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Still measures up

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A tool I’ve used for ages turns 50 years old this year. Swell. Something else I thought had been around forever that turns out to be younger than I am.

In 1963, Stanley introduced the PowerLock tape measure, with its shiny silver case and bright yellow sliding lock button. As they say in the design business, it “caught on.” Woodworkers and carpenters loved being able to lock a tape in an extended position, meaning that you no longer needed three hands to make some measurements, and the tape was an immediate success. (Not sure just how that would have come in handy on the moon, but NASA tossed a PowerLock tape measure into the Eagle’s gear bag on Apollo 11.)

Now, I won’t pretend to remember its actual introduction, since I wasn’t yet doing any serious woodworking in 1963 other than building model rockets, but I remember being impressed with its signature ability – being able to lock the tape at any position – when I did finally cross paths with it. To be honest, I can’t imagine using a tape measure without that ability. And while I don’t remember if Stanley was the first to come up with it in the PowerLock, or if several manufacturers came up with it at about the same time, it seems such a basic function that it’s hard to imagine using a tape measure without it.

We woodworkers complain a lot (and rightly so) when tool companies get something wrong. It’s only fair that we also acknowledge when they get things right. With that in mind, Over the Workbench would like to give hearty congratulations to Stanley on the anniversary. It’s hard to believe that something I’ve known and used with such regularity (and reliability) could possibly be a half-century-old.

Then again, in three more years, so will “Star Trek.”



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