Thursday, May 13, 2010

Measuring tape fix

I stopped by Daiso at lunch today because who can resist a little bit of cute overload at the Japanese dollar (actually $1.50) store? Check out this little bear measuring tape:

And it is "convenient for the sewing and the body check." Perfect! Now I can do a body check. (click the picture to see it larger, if you can't read the expression at the top).

Since the "Bear's faced measuring tape" is metric I thought I'd keep it in my knitting bag for those times when I'm working on non-US patterns. But in the process of opening the package, which was maybe a little too easy to open compared to the indestructible rhino-proof plastic shells most things are packaged in these days. The measuring tape slipped out of my hands onto the wood floor and...


Actually the picture doesn't make it look as crazy as it was. Everything scooted under the coffee table, and I tried to find all the parts without knowing what parts I needed to find. The coil had completely "sprung" but I rolled it up and held it together with a clothespin until I could figure out what to do. Miraculously I found everything, including a little tiny spring. Now most people would throw the whole mess in the trash. After all, it was from the dollar $1.50 store. But not me. I'm an engineer. And I'm cheap and don't like to put stuff in landfills, so I fix things. But I didn't have a clue what went where or even how retractable measuring tapes worked. I searched online but found the same answer: throw it away and buy a new one.

So I had a glass of wine to ease my disappointment over the demise of my bear measuring tape and decide if I wanted to accept the challenge of fixing it. Of course I did. I love a mechanical challenge.

I'm going to share my discoveries in case you want to fix your retractable measuring tape instead of chucking it in the trash, because I suspect these little plastic ones have pretty much the same internal design. I figured it couldn't be too complex given that it was so inexpensive. I also figured that every notch and hole and piece of plastic served a purpose. I just had to figure out what went where. The only thing that was partially intact after the crash was the tape; it was still mostly wound around the outside of the black wheel, so that meant the coil had to go on the inside.

I was almost correct in the above picture. It turned out I had the assembly upside down but in this view, you can see how one end of the coil fits into the notched, plastic center post. There are four notches cut into the sides of the plastic wheel: the looped end of the tape slips onto the two notches that are closest together and the other end of the coil is secured in the other two notches. When the wheel is wound, the coil, being secured now at both ends, tightens and stores energy. I found that the way to get the tape onto the wheel was to wind the wheel so that the coil tightens and at the same time, guide the tape around the outside. But that's not all. When the coil is as tight as it will go, carefully undo the tape from the wheel but leave the looped end attached. Then you reverse the direction of the wheel (slowly!) and the tape will wind back onto the wheel in the opposite direction as the coil unwinds. When all of the tape is reeled in, the coil is no longer fully wound and ready to fly off. But when you pull the tape the coil winds up; release the tape and the coil reels in the tape again.

The next part was figuring out how the middle button (bear's nose) fit. The tiny spring in the center post was a key piece and made me realize I had everything upside down. It's correct in the above picture. See those plastic tabs in the inside of the wheel? Those are the "brakes" that are disengaged when the button is pressed. This is also why these type of measuring tapes go click-click-click when you don't depress the button.

So there you go. My little bear measuring tape is happy again and I solved a puzzle, saved a bit of plastic and metal from the dump, and best of all I have a cute tape measure for my knitting bag.

And if you're wondering, the bear measuring tapes also come in blue and yellow. I didn't see any other animals, just bears.


  1. Fascinating. Really! It makes so much sense... such a simple but elegant little design. With a cute bear's face! win-win!

  2. Anonymous9:35 PM

    Interesting challenge! Now - did you fix it so if it hits the floor again, it won't spew bits all over?

  3. Glad you saved him from the dump. :)

  4. Oh my goodness, you may be amused to learn that I found your blog by googling something along the lines of, "how to fix retractable measuring tape." HA! Because, like you, I am way too cheap to throw away my $1 tape measure (mine really did cost only $1 - looks like your Japanese store is turning a profit after all!) and wanted to fix it, but unlike you am not an engineer and couldn't figure it out on my own. Thank you for solving the mystery for me!

  5. Oops, and I'm not Travis - I commented as my husband. He would be mortified to think the entire world wide web believes he was spending so much effort to repair a tape measure that he himself told me to throw away. I don't know why I'm even making the correction - we are both total strangers to you.

  6. weeseaweed8:15 PM

    I just fixed my tape measure by following your directions! You're a legend. By the way, my tape measure was free...

  7. Anonymous2:20 AM

    Thanks so much! I have one almost exactly the same, except without the cheery bear packaging. I would not have been able to figure it out by myself. :)


  8. Anonymous11:08 PM

    well, I thought it was working, but it appears that I have to press the button to pull it out now and it winds itself up automatically... my spring is backwards... :(

    Thank you, I hate not fixing things myself if I can help it!

  9. THANK you! I just bought a new tape measure today, and Junior thought it would be fun to lasso the houseplants with it. He's three; what can I say?

    With your excellent instructions, I was able to put it back together AND up on a high shelf. ;)

  10. Anonymous4:09 AM

    Thank you so much! Accidentally broke a friend's who loved the design on her case and didn't want to upset her by having to throw away! You directions are great and she couldn't be happier!

  11. Anonymous11:28 PM

    Are you available for tech support? I got it all back together, and was so pleased with myself. I pull it out and it clicks, I retract and every time it stops at 10 inches. I guess I have to pry it open again to see why this little elephant keeps it't tongue out!

  12. Hello Lori,
    Just fixed my retractable tape measure after consulting your excellent explanation and photos. Thank you so much! My little tape measure came to me from my son whose company was giving them out as a promo at a trade show. So even though I have another one (also free, promo from Harbor Freight) I didn't want to get rid of this one. I came across it when I was cleaning out the basket under the coffee table. I had held onto it because after all, even though it didn't retract any more it was still a nifty little tape measure. I had it all apart and had fiddled with it for a while, trying different configurations, before I decided to google "retractable measuring tape fix". Voila! I'm not an engineer type at all, but I am married to an inventor-McGuyver type and it makes me feel really good when I can actually fix something. It's a small thing but you kinda made my day, thanks again. :-)

  13. Anonymous6:02 AM

    Thank you for this! I am not too cheap to throw away the $1 teddy bear tape measure. However, it was left with a note to Santa to please fix it. Santa came through! Thank you.

  14. Anonymous6:42 AM

    Aha! It works! You are a genius! Even though mine was free, I also do not want to contribute to the landfill. It's also a good, little lightweight one to keep in my purse. Thank You!!! from San Luis Obispo, CA

  15. Anonymous6:31 PM

    Thanks for posting. Even your "mistake" of putting it in backwards was helpful because I did the same thing!

  16. For those who don't or can't fix such narrow measuring tapes, you can do as Coni Crawford does. She intentionally buys metal ones and takes them apart to use for measuring armholes and necklines.They are perfect for holding the curve when lying on their side. Thanks for the great photos and directions!

  17. Anonymous7:34 AM

    but mine got a one tiny little spring, where to put that?

    1. I had a tiny spring in mine too and it went in the "nose" of the bear. It was for the button in the center that controls moving the tape in or out.

  18. Anonymous11:48 PM

    i didn't understand everything you said, including a looped end of the tape and 4 notches and had trouble making things out from the photographs. when i started pulling the tape out the mechanism actually forced it OUT instead of in. i think the spring steel is broken and don't think i should put any time into this because there are just too many other things to do. like you, i like to repair things if i can but apparently i am not intelligent enuf to do this. i'll just have to leave this out on the sidewalk somewhere for a clever person to pick up and figure out and replace it with some made in China piece of crap. one time i thot i was being smart by buying a Starrett and the case just disintegrated.

  19. Anonymous8:21 AM

    I accidentally broke a friend's little plastic tape measure purchased on a trip to Japan (sentimental qualities attached) and spent ages trying to fix it. Thanks to randomly stumbling upon this article, I finally managed to fix it, and it's now working as good as new! Can't thank you enough.

  20. Anonymous8:44 AM

    Thank you!!! For the same reason as you, I couldn't bear to throw away my tape measure, even though I got mine for free. This post and all your pictures helped me so much, and I enjoyed figuring out how to put it back together.

  21. Thank you for this! My tape measure is from the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Meringen, Switzerland - not like I can just go replace it! It just exploded and Hubby is using your directions to fix it!

  22. Anonymous10:09 PM

    This was the most useful post ever! I was on the cusp of throwing out my tape measure when I found your blog. Genius! And thank you for sharing!

  23. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Thank you for this post. Today while measuring a few things for our new apartment I broke my wife's measuring tape by pulling it too far. She got it in Taiwan a few years ago, but we live in Canada, so finding a new one was very unlikely. They also have Daiso in Taiwan, but that's not where she got it. However, the inside of the measuring tape is the same as your bear one. Probably the same manufacturer. Anyway, thanks for the instructions; I was able to repair it perfectly (except the outside is a bit rough now because I had to pry it open with a knife). Thanks so much for saving me from her anger haha and also a fun afternoon project.

  24. Thanks for the help! My boyfriend was close to figuring it out and he just needed the confirmation of how everything worked!

  25. Anonymous11:24 PM

    Oh my God, I finally fixed it. Thank you!!!

  26. Anonymous3:54 AM

    Thank you so much! This is the only tutorial I could find to help me fix my broken tape measure!

  27. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Thanks so much for posting this! I dropped mine on the floor and it exploded. I came close to figuring it out but I had the tension wheel upside down. Ended up googling "how to fix mini tape measure" and came across this great resource.

  28. Anonymous6:33 AM

    This happened to us too when my son dropped the measuring tape. So I found you on google, and with your guidance and another 45 minutes, finally figured out how to do this. Thanks!