FOLDING RULES

Last updated: 19 February 2017

FOLDING BOXWOOD RULES

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Rules made of boxwood were the primary measuring tools used by workers in my trade for bench work and general use prior to the 1960s - it seemed every craftsman and apprentice carried a folding boxwood rule in his apron or overall pocket. Some older craftsmen used the ivory rules that were offered by most of these makers, but their usage was not extensive due to their expense and the (maybe undeserved) perception that they shrank and splintered with use.

In general, folding boxwood rules manufactured in England read from left to right while those manufactured in the USA read from right to left. Plain rules such as bench rules, desk top rulers, pattern maker's shrinkage rules, etc. manufactured in the USA read from left to right. Stanley and Lufkin would supply their folding boxwood rules to US customers reading left to right on special order.

I have illustrated here as many representative styles and types of boxwood rules used in the woodworking trades as practicable.

The strength (and cost) of folding boxwood rules was directly related to the type of hinges (especially the main folding hinge) employed:

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Top to bottom:
Round hinge: weakest and least expensive
Square hinge: stronger and more expensive
Arch hinge: strongest and most expensive

The middle rule has fully brass bound edges - another feature that added to the cost of the rule.

The history of most rule manufacturers is quite convoluted - company names and locations often changed several times during their existence. Because of this, only very general historical information is included here.

This is not intended to be a survey of all boxwood rules - rather the ones I depict and describe here represent those that I have owned or used during my lifetime.

John Rabone & Sons - Birmingham, England

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Post WWII boxwood rule marking

The boxwood rules produced by John Rabone & Sons (est. 1784) were renowned for their excellent design and quality of manufacture.

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No. 1167 Rabone 3ft four-fold boxwood "Blindman's rule".

"Blindman's rule" was a term used to describe those with extra large and black numbers - Stanley and Lufkin actually labeled them that way in their catalogs while Chapin-Stephens marked and cataloged them as "Nearsite rules". They were particularly well liked by older workers with diminished eyesight especially in poorly lighted work areas. I liked them anyway for general use.

In 1963 John Rabone & Sons merged with James Chesterman Co. Ltd. - renowned manufacturer of high quality steel rules - to form The Rabone Chesterman Co. This company continued to manufacture measuring (and other) tools at the Chesterman Sheffield Bow Works until they were bought out by Stanley in 1984.

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No. 1162 Rabone Chesterman 3ft four-fold compass hinge boxwood
rule - unused with original factory decals.

Edward Preston & Sons - Birmingham, England

This prestigious English firm - renowned for their wide range of high quality hand tools - manufactured fine boxwood rules from the date of their founding in 1825 until their demise in 1933. Their folding boxwood rules have always been highly regarded by woodworking craftsmen.

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No. 3111 Preston 2ft four-fold boxwood rule

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Marked:
No. 3111 ..... E. PRESTON & SONS B'HAM. ENG.
TRADEMARK (EP in cartouche) ..... WARRANd BOXWOOD

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Belcher Brothers & Co. - New York City, USA

The oldest manufacturer of boxwood rules in the United States, this company was founded originally in 1821 as Thomas Belcher Co. - Belcher Brothers & Co. was in business from 1853 until 1885.

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Belcher 24" plain bench rule

Plain boxwood rules - bench rules, desk top rulers, pattern maker's shrinkage rules, etc. manufactured in the USA read from left to right.

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Elegant old English numbering was used on early Belcher rules

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Marked: BELCHER BROs. Co. N.Y.

Stanley Rule & Level Co./Stanley Tools - New Britain, Conn. USA

Stanley Rule & Level Co. (est. 1858) - subsequently Stanley Tools - maintained an excellent reputation for producing fine quality rules of all types that were universally popular with all kinds of woodworkers. Stanley bought out and absorbed numerous smaller companies especially during the early 1900s. Stanley would supply their folding boxwood rules to US customers reading left to right in the English tradition on special order.

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Stanley's least expensive 2ft four-fold boxwood rule (No. 68)
popular in school woodworking shops and with Apprentices.
Marked:
NO.68 ..... STANLEY .....

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Stanley's top of the line 2ft four-fold boxwood rule (No. 62)
fully brass bound (discontinued after WWII)
Marked:
STANLEY ..... NO. 62 and on reverse side .........

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Several US manufacturers adopted Stanley's numbering system for their own boxwood rules.

H. Chapin Co. & Chapin-Stephens Co. - Pine Meadow, Conn. USA

The H. Chapin Co. (est. 1826) was a great innovator in the production of boxwood rules and several of their employees (such as Lorenzo Stephens with his son, Delos H. and Henry Seymour) went on to form their own manufacturing companies. The H. Chapin Co. subsequently merged with the D. H. Stephens Co. in 1901 to form the Chapin-Stephens Co. which produced fine quality boxwood rules (and other tools) before going out of business in 1929.

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Chapin 2ft four-fold fully brass bound boxwood rule (No. 15)

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Marked: NO 15 ..... H. CHAPIN ..... U.S. STANDARD

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Chapin-Stephens 2ft four-fold fully brass bound boxwood rule (No. 84)

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Marked: NO. 84 ..... THE C-S CO ..... PINE MEADOW ..... CONN U.S.A.

Note: These rules were also marked: THE CHAPIN-STEPHENS CO. instead of C-S CO.

Lufkin Rule Co. - Saginaw, Mich. USA

The Lufkin Rule Co. (est. 1869) produced fine quality boxwood rules which have always been popular and highly regarded. At one time they were the largest manufacturer of rules in the United States. Lufkin would supply their folding boxwood rules to US customers reading left to right in the English tradition on special order.

Note: Lufkin entered into an agreement with John Rabone & Sons whereby the latter company would manufacture folding boxwood rules to Lufkin's specification for the British market and mark them "Lufkin Made in England". These rules read from left to right in the English tradition.

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Lufkin 2 ft four-fold boxwood rule
Marked: No. 651 ..... LUFKIN ..... MADE IN ENGLAND ..... BOXWOOD

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Lufkin 12 inch two-fold boxwood rule with caliper slide
Marked: LUFKIN ..... No. 372 (36½) ..... WARRANTED ..... BOXWOOD

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Lufkin 6 inch two-fold boxwood rule with caliper slide marked: LUFKIN

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Marked on reverse side: NO. 171 ..... MADE IN U.S.A

Upson Nut Co. - Unionville, Conn. USA

Founded circa. 1854 in New York, this company manufactured a wide range of boxwood rules until they went out of business in 1911.

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Upson 2ft four-fold boxwood rule (No. 61)

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Marked: No.61 ..... UPSON NUT CO.

Note: Several US manufacturers adopted Stanley's numbering system for their own boxwood rules - including Upson.

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An enormous amount of sawdust was generated during the production
of Boxwood Rules. Manufacturers found a variety of ways to dispose
of it in a profitable manner.


FOLDING STEEL RULES

Folding steel rules were also favored by some workers in my trade especially for use at job sites.

James Chesterman Co. Ltd. - Sheffield, England

The plain and folding steel rules manufactured by James Chesterman Co. Ltd. (est. 1829) were renowned for their excellent design, clear markings and fine finish.

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Markings on 1920s/1930s steel rules:
LONDON ..... CHESTERMAN ..... SHEFFIELD ..... ENGLAND

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No. 891 12" three-fold steel rule

Lufkin Rule Co. - Saginaw, Mich. USA

The Lufkin Rule Co. (est. 1869) produced high quality steel folding rules which have always been popular. I particularly like their No. 117x series - especially the 72" (No. 1176).

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Lufkin 72" No. 1176 folding steel rule marked:
No.1176 ..... THE LUFKIN RULE Co. ..... SAGINAW MICH. ..... MADE IN U.S.A.

The L.S. Starrett Co. - Athol, Mass. USA

The L.S. Starrett Company (est. 1880) - famous for their high quality precision measuring tools - produced a series of folding steel rules from circa. 1890 until 1953. I particularly liked their No. 451 series folding steel rules which were available in 2ft - 6ft lengths.

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Starrett 6ft folding steel rule (No. 451) marked:
No. 451 ..... THE L. S. STARRETT CO. ..... ATHOL MASS U.S.A. ..... TEMPERED

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Starrett 3 ft four-fold steel rule (No. 451)
No. 451 ..... THE L. S. STARRETT CO. ..... ATHOL MASS U.S.A. ..... TEMPERED


"ZIG-ZAG" FOLDING MAPLE RULES

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Lufkin 6 ft "Zig-Zag" folding rule
Marked: X46 ..... Lufkin ..... RED ..... END ..... EXTENSION

Lufkin, Stanley - and several other rule manufacturers - produced "zig-zag" folding maple rules that were (I think) mostly popular in the building and general carpentry trades. They remain popular to this day. I have used this type of rule during general home maintenance projects - that is until the advent of inexpensive retractable steel tape measures.


Link to Vintage Woodworking Hand Tools Directory