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]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice 18th Century Gunners Folding Ruler Vintage Wood Advertising Yardstick Mixed Lot Of 25 Antique Yardsticks RulerVintage Dunhill Silver Plated Ruler Sylph LighterStanley No 82 Board Table Boxwood RuleSmall, Tiny Starrett Square – Used, Missing Ruler From Estate Old Tool Collection Antique Boxwood Folding Rules & Sml Brass Square ? SymbolsRuler Attachment, Square, Mitre Sq., Odd Jobs Type, Plus No.68 Boxwood RuleAntique Brass & Boxwood Folding Ruler Stanley No. 83c Stanley Rule & Level Co.Boxwood Brass & Wood Ruler Conn Connecticut 24 Inch Antique Very Nice CarpentryAntique Stanley No.40 Nickel And Bone Folding 12" Ruler With CaliperVintage Stanley Folding Rule 83 1/2 Must SeeAntique 40's Rare Wood Coca Cola Soda Cop Metal Graphic Coke Ruler Hard To FindWooden Rule Ruler 65 1/2 Stanley Upson? Good Shape BoxwoodBrass Rule Rope Caliper Gauge De Grauwaymar &co No 34 South St New York 5 InchVintage Lufkin No.026 Boxwood & Brass 6"rule / Caliper, Advertising Morley Bros. Nice Antique Brass And Wood Folding Ruler With Makers Name Smallwood Anime 72 Items Lot Bundle Naruto Storm Generations Cards Manga Dvd Sasuke Ruler Stephens & Co No.36 Antique Level And Folding/pull Out Ruler/ Jan. 12 1858 Antique Lufkin Boxwood & Brass 12" Folding Ruler W/caliper No.386Vintage Original Lufkin Rule Co. Saginaw, Mich. Wood Log Rule Nice!!Gm Emd Electro-motive 6 Inch Stainless Ruler With Clip & Decimal EquivalentsUltra Rare Authentic Chanel Pencils Ruler With Box Black Never Used 174-01 3.26Lot Of 4 Vintage Machinist 6" Metal Rulers All U.s. MadeHuge All Kansas Junk Drawer Lot Royals Belt Buckles Milk Cap Ruler Key Chain PenVintage Lufkin No.372 Boxwood And Brass Folding Rule Ruler 12" CleanAntique Vintage Wood Boxwood Folding Carpentry Ruler..!!Antique Stanley Rule & Level Co. Brass & Box Wood 36" Folding Ruler No. 26Vtg 36" Lufkin No 1261 Utility Aluminum Yardstick 3 Ft Metal Rule Ruler UsaVintage Boxwood & Brass 4 Fold 24" Rule No: 1176 By Rabone Old Tool1951 Ellingson Hardware Co Phone 41 Edgerton Wi 12" Wisconsin Fishing Laws RulerOld Vintage Tool Lufkin Rule Co. 6" Inside Caliper Machinist Tool Saginaw Lot 97Vtg L.s. Starrett Co. 1911 47" Folding Metal Ruler # 451Stanley Beechwood Folding Rule LotVintage Stanley No. 36 Folding 6" Boxwood And Brass Ruler With Caliper Typewriter Ribbon Tin-------------2 Wooden Rulers Advertising TypewritersLot 2 Advertising Yardstick Wood Wooden Big Ruler Old Vintage 48" Bank 36" SearsVintage Ih International Harvester Trucks Metric Ruler 1960'sC 1949-50 Peerless Beer Curvec Metal Ruler Calendar La Crosse WisVintage Advertising Metal Yardstick Antique Wood Rulers Lot 9 Acrylic YardsticksEarly, Lufkin Rule Co., Saginaw, Mi., No. 199a, Needle Test Indicator, In CaseVintage Advertising Square Yardstick Wood Ruler Walking Stick Leather Strap Vintage Coca Cola Wooden Ruler Vintage Advertising Square Yardstick Wood Ruler Walking Stick Lot Of 2 LeatherVintage Gold Rimalo Pen Pencil Ruler Letter Opener Fountain Pen SetVintage 72" Durall Golden Rule Wooden Folding Ruler Made In UsaFd933 Korea Kawaii Cute Animal Ruler Stationery Wood Ruler Sewing Ruler ~1pc~4 (1950s )john Deere & International Farm RulerAntique "36" Working 1' Folding Ruler W/ 6" Caliper Boxwood BrassLufkin No. 372 Boxwood & Brass Folding Rule With Caliper England Boat Building Pot Belly Tyrannosaurus Marbled 1980s Superior Rulers Of The Earth Dinosaur Marx2 Vintage Lufkin Rules [ Models No.3851, 7030 ]Marbled Allosaurus 1980s Superior Rulers Of The Earth Brown Dinosaur Marx FigureVintage 1925 Lufkin Rule Co. No. 74c Thread Pitch Tool Gage Gauge Tools RepairLot: 17 Advertising/plain 12"-18" Rulers..smokey Bear/coke - Do Unto Others... Stegosaurus Marbled 1980s Superior Rulers Of The Earth Dinosaur Marx Vintage ToyGarage Rule Metal Tin Sign Vintage Bar Club Home Decoration Retro Wall Decor T812 Vintage Lufkin Folding Rulers--x48 8' Extension; #636 Brick Masons 6' DecorVintage Stanley 100 Plus No. X-226 Ball Lock Joints Folding Rule4pcsx Creative Student Straight Ruler Plastic Spirograph Ruler Drawing RulerAntique Stanley No. 163 24" Folding Wooden Rule