Handmade Wood Tape Measure




About: My Grandpa got me into wood working when I was five years old. Ever since then I have been hooked. I love creating something out of nothing, making something old new or using trash to make something beautifu...

I am the father of two amazing kids. My kind and caring son is four (he would correct me and say four and a half) and my beautiful independent daughter just turned two. They are awesome!

I'm telling you this because it is currently 11:45 pm and I am just sitting down to start on this latest instructable. Now this may not seem like an important detail to everyone but for those of us blessed to have young children, you know that this is a big deal. Having two young kids means that I am tired all the time. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I don't want to seem like I'm whining. I'm just stating it as an unfortunate fact, like birds poop on nice cars. It sucks but there's nothing you can do about it so...

Anyway, me being up this late writing this instructable instead of embracing sweet slumber while lying next to my beautiful wife can only mean one thing. I am really excited about this project! I am... I have been thinking about doing something like this for a long time and thanks to instructables inspiration, it is done.

I have seen some amazing homemade tools while browsing on this site and others. Big ones, small ones, useful ones and silly ones. But I have never in all my searching found a wood tape measure. When I told my family what I was doing my sister said "isn't that just a ruler?" Not exactly. Now there are some "wood" tape measures out there but those are just a tape measure with a wood cover. Lame. This is a handmade wood tape measure that is fully functional and only two internal parts were used.

This was a moderately difficult project but not too bad. I really love how it turned out and if you and looking for an original tool or maybe a really cool gift then please give this a go. Thanks so much for reading and enjoy my wooden tape measure.


Step 1: What You Need

I'll let you know the tools I used for this project but they can be substituted for others. For this project I used the following.

Scrap maple and black walnut

A small piece of sample veneer

A broke tape measure

Scroll saw

A creative spirit

Drill press

A 2 5/8 fostner bit

A rotozip bit


Miscellaneous drill bits



Carving knives

A generous wife that lets me have some time in my shop.

Step 2: Broken Tape Measure

It all started with a broken tape measure. This particular brand and style is my very favorite. It's a 25 foot and it's comfortable and has all of the fractions written out. I just really like it. Well I dropped this one and the locking slide broke off.

It really wasn't that big of a deal and I had 3 more just like this one so i put it to the side. I can't throw anything away for fear of there being some obscure use for it years down the road so it sat on my bench for a while.

Finally I got the idea of making my own. I did a quick search to get some inspiration but I found nothing. So I started thinking about some really great designs... And then I went on vacation and forgot about it for 2 weeks. (My vacation wasn't two weeks. I had a work trip and then a family vacation after that. I wish I went on a two week vacation)

When I got back I took the tape measure apart to figure out how it worked. It was really pretty simple. The tape was wound around the spool and in the middle there was a slotted stud. The tape slipped into the slot and the more you wound it, the faster it would return.

I kept the tape and the slotted stud and made everything else.

Step 3: The Wood

I used two pieces of maple that were 4" wide and 6" long. I also used a small piece of black walnut for the lock slide. I sent the pieces over my joiner to get smooth sides. The i started to hollow the interior.

Step 4: The Middle

I wanted to have the perfect size chamber in the middle so the spool could spin freely. It also had to be smooth to avoid catching. I did not have a bit big enough to take on the job so I had to buy one. I measured the approximate size of the spool and settled on a 2 5/8 fostner bit. A quick search on Amazon and i found the size I was looking for for around $20.

I put the bit in my drill press and very very slowly started to hollow the hole. I have a decent size bench top drill press but this bit was a lot to handle. When you try this please be very slow so you don't hurt your drill of break you belt.The

I cut down about 3/4" down in the middle of the board. It was a slow process but yielded great results. Then I had to cut a slot of the tape to exit the tape measure.

To cut the slot first I used a 1/8 fostner bit to cut holes all the way down my marks. Then I grabbed my chisel and smoothed everything out, sort of.

I don't work with chisels as much as I would like to and I didn't get it perfect. It looked pretty good until I saw the last picture for this step.

If you will look at the last picture of this step you will see that I cut the slot in the same spot on both sides. This was a dumb moment. Because I cut them both on the same side, when I put the pieces together the slots didn't line up. Realizing my mistake I made another side and tried my hardest not to mess it up.

Step 5: The Shaft

On the outside of the tape measure I planed on in laying a piece of veneer so I used the same fostner bit to cut a shallow hole in the outside as well.

Remember that slotted shaft? This little shaft is imperative of you want your tape to recoil. I drilled a 9/32 hole and then used a chisel to cut a square in the top so the shaft end would fit.

Then I used some two part epoxy to secure it into place.

Step 6: Cut It Out

This part was pretty easy. I drew a design and cut it out. I looked at some of the tapes on my bench to see what I wanted it to look like. I wanted it to have some character so I gave it a cool shape and a few little divots and groves to make it easier to hold on to.

When everything was cut out I put it together and made sure that everything lined up and looked good. Then I drilled a small hole so you could insert a small screw into the end of the shaft.

Step 7: The Locking Slide

This was by far the hardest part of this project. I had to do quite a lot of brain storming and then eventually I just went for it. I really have no idea how to do this properly. The way that I did it worked... Kind of, and I will explain it as well as I can.

I used a small piece of black walnut to make the slide stop. I used the scroll saw to cut out a general shape. The stop was easy, the channel that the slide went into was not.

Again I used a fostner bit to start the channel. I was going to use the chisel but it wasn't working as well as I wanted due to the curved channel. Finally I used a roto zip blade in my drill press. I raised the platform and changed the belts to have a higher rpm than I usually do while drilling. I successfully used the bit to smooth out the side and get theThe curve I was looking for.

Next I tried to put in the slide and make sure that if fit. It did not. I had to keep shaving the sides until it moved freely in one side and then I put the other side on and shaved until it slid freely with the two sides together.

Step 8: Glue and Sand

I glued the case together and did my best not use too much glue so that it squeezed into the slide or chamber. Then I started to sand. There was a lot of sanding!

First I made sure that all of the sides were flush and then I got out some carving knives and gave it some details.

Step 9: Making It Pretty

At this point the tape measure was fully functional. It would have worked fine as it was but of course I had to make it pretty. I won these awesome carving knives from the wood toys contest and I decide to try them out. They were awesome!

First I cut a few notches on the bottom so I could get a better grip. Then I put some detail in the sides and finally on the top. I really like how it turned out. I think that a little detail goes along way. The

Step 10: Finish and Finished

I used a gloss spray polyurethane and to tell you the truth, it think it's too shinny. I think that I would have been better off using a paste like a butcher block conditioner. Lesson learned.

All in all I'm really happy with how this turned out. It was a fun and original project that I would encourage anyone to take on. If you are looking for an interesting piece for your shop or a great gift give this one a go.

If you have any question please don't hesitate to ask and as always, thank you so much for reading.


Woodworking Contest 2017

Second Prize in the
Woodworking Contest 2017

Build a Tool Contest 2017

Runner Up in the
Build a Tool Contest 2017



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    46 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I went through all of the comments. However I did not find the answer to my query.

    How did you tighten the spring without it going sproing on you? AND managing to get the two sides together at the same time without it popping out?

    Thank you :)


    2 years ago

    Hello Andy. First of all, thank you for taking the time to create this instructable. I enjoyed it very much. I would consider this a functional heirloom piece. It is beautiful and something that I would actually attempt to build.

    I am, in no way, in a position to criticize your work. Instead, I do have a thought about your difficulty with the locking slide. Would it have been easier to make the locking slide first and the slot, which it fits in, second? Maybe draw a line on the inside of the case (this would be the intended shape of the groove which the locking slide will fit in), make the locking slide next (using the shape of the line) and then trace the actual shape of the completed locking slide onto the inside of the case.

    I have 2 questions. 1) How did you get the shape and location of the grooves for the metal tape & locking slide on both cases (mirror image)? 2) What makes the locking slide actually lock?

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for your interest in my tape measure. Your suggestion about the slide lock is spot on. I'm sure having that piece to trace would have simplified things.
    On to your questions, regarding the groves for the tape. I was still working with a square block when I cut that one out. So I used my square to mark a line at the bottom of the circle and then marked another line 3/8" above that. Because both main holes were drilled at the same measurement, I was able to copy pretty easily. The slide stop was not as easy. To be honest, I drew a rough estimation line on to both sides and cut out more as needed. Not the best way, but it worked.

    The thumb slide works because it fits nice and tight in the channel where it sits. In the donor tape measure there was a small plastic piece that was separate from the thumb stop. When that piece was pushed down it would flex and push down on the outside of the tape locking it in place. I did not use that piece for two reasons, one because I wanted to limit the number of pieces that I didn't make and two... Because it broke in half before I had a chance to use it. Mine works because it is quite tight in the channel and it will stay in the position that you place it in. Hope I have answered your questions.

    ClenseYourPalletDIY KING 00

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you! I thought it was a pretty cool idea and I'm thrilled with how it turned out


    2 years ago

    this is the most interesting intractable I have read. Now that I'm a grandpa who is making up for short hours of sleep I've got to do this and give one to my sons who are up with their toddlers and teens

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    This made my day! Thank you sir. If you decide to make one, please send a picture. Thank you


    2 years ago

    Let me add my gushing praise as well. This is so cool and extremely well documented.

    I especially appreciate your writing style and willingness to share "oops" moments - yeah, I so would have cut the slot on the wrong side as well! Kudos for not "hiding" your mistakes. It gives hope to the rest of us! ;-)

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Oh the "oops" moments. I have more of them than I care to admit. But here's the thing, there's always more wood and you certainly don't learn as much when everything goes smooth. Thanks for the kind words


    2 years ago

    This is one of those projects I've actually given some thought to but never got to, this is truly outstanding. The difference is in the details (the carved details, walnut thumb lock) and they really make a difference. Thanks for sharing and the inspiration to give it a try.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    It really started to take shape when I took the carving knives to it. Thanks for the kind words


    2 years ago

    Out of all the projects I've ever seen on here, this one ranks in the top ten. Cool

    1 reply