It's not a new idea, but it's a good one. In 1865, Justus Roe & Sons started making steel tape measures and three years later, a New Haven, Conn., inventor named Alvin J. Fellows filed a patent to add a retracting spring mechanism. It didn't take long for the retractable tape measure to dominate construction sites and home workshops, making the previously popular wooden folding rulers nearly obsolete.
Even today, you won't want to get caught without a retractable tape measure (or two) in your workshop. You'll need this tool for nearly every hands-on project you tackle. A quality measuring tape can last for years. Look for metal measuring tapes that will extend without bending for up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) with an L-shaped end that grips surfaces.
For most jobs, a 16-foot (4.8-meter) measuring tape will suffice, but 30-foot (7.6- and 9.1-meter) lengths are available, too. Whichever length you choose, make sure it has large and easy-to-read markings [source: Christopher].