feels like a case of beer. The squatter, rounder topped tapes with wider (1 1/4 inch) blades feel too bulky. I can hold the 33-425 in my hand, pay out tape, and bend the tape—say for measuring across a floor or from floor to ceiling—in a fluid motion without having to readjust the tape in my hand. Multiply that second or distraction I don’t spend messing with my tape times for the thousands of measurements I take and that adds up to some real time.
What’s more, I can pay the tape out with my right hand and “brake” it with my left index finger effortlessly. I do this so many times per project it is uncountable for everything from measuring to pointing at something that someone needs to see or understand. (I can’t be the only one who uses my tape as a laser pointer.)
Stand-Out and Recoil. PowerLock pales in comparison to its brethren’s stand-out—how far you can extend the tape before the blade “breaks.” I can get just over 7 feet. But the reality is, for my work, I don’t need much more than that. It gets me close enough to most things that I can hook on without a ridiculous amount of extra walking (say, a deck joist or to an inside corner for molding) so its fine. For most measurements beyond that—say for running crown across a room or laying out for drywall—I need a helper or to hook the tape on a screw to get an accurate corner-to-corner measurement. Even if I had 20 feet of stand-out I couldn’t use it in most cases.
As for recoil, it recoils at what I consider to be a reasonable speed. Compare that with other tapes that recoil at what I consider to be the speed of light. This may be totally subjective, but I notice it. And on a jobsite I don’t want to spend time noticing it. I want to focus on my work.
Slippery. By and large, I want the slippery to be grippy: soles of my boots, handle of my roofing nailer, my hammer, the steering wheel in my truck. But I don’t want it for my tape. The PowerLock’s sleek, non-stick, boxy shape enables me to do two things I cannot do well with other tapes—no-look, no-snag grabs. I can get it out of—and back into—my tool pouch pocket seamlessly. The rubber overmolds combined with wider boxes on some tapes means I have to fidget for a beat—at least with my tool pouch—because the grippy rubber is doing what it is supposed to do. As for the hook on the back, it works like a charm. I can slide it over my belt or edge of a clipboard while doing an estimate. Easy.
Hook End. The PowerLock’s hook end is a simple L that works for nearly everything I do from decks to trim, fences to doors. What’s more, because it’s only contoured on one side, it stays upright better when extended (the bottom-heavy blade doesn’t roll over as easily) and doesn’t hook or otherwise get stuck on stuff I don’t want it stuck on. Getting a tape snagged up on a roof, in a bush on a deck or fence site, or at the end of a long day running flooring is an engraved, hand-delivered invitation to use bad language. Loud bad language.
The hook-end is also the greatest wear point on any tape—right around the 1-inch mark. Despite their uber ruggedness, I have been through a number of PowerLocks over the years. The thing that gets them the most isn’t any kind of jobsite beat-down that the world of work doles out. Rather, it’s water. I’m not one to let a little (or a lot) of rain send me home so my tapes get wet and once water (and mud and stuff) get inside, well, its the beginning of the end. After a batrillion more slap-slams back into the box, the water trapped in the box eats away at the coating on the blade, then the steel gets a little rust going, then it crinks, and eventually the blade breaks—and this is why I have two of them all the time, even though I don’t buy them at Town Paint and Supply any more.