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”)

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]

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]

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    

Ultra Rare Vintage Samson Mordan & Co Ruler & Pencil Combined - Bone & Sterling1 Foot 4 Fold Antique Ivory Ruler Rule Stanley 90 W Pins ~ JcboxlotLot Of Machinist Tools - 24 Pieces- Calipers, Micrometers, Punches, Rule, ClampsLot Of 5 Smokey The Bear Vintage Bookmark RulersStanley 27 Carpenter's Sliding Rule Gunter's Drafting Scales Girt Old CalculatorAntique Engraved Nickel Silver Ivory Folding Ruler # 40 – 12” LongLook>lufkin No 863l Boxwood - Made In England - 2 Foot Rule - Level - ProtractorVintage 24" Stanley No. 62 Brass & Boxwood Folding RuleAntique Wood & Brass Folding Rule Ruler 24" No. 42 1/2 Stephens & Co Riverton CtAntique Ivory & German Silver 2 Ft. / 4-fold RuleAntique Vintage Stanley Number 32 Wooden Four Fold RulerBpoe Elks Ceremonial Dress Collar Necklace Past Exalted Ruler Purple Velvet Back*rare* J.rabone Birmingham No.1195 4ft Boxwood Folding Rule *rare Length*Vintage Scale Rule Ruler With 2 Sliders (k8)Chapin No 26 Rule Union Factory Antique Vintage Folding Ruler Rare 14k Gold Plated Mayor Frank L Rizzo Philadelphia Mini Pocket RuleVintage Drawing Instruments Ruler & Protractor(dated1920) Lots Items UnderneathPsa 10 Gem Mint Dragonite Ex Rulers Of The Heavens 2003 1st Edition Holo 038/054Stanley (5) Lufkin (2), Chapin And Miss. Folding Rulers Lot Of 13 Total26 Wooden Advertising Yardsticks - Rulers Nice Lot, Craft Supplies - Used Standard Rule Co No 65 1/2 Boxwood Rule Antique Vintage Folding Ruler Dietzgen Keuffel & Esser Co. Wooden Architecture Engineer Ruler Drafting ToolsEa Stearns Boxwood Rule Antique Vintage Folding Ruler Hubbard Hardware Co No 84 Boxwood Rule Antique Vintage Folding RulerVintage Stanley No 42 Shipbuilders Carpenter's Bevel Rule ~ Two TonguesVintage Old Miss Statistic Lufkin Usa Tape Measure Ruler White Clad 6' 1960s2 Vintage Beautiful All Wood Drafting T Square Ruler Architect Engineer Drawing Vintage Lot Rulers Pocket Pal Lufkin Red End Johnson Roe Flex Engineer Tools NrAntique Ruler Wood Blickensderfer Typewriters 1980s Cs Co No 32 Boxwood RuleVintage Early Stanley #57 4 Fold 1 Ft RuleAntique Celluloid Foldable Ruler Elgin Saddlery & Harness Co Elgin IllinoisStanley Rule & Level Co. #62 Boxwood & Brass Bound Carpenters' Folding RuleVintage Twin Pines Dairy Ruler Rule AdvertisingChapin No 72 Boxwood Rule Antique Vintage Folding Ruler Plastic Or Acrylic Bruning/vard Drafting Machine 1/2 & Full Size 12" & 18" RulerVintage Stanley Rule & Level Co. No. 62 Boxwood & Brass Edge 24" Folding Ruler Vintage Stanley Rule & Level Co. No. 62 Boxwood & Brass Edge 24" Folding RulerVintage Wooden Folding Ruler (6-8")Vintage Executive Pocket Pal Protractor Angle Gage,8'' Rule Machinist ToolBloomington Indiana 1959 Dealers RulerDutch Boy Product Ruler/ Mechanical Pencil VintageVintage Carpenter Tools Griffin Magnetic Ruler Brass & Boxwood Has BoxVintage-lufkin-red-end-6ft.-folding-ruler W/6"extention-brass JointsVtg L.s. Starrett Co No 171 Metal Tempered T Square Ruler Drafting Drawing Tool L S Starrett No 289 Combination Square 90 Degree Ruler Clamp Handy ToolVntg Lufkin Folding Rule, 12" - Lufkin No. 372, Wood/brassWood Rulers St. Lawrence Dairy, Kline Boyertown Pa Coca-cola Bottling CompanyVintage Lufkin 47 Inch No 62 Ruler!Vintage 72" Stanley No.35-227 Carpenters Wood/brass Zig Zag Rule 339tc NaturalL.s. Starrett No. 289-b Combination Square Attachment And Ruler Hillsboro Illinois 1959 Dealers RulerRobinson Illinois 1959 Dealers RulerWindsor N.c. 1959 Chervolet Dealers RulerVintage Wooden Marco Folding Measurer RulerR69 1938 Gum, Inc. Horrors Of War High #273 Nanking Under Japanese RuleVintage A&w Advertising Ruler. A&w Root Beer. RareYork, Pa & Harrisburg, Pa- Thompson College - Advertising Wooden Ruler 12 InchesUpson Nut Co. Folding Ruler Old ToolUnique Vintage 12 Inlaid Wood Sample Norris Dam Tn Souvenir Measuring Ruler Tool