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    

Museum Quality Early Brass & Carved Bone Ruler - Important Example - Lions -rareAntique Folding Pocket Ruler With Knife And Pencil Unusual Antique Folding Rule With Brass Slider & Tables Of Iron Bar WeightsVintage Lufkin 139-3" Steel Machinist Carpenters Rule Square - 16ths 32nds 64thsVintage G Ibberson Sheffield Folding Rule Ruler Pen Knife Knives Old Pocket JackVintage Lufkin Boxwood & Brass Folding Rulers And Slide Caliper For Rope & WireWinchester Ruler 9518 Boxwood Two Foot Two Fold Antique Very RareStarrett No. 289 Combination Rule Attachment Vtg Lufkin Combination Square, Hardened Center Head, 12" Rule & Union Protractor71 Yardstick Wood Wooden Ruler Lot Advertising Sign Color Antique Old Vtg Craft1880 Nice # 39 Bone Rule Nice Caliper 12" Folding Rule33 Yardstick Wood Wooden Ruler Lot Advertising Sign Color Antique Old Vtg CraftMachinist Tools Micrometers Rulers Calipers Gage Gauge Lot Of 24 Pieces StarrettVemco Drafting Machine W/ 6 Scales Rulers - Wood Box - Vemco Used Tools UsaVintage Wood Advertising Rulers - Lot Of 48 (not Yardsticks)Antique Wood Brass Folding Ruler And Caliper Vintage Estate FindStanley No 39 Bone Rule With CaliperStarrett Hardened Combination Square 490 Protractor Reversible Satin 4 Rule NiceNo. 78 ½ Folding Ruler – Brass & Wood – C-s Company Pine Meadow, Conn. 24"Two Very Early Stanley Rule Co Spoke Shaves And Other Spoke Shave PartsStarrett No. 604r Hook Rule With Drill Point AttachmentStarrett C604re Spring Tempered Steel Rule. 8ths, 16ths, 32nds, 64thsH. Chapin (no.27) Boxwood Folding Rule, Extra Wide, Arch Joint, Early & Nice24" Folding Rule Stanley No. 12 With SlideSuperb Antique Army & Navy Csl Engineers 12" Folding Rule Circa 1886Antique Stanley 1886 Scribe Ruler Early Brass & Wood Woodworking Tool ~ UsaJ. Rabone Sons Antique Folding Bone Rule2 Stanley Boxwood Rules Plus 1, Stanley SpecialYou Are Bidding On A Rabone Chesterman 24” - 4 Fold Boxwood Rule, No. 1190. ThiVintage 72" Lufkin 1206f Folding Rule Made In Usa Aluminum Metal Ruler 3 Pc Vintage Wooden Drafting Curves Ruler Templates Ussr Soviet RussiaOdd Metal Rule Patent June 6, 1878Vintage Stanley 6ft Folding Rules No 106f Flat Reading Nos Noc Box Of 6 1960sStarrett #s423 Steel Rule Set With 110 Holder In Box Stephens No 72 1/4 Boxwood Rule UncommonUnusual Vintage Stanley No.36 1/2 Caliper Rule 1 Ft 2 FoldVintage----stanley ---no.36 1/2---folding Rule----with CaliperL.s.starrett Co. No.299 Rule Clamp + Extra Machinist's Tool Free Ship Usa OnlyArch Joint Boxwood Rule Broad SizeAntique Sterling Hemming Ruler Sewing Tool Fancy Victorian4 Vintage Folding Rulers - 1 Is 24" & 3 Are 36" Wood Folding RulersVintage Lufkin Wood & Brass X46 Folding Ruler - 72inch Set Of 2 24" Four-fold RulesAcme Bone Rule With CaliperEngineers Sector Or Other Rule Not Boxwood Circa 1850Chapin 84 3/4 , Cs Co 66 3/4 Boxwood RulesStephens & Co. No 66 Folding Wooden Ruler With Square Foot Calculation ChartLot Of 15 Vintage Wooden Rulers - Instant Collection!Vintage Lot Drafting Tools Templates, Guides, Rulers, Calculators Triangles Etc.Vintage Starrett Machinist 18” Long Flex Steel RuleVintage L.s. Starrett Co No 465 Copper 12" RulerAntique Carpenters Wood Folding Ruler Pat. 12-3- 1918 Warranted BoxwoodStephens No 48 Boxwood Rule Arch JointMachinist's Protractor & Steel RuleStarrett No. C604re Satin Chrome 6" Pocket RuleStephens No 49 1/2 Boxwood Rule Arch JointVintage Lufkin Rule Co. No. 11 Wood Folding Ruler Yardstick Household RuleLot Of 3 Vtg 1935 Lufkin Rule Co. Standard Of Accuracy Screw Thread & Tap Drill Vintage Upson Nut Co. #68 Carpenter Rule Brass Bound Folding Wooden RulerStanley No 88 & 91 Bone Rules Both Repaired