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]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Holtzapffel & Co London Boxwood And Brass Folding Rule / Ruler Antique ToolRare Antique 19c Folding Pocket Rule/ruler Engineers/woodworking 3 Fold CaliperStanley Bone No. 91 Folding Tape Measure Ruler Antique Tool-***rare***Antique Stanely Folding Ruler No. 85 24" #838New Old Stock Rabone 1190 Folding Rule Inclinometer & Level 2 Foot 4 Fold W/boxAntique Sterling Silver 'otis' 12 Inch Telescopic Ruler And Pencil : Usa C1900 Nice 18th Century French Brass Folding Artillery Ruler Machinist Combination Starrett Rule & Plain RuleVintage Wood/brass Extending Ruler By Clements Newling & CoVictorian Rosewood Boxed French Draftsman Drawing Instrument Set & RulersVintage Lufkin Rule No.74c W/patent Date Thread Gauge Machinist ToolStunning Antique 9 Section Folding Rule, French With "londres, Metre & Archine"Vintage Rare The Lufkin Rule Co. No 62 48" Steel Rule !!!Antique E. A. Stearns & Co. No. 82 Boxwood Carpenters Rule, 1853-1902Tough Find 78 1/2 Cs Pine Meadow Chapin Stephens Ruler Tool ~ JcboxlotAntique Folding Ruler Level J. Rabone & Sons England Vintage Wood ToolLot Of 5 Starrett Co Rules Rulers No 305a 316r 1 Brown SharpeZig Zag Folding Rule Stanley Lufkin Rabone Ruler Carpenter Tool Lot ~ JcboxlotVintage Lot Starrett Machinist Squares & RuleUnpublished Avengers Rule 63 Pin Up Superhero Squad Holyoke Catmanwill MeugniotVintage Rabone No.1190 Folding Ruler Level Protrator No ReserveVintage Rabone Hardwood Folding Rule 3 Ft. New In Package. Made In England, RareVintage Stanley Carpenter's Boxwood # 75 Folding Brass & Wood RulerLot Of Antique Hand Tools Angle Finder, Square, Rulers, Scribes, Stanley + OtherSnow & Nealley Co. Log Rule, Bangor, MaineTool Lot Craftsman Stanley Chisels Axe Awl Punch Wrenches Ruler Belts Wire Etc.Starrett #330 12” Hook Rule, No. 10 GraduationsVintage Keuffel & Esser K&e Boxed Roller Rule Edge Nice 19th Century Sailor Made Folding Ruler 2 Ft Antique Winchester Folding Brass & Boxwood Carpentry RulerVintage Starrett No.604r Tempered Steel 12" Ruler W/7/32" Hang-up HoleLufkin Brass Extension Rule Yellow Wood Folding Carpenter Tool Craft RulerAntique Stanley Rule & Lever No. 122 Wood Plane Liberty Bell ‘76Pre 1850 Early Wilson London Rule Ruler Steel Tipped Ends 2 Foot ~ JcboxlotAntique Wood & Brass Modern Rule Chicago & North Western Railway Extension RulerAntique Vintage Stanley 12" No. 36 1/2 Boxwood Rule Folding Ruler Brass & WoodVintage Woodworking Rule Lot Stanley M.w. & Co. And More Vintage Rare Stanley Aluminum Zig Zag Folding Ruler No. 125 --- 60" Nice 19th Century Naval Officer's Brass And Wood Ruler Vintage Rabone 4 Fold 24" Wooden Rule/ruler Box Wood England No 1377 - CarpentryOdd Make 78 1/2 Bone Antique Ruler Silver Bound Stanley Upson? Tool ~ JcboxlotDunhill Sylph 6" Rule Lift Arm LighterVintage 10k Gold Freemason Masonic Ruler Lapel Pin Diamonds? Citrin? Vintage Wooden Yardstick Ruler Lot Old Wood Craft SignVintage Union Steel Metal Fish Tool Box Chest Ruler Pat No 161360 Usa Leroy, Ny.Three Old Antique Boxwood And Brass Rules* Stanley* Upson*lufkin* ToolsC&ei Chicago & Illinois Eastern Railroad 6 Inch Square Ruler With AdvertisingLot Of 9 Vintage Folding Wood Carpenters Measure RulersVintage Rabone 4 Fold 36" - 3 Foot Wooden Rule/ruler Box Wood England No 11671 Foot Folding Lufkin Rule With Brass CaliperVintage Oxwall Extension Wooden Folding Ruler Carpenters Measure - Made In UsaHoyle Enginering Acu-arc Ruler Adjustable Radius Arc Measurement InchesMetal Movable Vernier Caliper Ruler Model Key Chain Keyring Keyfob Tool Hot!Old Tool Antique Stanley No. 40 Ivory & German Silver Folding Rule. Super Rare!!Rule Of Rose Bonus Cd Very Nice ConditionOld Detmer Woolen Co Boxwood & Brass Tailor's Curve Ruler Square Gauge Hand Tool6 Foot Diskin, Spokan Washington Log Scale Lumber Ruler Logging Axe Man ToolLuftkin Rule Co Puget Sound Log Decimal Scale Logging ToolVintage Folding Boxwood #32 Stanley ? Scale Rule With CaliperVintage Hallmark Peanuts School Ruler Teacher Snoopy Made In West Germany