How to Fix Your Tape-Measure Retraction System

Lead Image for How to Fix Your Tape-Measure Retraction System
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-20
What You'll Need
Phillip's or slotted screwdriver
Masking tape
New spring
What You'll Need
Phillip's or slotted screwdriver
Masking tape
New spring

If you were asked what the most essential and necessary tool in your kit is, which tool you absolutely have to buy first if you're going to build any kind of kit at all, your answer shouldn't be a screwdriver or a hammer but a tape measure. This is the tool you will use the most often for most projects, and this is why you need to know how to fix your tape measure retraction system when it fails you.

Tape measures are made with self-locking mechanisms that make it easy for you to pull out the tape and retract it back again with a single button. But if you don't know how to fix your tape measure retraction system, you will end up with a bunch of barely functioning tape measures and tons of incorrect measurements…not to mention, plenty of DIYer’s frustration.

How Retraction Systems Work

Tape measures are actually brilliant little devices despite how utterly simple they are. In fact, it’s their simplicity that makes them so brilliant.

They operate using the simplest form of physics and some of the oldest technology, but they are still one of the most-used tools in any modern toolkit.

Even in today's super-digitized world of advanced technology, tape measures are the best option and the most-grabbed tool for taking measurements. The design has hardly changed for decades in spite of all the new, digital innovations that are out there.

Some things just can't be improved upon, not even in the digital age. And because tape measures are made with such simple technology, they can be fixed when they stop working properly.

Tape measure not retracting? This is usually a pretty quick fix.

Inside the tape measure casing, there is a spring. As the tape measure is pulled out of the casing, the spring is extended.

When the tape measure is released, so is the spring. The spring snaps back into position, which causes the tape measure to go back into the casing.

It really is that simple. That’s all there is to it, just a simple spring that essentially makes the tape measure work the way it does.

Often, tape measures have a locking button as well. When you press this, the spring is locked into place. This allows the tape measure to stay at the measurements where you set it.

It's all very straightforward, which means it's all pretty easy to repair. And once you get hands-on and fix your own tape measure, you will feel a little more bold and a little more brave with every DIY task you address.

How to Fix Your Tape Measure

The cost of the tape measure is not why or why not you should fix it when there's a problem. There's a certain satisfaction in knowing how to fix something that is broken that just cannot be equaled.

Make sure you're getting precise measurements and extend the life of your tape measure by knowing how to fix a broken retraction system and other little problems that compromise how well your tape measure functions.

Open the Case

Use a small screwdriver to open the case. Usually, you will need a Phillips head because of the type of screws used to hold the casing together.

Open the case, splitting it apart to reveal the inner "guts" of the case. Be careful with the contents inside after the case is open, as you do not want the tape and the system to come out of the case and unwind.

Look Inside

Start with a simple visual examination to see if you can figure out what might be hindering the spring. When a tape measure won't retract, it could be blocked by debris.

Look for dirt or hair that could be hampering the spring’s ability to expand and retract. Remove any foreign objects you find.

The spring could also be out of position. Check for this and put it back in position if needed.

Ensure that the hole in the tape measure is securely attached to the little hook on the spring. The tape measure must be connected to the spring for the design to work at all.

Look at the spring and check its springiness. Rust could lock the spring into position, which prevents it from expanding at all, or time could have worn out the springiness and prevent the spring from retracting.

Remove the Tape

If you can't exactly tell what's causing the problem, you will have to remove the tape to observe the retraction system. Pull the tape out slowly, holding the retraction system in place.

Pay attention to how the tape moves and see if you spot any noticeable hangups or problems on the tape as you pull it out.

Once the tape is entirely out, disconnect it from the spring if you have not already done so. Set the tape aside.

The tape will unwind, so make sure you have space for this in your work area.

Replace the Spring

Replace the spring inside the tape measure with a new one. You should be able to purchase a replacement spring online using the model number of the tape measure, which will be printed on the device somewhere.

If the spring is bent or can otherwise possibly be repaired, do this instead. Sometimes, springs simply lose their “springiness” over time, which will keep your tape measure from retracting properly after you pull the tape out.

Once you're done working on the spring, put it back in position. It might be a little tricky to get it into place because the spring is very small and it needs to be precisely in position.

Use tweezers to manipulate the spring and tape, if needed, or a small pair of pliers.

Re-Connect the Tape

After replacing the spring, connect the tape to the spring by putting the end of the spring into the hole at the start of the tape. It's a small hole and a small spring, so work with precision and take your time because this stage of the repair can be a bit frustrating for anyone.

After you’ve secured the connection, let the tape roll slowly back into the case. Test the tape a couple of times to ensure that it is working now and it can expand and retract the way you want it to.

A new spring may be a bit tense or tight at first, but this is perfectly normal. After it is used a few times, the spring will bit springier and it should work perfectly, without the extra tightness.

Close the Case

Reattach the top cover of the tape measure with the screwdriver. Your measuring tape should retract properly again now.

Test it a few more times with the case on to be sure it is working. Now, you’re ready to measure and DIY as much as you want.

Fix Your Tape Measure Retraction System

Fixing your tape retraction system is fairly simple and it can give you a great deal of satisfaction. There's no question that the tape measure is the most-used tool you're ever going to have, which means you need it to be functioning well every time you get it out of the toolkit.

You need it to measure twice for every single project, but tape measures can also serve as a quick little level or a straight edge in times of need, too. You probably know exactly where your tape measure is at all times and when it isn't working, you probably feel a little lost.

It’s hard to get any DIY job without a working tape measure. But you don’t have to be without.

Keep using your favorite tape measure. With a quick repair, you can get it working properly and perfectly again.

After all, you're a DIYer. You can fix your own tools and use them, too!

Questions People Also Ask

Can you fix a measuring tape that won't retract?

If your tape measure won't retract at all, the spring inside the device could be rusted. This means the spring cannot extend and therefore, the tape measure cannot extend.

This problem can be fixed by replacing the inner spring. Most of the time, a tape measure can be fixed fairly quickly by swapping out this spring for a new one.

The mechanism inside the tape measure is so simple that it can often be repaired when something goes wrong, and replacement parts for the interior “guts” of this tool are not difficult to find, either. Hang onto your favorite tape measure a little longer, because there’s a good chance it can be fixed.

What makes a tape measure retract?

A spring that is attached to the tape measure with a little hook extends when the tape measure is pulled out. When the tape measure is let go, the spring snaps back and this is what causes the tape measure to go back inside the casing.

You have probably noticed how quickly and forcefully tape measures retract when they are working properly. This is because the spring has a lot of tension on it and it quickly snaps back into position when released, which creates a force that makes the tape go back into the case quite quickly.

This is achieved through simple basic physics, the principles of stored energy. It’s actually science in action, part of why tape measures have such an amazing design.

How do you put a Stanley tape measure back together?

If the casing has been opened on a Stanley tape measure, bring both halves of the casing back together. Gently wiggle until you feel them sort of click together.

There is a little groove around one half of the casing that fits tightly into the other half. Fit the halves together and then attach the screws that hold the casing in place.

Why is my tape measure inaccurate?

Any tool can wear out over time, even tape measures. Over time, the tape might bend or twist, which can create an inaccurate reading.

If you suspect your tape measure is inaccurate, test it against the length of a known object. Or, measure an object with a different tape measure first and compare that result to the tape measure that’s in question.

Try opening up the tape measure and examining it. Sometimes, you can solve the problem that is causing inaccurate measurement readings.

If not, the tape measure will need to be replaced. If you aren’t getting accurate measurement readings, you are compromising all your DIY projects.

How do you fix a lock on a tape measure?

Usually, tape measures have a little wedge inside of them. This is the device that is engaged when you press the lock button on the tape measure.

This wedge gets pushed up against the tape measure spring mechanism, locking it into place by not allowing the spring to move.

If this locking mechanism is damaged, you can attempt to replace it or re-attach it if it has come loose. Otherwise, you will have to use your tape measure without a locking mechanism, which can sometimes be problematic.

How do you make a tape measure stay in place?

Most tape measures have a self-locking mechanism that allows you to press a button to keep the tape in place, even when extended. This may be a push or slide button that, once engaged, prevents the spring controlling the tape measure from moving.

How to fix a tape measure without opening it?

There isn't a lot you can do to fix a tape measure without getting a look at the inner workings of it. However, you can pull it out and let it retract and observe how it behaves.

Sometimes, this can give you an idea of what might be hampering the tape but usually, you will want to open up the casing so you can get a closer look at the inner workings of the tape measure. This is easily accomplished with a screwdriver.

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