We know that all tools are not created equal. Build quality, power, performance, feel, functionality and cost all factor into a decision at the hardware store. But, sometimes, you come across a tool where you wonder why there could possibly be such a wild swing in pricing between models. Take tape measures, for instance. How many different ways can a manufacturer improve upon such a classic design? Isn’t the Empire Level tape measure basically the same as the rest?
Evaluating Empire Tape Measures
You might think so, but you’d be wrong. We recently took 9 of the most popular 25′ model tape measures and pit them against one another in our best tape measure article. Through a series of tests measuring accuracy, throw, standout, durability, feature sets, and value, we were able to come to a decision about who makes the best tape measure right now.
One of our entrants, the 25′ Empire Level, was admittedly one of our dark horse contenders. It felt lighter and less robust than most. It looks like it was housed in chrome, but upon closer inspection, the casing is a hard plastic that has a sort of brittle feel (more on that later). To be honest, we didn’t expect it to perform all that well by comparison. Well, sometimes these sorts of competitions can surprise you, and the Empire Level tape measure did throw us a few curveballs.
Curveball number one incoming. Every tape measure we tested in our shootout passed our accuracy test with a 100%, except for the Empire Level model. We held all these tape measures up to the Lixer Master calibration tool, which has an accuracy rating itself of +/- 0.0005″…which is to say that it makes for a pretty good standard to hold everything else up to.
The Empire was off by less than 1/64″ – basically, the width of the blade mark. Granted, this is not a lot, and you might consider us a bit nit-picky on this subject. Most applications probably won’t be affected too much by this slightest of misalignments. However, if you’re working in a field where a lot of tiny oversights can add up to a big one, like cabinetry, something that’s only a bit off might not be the best choice.
Pro Tip: Often, tape measure inaccuracy is due to a slightly bent hook, not marking issues. Some calibrators, like the Lixer Master, have a hook adjustment to set it right.
Curveball number two: most tape measures we looked at felt solid. Many had plastic housings but also included overmolds, or just generally felt sturdy and impact resistant. The Empire Level tape measure feels a bit more brittle than the rest.
Well, we planned to drop all of these tape measures from a 10′ ladder onto solid concrete. And, I’ll be honest, I legitimately thought the Empire Level model wouldn’t last 3 drops. I expected it to explode. But, wouldn’t you know it, we couldn’t break it. When we ended the testing after 36 drops, the Empire Level looked rough, and the clip had broken off, but it still functioned pretty well. There were occasional hiccups with the auto-lock feature, but surprisingly, the tape pulled out and retracted just fine. So Empire does well on the internal design despite a somewhat weak housing.
Feature Set & Value
Only two tape measures from our shootout featured an auto-lock, and the Empire Level tape measure was one of those. The auto-lock keeps the blade locked in position without having to press down a locking button. Instead, pressing the button unlocks the blade so that it can retract. This seems like one of those polarizing features that people either love or hate, but we’ve found it useful around here.
The blade also has a few features worth noting. The black printing on the white provides a contrast that provides marginally better visibility than black on yellow. The Empire Level tape measure blade also features fractional markings for every 1/8″, alternating between black and blue print. Finally, Empire added a nylon coating to the blade for improved durability.
Standout and Throw
These categories could be really important to you, or they might not be. We shoot for a 96″ (8′) benchmark standout since that covers sheet goods. However. because the Empire Level tape measure employs a more narrow tape, it couldn’t quite hit that mark with 84″. We got a 93″ throw out of this tape measure, which finished out at the lower end of our shootout spectrum.
Out of all the tape measures we looked at for our shootout, only the Ryobi retails for less. The Empire Level tape measure punches in at a pretty inexpensive $9.99. One might even argue that, given the features present on this tape measure, the Empire Level presented the best value out of all of the 25′ tape measure included in our shootout.
At right around $10, the Empire Level tape measure doesn’t give us much to complain about. Its visibility is good, the inner mechanisms are solid, and in 36 drops off of a ten-foot ladder, we couldn’t totally break it. Sure, Empire could clear up that negligible accuracy issue, a stronger clip would be an improvement, and a little overmolding would probably go a long way. But, the auto-locking feature and the nylon coated blade provide a lot of bang for your buck. At the end of the day, the Empire Level tape measure makes for a really solid choice if you’re looking for a basic tape measure and you’re not too tough on your tapes.
25′ Empire Level Tape Measure Features
- Model: Empire Level AL500-25
- Nylon Coated Blade
- Length: 25′
- Mark Lines: 1/16″
- Warranty: Lifetime
- Price: $9.99