Measuring tape case

Length of Project:
Project theme:
Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • small tape measure (new or used, 6' or so)
  • block of wood, about 3/4" larger in each diameter than the original case
  • wood glue
  • two 1/4" wood screws
  • non-toxic wood finish
Tool list
  • screw drivers
  • masking tape
  • bandsaw
  • drill press
  • Forstner bit (slightly larger than your internal measuring tape reel)
  • small hand saw (or chisel)
  • awl
  • clamps
  • table sander
  • wood file(s)
  • sand paper, various grits
  1. Take apart your used measuring tape case, and remove the roll of tape and the spring mechanism. Be careful to hang onto the end of the tape so it doesn’t fly out, as it will be under tension. Using the masking tape, gently wrap the measuring tape and spring assembly so it stays wrapped up.
  2. Decide the orientation of grain you want on your block of wood, and then use the empty case as a stencil and trace the side outline onto your wood, or simply draw a smaller square.  (Your final product will be stronger if you orient the end grain to the top or front of the case, instead of the sides).
  3. Cut out this smaller square or shaped outline on the bandsaw.
  4. Next, cut off a 3/16” vertical slice from the SIDE of your block to access the middle where the tape will go. You now have the body and the side of the new case. At this point, you may want to clean up the faces of this cut with a sander or sand paper and a flat surface to make a smooth fit when you glue it back on.
  5. Make a centre space for the tape reel: measure the diameter and the width of the rolled up measuring tape you wrapped in masking tape. Choose a Forstner bit that is at least ¼" in diameter larger, and use it to drill a hole in the centre of your block (case body) that is 1/8” deeper than the width of the tape.
  6. Using your hand saw or chisel, carefully cut a slot in the front bottom of the block for the end of the tape to sit. Widen it if necessary to make sure your slot is wide enough for the tape to move freely, but not so wide that the metal tip gets stuck inside.
  7. With your awl, make two tiny holes on either side of the point made by the Forstner bit.  Dip your ¼" screws in some wood glue, and screw them into the holes until they catch (if you drill too deep, they might stick out of the side of your new case). Let the glue dry to make sure the screws are solidly in place before moving onto the next step.
  8. CAREFULLY unwrap the masking tape from the measuring tape roll, and hold on TIGHT so it doesn't jump out of your hand and unwind like in the photo. It takes a while to wind back up...
  9. Fit the angled metal end in the centre of the measuring tape roll between the two screws in your case; they will prevent the tape from unwinding and loosening.
  10. Play with the tension and retraction of your tape: manually extend the tape out like you are about to measure something. If it is too loose, and doesn't retract well, carefully lay another wrap of measuring tape around your roll, holding the centre in place so it doesn't jump out of the case. Place the side cover on and test out your new tape measure to make sure it pulls out and winds up properly.
  11. When you are happy with the tension, apply wood glue to the edges, and clamp the cover on. Pull the tape out and keep it extended with another clamp on the other side of your workbench, this will keep the internal tape roll away from any glue squeeze-out inside the case.
  12. When the glue is try, use the sander or files to shape your measuring tape case.  You may choose to round the edges or leave them square.  Be careful not to take off too much material and expose the screw tips or the inner space where the tape reel is. 
  13. Smooth the exterior with increasing sandpaper grits until you reach your desired smoothness. In this example, 200+ grit was used to make the case soft to the touch.
  14. Apply your chosen non-toxic finish. Keep in mind that an oiled finish will feel much different in your hand than a varnish will.
  15. Use your new measuring tape to make more projects!
Extension Challenges
  1. Play with inlays of contrasting woods. For example, you could cut the original block in a few different orientations and glue a thin layer of another wood type before you make the project cuts.
  2. Use a CNC machine to cut out your pieces for you. You could make this project in two halves by getting the computer to cut the outside shape and hollow out the centre (instead of the asymmetrical design using the Forstner bit).
  3. Carve or wood burn details onto your case, or try inlaying a coin or piece of shell or other thin object into the side.
  4. Look around at other objects or tools you use that have plastic on or around them. Choose one of these objects, remove the hardware, and replace the plastic part with wood. Eg, cutlery or knife handles, phone cases, plastic pens, staplers, etc.
  5. Add a clip to the side of your tape measure so you can attach it to your belt, or an eyelet at the top to attach it to a keychain.
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