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    

Georgian Etui Shagreen Drawing Instrument Set Sector Rule EtcInternational Harvester Ruler Ih Ruler Dealer Ruler Farmall Fast HitchStarrett Combination Square No. 4 Grad 12" Ruler Made In UsaAntique Army & Navy C.s.l. Section Folding Rule RulerStanley No. 13 1/2 Boxwood & Brass Folding Rule W/ Caliper - RulerStephens & Co # 36 Brass Bound 1' Inclinometer Rule W/ Level & Bevel 1858 PatentBridge City Tool Works Rs18 "the Mother Of All Rulers" With All Extensions PartsVintage Starrett 18" No. 4 Combination Square Hardened Steel Rule & Center HeadVintage 1983 Star Wars Rotj Hcf Stationary Pencil Ruler Topper Sharpener MemopadKeuffel & Esser Co. Paragon Triangular 18" & 12" Engineer RulersStanley No. 78 1/2 Brass Bound Boxwood Rule Two Foot Four FoldUpson Engineer Folding Ruler No.36 1/2 W/ Sliding Caliper Wood And Brass Small Vintage Stanley London Ruler - 2.25" Long - Surveyor/architect/engineerStanley # 54 Boxwood Rule With Patd. Angle AttachmentLufkin No 863l Boxwood - Made In England - 2 Foot Rule - Level - ProtractorTwo Lufkin No.62 36" Steel RulesAntique Folding Wood & Brass Ruler 12 Inches 9 Pc Lot - Machinist Tool RulersNo. 95 Lufkin Circumference Rule- 48" Steel Tinners RulerVintage Stephens Co. The Chapin No 36 Inclinometer, Level And Ruler5 Ft Lufkin #62 Steel Machinist RuleUnion Tempered No. 4 12-inch Hooked Rule Ruler Blade Scale Tool Lot MachinistVintage Two Foot (24") Boxwood Brass Folding Ruler Rabone No #1165 - VgcEnglish Metric 4 Fold 1' Antique Ivory Silver Ruler Stanley 88 1/2? ~ JcboxlotL.c. Stephens & Co. Brass Bound 2 Ft.- 2 Fold Rule No. 27.Exceptional Two Foot Brass Blacksmith Rule Near Mint Lufkin 1085 Broad Arrow A Rare Victorian 12 Inch Rolling Ruler With Original Transfer 'approved For...' American Twist Drill Detroit 5-inch 5" Rule Ruler Blade Scale Tool MachinistVintage Stanley No. 36 Fold & Slide Wood Brass Combination Ruler 6” To 8”Stanley No. 15 Two Foot Two Fold Rule Gunter's Scale Brass SlideFate/apocrypha Ruler (joan Of Arc) Clear File Anime Japan/g554-068Earthbound Promotional Nintendo RulerVintage L.s. Starrett Rule, Protractor, Angle No 4rgrad 24"Rare Boxwood & Brass 24" Folding Right Angle Tailors Square Rule Old ToolVintage The C-s Co. Number 36 Folding Ruler Wood & Brass Stanley1950's International Harvester Dealer Metal Ruler....lawrence, KansasVintage Lufkin # 372 (36 1/2) Folding Rule Ruler Caliper 12 Inch Brass & BoxwoodVintage Stanley Usa Pocket 4 Inch Caliper Ruler Brass And Wood No. 136 1/2Vintage Lufkin 48" Folding Ruler No. 4883Dunhill 12" Ruler Lighter Made In West Germany.Stephens No 97 Caliper Rule BoundPickett Model No. N600-es Log Log Speed Rule In Original CaseOlder Union Pet Rabone Starrett Craftsman Machinist Rulers ScalesBlue Point Protractor Head & Rule Tool - Machinist Woodwork Mechanic Blue-pointLot 3 Vintage Stanley / Lufkin Folding Wood Ruler -2 Rules #372 1- Rule #372r1951 Bowman Red Menace #25 Red Rule In Manchuria Nm In Psa 7Dr Pepper 12 Inch Plastic Ruler From The 1960's With Chevron LogoBlacksmith Rule, Lufkin Rule #1176, Very Good Shape, Collectible-userVintage Lufkin #386 Boxwood & Brass Folding Rule - With Caliper SlideAntique Wooden Fold-out RulerVintage Folding Wooden Ruler Lot Of 2Vintage Detroit Terminal Railroad Company Operating Rule For Employees 19561909 - 1910 -- International Harvester -- Advertising Folding Celluloid Ruler IhVintage Lufkin No.751 61 24" Folding Boxwood 2 Foot Ruler Made In NycAntique Folding Ruler 24 Inch Made In England By J. Babonx & SonsPrecious Moments-queen/princess/crown/sceptor-girls RuleVintage Advertising Ruler Clear Plastic International Harvester Of Canada 12"Mccormick Deering Tractors Ruler Yard Walking Stick Fond Du Lac Wis 1920sAntique Wooden Folding Ruler - 12" - Us 32Stanley No 61ae Boxwood Rule