Rulers, also known as rules, began as an attempt to standardize measurements based on the human anatomy, such as the foot and the hand. By the 17th century, rulers were marked in inches, with smaller, fractional lengths coming later.

From the start, the impracticality of very long rulers was obvious, so carpenters and tool makers alike devised ways to fold their wooden rulers so the tool would be easy to store and move from job to job. Rules that folded in half, thirds, and quarters were common. Stanley made a zig-zag rule that was hinged in brass in 15 places, while interlocking rulers allowed carpenters to take inside measurements.

Another type of ruler favored by carpenters was the combination rule, which could include a level, inclinometer, square, or compass into its design. Framing squares and combination squares, which usually had metal blades and wooden handles made of cherry or other hard woods, were typically marked on their blades to at least a sixteenth of an inch.

More specialized types of rulers include rules used by lumbermen and loggers. Cruising sticks helped foresters calculate the amount of board feet in a standing uncut tree, while log rules calculated board feet in a cut log. Board rules helped the lumberman determine board feet in a sawn board.

In general, early lumber rules were made only of wood, but later models added a rounded or oval brass tab at one end and a handle at the other, to save the lumberman the trouble of reaching out to the end of whatever he was measuring to make sure the rule was flush with its outer edge.

Other specialized rulers included patternmaker’s rules, which were also known as shrinkage rules since they helped foundry workers account for the shrinkage that would occur when casting metal. Using this rule, a wooden mold could be made slightly larger than the finished product being cast, depending on the shrinkage rate of the metal.

Caliper rules measured the thicknesses of rope and cable (some rulers had a caliper built into one of their ends), while navigational rules helped sailors and mapmakers. One rule that is closely associated with navigation but is not really a rule at all is the parallel rule, which was used to draw parallel lines. Often made of ebony or blackened boxwood, these rules had a pair of metal hinges between them so that parallel lines of varying distances apart could be drawn accurately...

While most rules produced by Chapin-Stephens, Lufkin, and Stanley were made of woods such as boxwood, some were made of bone and others were even carved from ivory, with hinges and fittings made of an alloy called German silver. These ivory rulers are among the most expensive available to tool collectors today, even those whose ivory has yellowed with age.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Early Office Museum

Early Office Museum

This site showcases pre-1920 office antiques, including paperweights, writing ink, paper fasteners, seal pressers, … [read review or visit site]

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

51 Yardstick Wood Wooden Ruler Lot Advertising Sign Color Antique Old Vtg CraftVictorian Semi Precious Desktop Paperweight Multi Banded Agate Stone Rule RulerAntqiue Winchester Usa Wood Working Folding Rule Ruler Measure Guage Tools KnifeAntique Blacksmith Tool English Folding 2 Ft Brass Rule Preston Plane Mnf Hammer2 Signed Surveying Equipment Antique Old Surveyor Iron 10 Meter Chain RuleWonderful Old Antique Vintage Scientific Ruler Specially Made For Calculating ??Vintage Boxwood Gunter Rule, 2 Feet Long, Engineer, Architech, NavigationAntique Old Stanley # 86 1/2 Rule Folding Scale 24"Very Rare Stanley Early Lumber Logging Rule Log Tool Board Feet Measure StickVintage Wooden Stanley RulerLot 5 Vintage Zippo Rule Tape Measure Advertising Bmw Akron Crane S/t InlandLot 5 Vintage Zippo Rule Tape Measure Advertising Central Jessop Steel Vintage, Brass Mounted Ebony Parallel Rule "norton & Gregory Ltd London"Antique/vtg Stanley Sweetheart No. 53 1/2 Architects Rule Boxwood 4-fold 2'Belchers Brothers Makers Ships Carpenter Bevel RuleLufkin 4" Square No. 4 Grad,lufkin Rule Co. Saginaw Mich. Usa,vtgVintage Metal 6 Inch Advertising Ruler 'drink Rowntree's Cocoa' York InterestHockley Abbey Folding Pocket Boxwood 12" Rule No. 1150 Rabone + Leather CaseVintage 24" Wooden Rabone Carpenters Wood & Brass Folding Rule/ruler No:1375Vintage Stanley No 40 Caliper Rule 12" German Silver Bone Nr Lot 5 Vintage Zippo Rule Tape Measure Advertising Gm Rf Youngstown Corhart BrassNational Airlines Lot Hat Pin Luggage Tag Ruler Employee Extremely Rare! Wow!2486 Rule Britannia Band - Edison Blue Amberol Phonograph Cylinder RecordVintage Master Steel Tape Rule Inside Measure Empty BoxCircular Metric Conversion Rule CalculatorLufkin No. 42 12" Shipwright's Rule Boxwood Wwii Us Army M-38 Map Case Ruler U.s. MarkedVintage D.p. Ehrlich Germany S.s. 2 Bld Pen Pocket Knife W/ Ruler Scales Gc NrVintage Lufkin Rule Co. 20 Foot Steel Tape Measure ~ Saginaw MichiganVintage Lufkin No 1176 Six 6 Foot Metal Folding Rule Ruler Tape Measure"studebaker" Vintage Wood 12" RulerVintage Stanley Boxwood No. 36 1/2 Folding Caliper Ruler Made In UsaNeedzo Plc Mens 10mm Black Wood Bead St Saint Benedict Holy Rule 19" Cord RosaryVtg Lufkin 460f Brass Hinged Folding Wood Ruler Woodworking Mason Made In UsaAntique Studebaker Wagons Delivery Buggies Carriages Vehicles 12" Folding RulerVintage 1940 - 1950s Pennington Bros. Inc. Bread Bakery Blotter / Ruler Vintage Lufkin Metal Folding Rule 72" No. 1206 Brass Ends Carpenter's Vintage Steel Square Rule Measure 24" X 16" - Rafters, Pat. 1900Zippo Lighter And Ruler In Box 25th Anniversary Mcintosh Inc.Deadpool Vol 6 : I Rule, You Suck Trade Paperback Marvel ComicsArt Nouveau Kings X & Attwood Plating Letter Opener - Ruler/measure ClerkenwellSmall / Miniature 12 Inch Folding Ruler By Hockley Abbey Vintage Lufkin Rule Co Universal No 65 Combination SquareOld Craftsman Folding Pocket Rule Ruler 12" With 3" Sliding Brass Extension EucVintage Stanley #35 Brass & Boxwood Rule W/ Hook Extension U.s.a.Vintage Plastic Advertising Ruler Lot Of 23 Napa Perfect Circle Victor Spicer Diwa Rule "hughes Zero Defects'' Advertises, Made In Denmark #601-1; 6" Long Vintage Lufkin No 1173 Three 3 Foot Ft Metal Folding Rule Ruler Tape MeasureLufkin Folding Ruler #646 Red End Bricklayer's Ruler Bonus Fletcher Glass CutterVintage Lufkin Red End 066d Six Foot Lock Joint Wood RulerVintage Advertising Purina 13 Inch Ruler Great Lufkin (2) #2133 - 16 Ft - 33" Metal Measure Rule/tapes Usa Belt Clip Nip The Executive Pocket Pal Protractor Ruler Square Charvoz Drafting Set 8pc Ames Lettering Guide Vintage Ruler Protractor TriangleVintage Stanley Zig Zag Ruler Vg++ Condition No.206 Made In UsaAs Italy Scissors Shears Solingen Germany Leather Case Ruler Letter OpenerThe Lufkin Rule Co 12 Inch Machinist Combination Square # 4 Grad W/ Scratch Awl 1970s_dubai View Of Waterfront & Ruler's Office United Arab Emirates Igs Sn: C29Vintage Rabone Boxwood And Brass 2 Foot Folding Ruler (jmw3)Angelus Marshmallows Folding Ruler - Vintage Advertising - Cracker Jack