In this post I will look at a type of folding ruler commonly known as zig-zag rulers, and an interlocking or slide ruler. Zig-zag rulers are folding rulers made up of a number of short pieces with locking hinges connecting the pieces. When fully opened, a zig-zag ruler is often six or eight feet long, and is stiff enough to be held in one hand while being used to measure. These are the tools that I have always thought of as "carpenter's folding rules." I bought one when I started my (one and only) summer construction job in 1962, and I have one in my garage today.
The first zig-zag folding ruler from the Tison Tool Barn collection is this Lufkin Red End rule with a slide extension. The rule is 96 inches long when fully extended. The model number on this tool is badly smeared and unreadable, but a Lufkin Wood Rule Red End with Slide Rule Extension, Model No. X48, is still on the market.
The next folding rule is this Lufkin Model 1206 aluminum rule with brass hinges. Offerings for sale of examples of this rule on the Internet attribute it to the period from the 1920s through the 1950s. This ruler is 7 inches long folded, and 72 inches long fully extended.
The third zig-zag ruler in the Tison Tool Barn is this 24-inch long steel ruler. The only marking on it is the legend "MADE IN GERMANY." It has a leatherette case.
The final ruler from the Tison Tool Barn covered in this post is not really a folding ruler, but it is closely related, and is used like a zig-zag ruler. It is an Interlox Master Slide Rule, Model No. 106. Instead of legs swinging on hinges, each segment slides over the next segment, with clips on the edges keeping the segments rigidly in line. (The hinges on zig-zag rulers may loosen with use, allowing unwanted bends in an extended ruler.) It was advertised as ideal for measuring inside dimensions. This example of the Interlox ruler is 72 inches long fully extended. Rulers could be ordered from the manufacturer in one-foot increments of length. This ruler was advertised in a 1915 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine, and remained in production at least until World War II.
There are a number of plain old rulers and yardsticks in the Tison Tool Barn, but I'll get around to them some other time.
The Tison Tool Barn houses several two-foot long (and one three-foot long) folding rulers. All of those rulers are four-fold. Unlike the one-foot folding rulers described in the previous post, none of the two-foot folding rulers have calipers. Some of the rulers described in this post do have other tools combined with them.
Six of the two-foot folding rulers in the Tison Tool Barn were made by the Stanley Rule and Level Company. The collection includes two examples of the Stanley Model No. 62 folding ruler. This model is distinguished by brass banding that covers the narrow sides of the legs of the ruler, and the large brass caps flanking the center hinge.
The Tison Tool Barn holds three examples of the Stanley Model No. 68 folding ruler. This model has brass hinges and end caps, but does not have brass edging or any brass flanking the central hinge.
The Tison Tool Barn also holds a Stanley Model No. 84 folding ruler. The Model No. 84 has brass banding flanking the center hinge, similar to the Model No. 62 shown above, but does not have brass edging on the narrow sides of the legs.
The Tison Tool Barn has a few folding rulers made by the Lufkin Rule Co. Two of them are combination tools, and include a spirit-bubble level and a bevel, or angle-gauge (a protractor). The latter allows a worker to measure and transfer angles. First is this Model No. 863 L.
Next is the Model No. 873 L. The spirit-bubble on the Model No. 873 L is slightly shorter, and positioned a little closer to the central hinge, than that on the Model No. 863 L. There is also a difference in the profile of the brass banding next to the center hinge.
Another Lufkin folding ruler in the Tison Tool Barn is the Model No. 3851. Unlike the other rulers covered in this post, the Model No. 3851 is three feet long when fully opened. It is a four-fold ruler, so each segment is nine inches long,
The last item in this post, from the first half of the 19th century, is older than the others covered here. The ruler is marked "J. WATTS BOSTON." Joseph Watts is known to have produced tools in Charleston, Mass. from 1834 until 1849. This ruler is two feet long, and four-fold. One end segment has an extension bar, which may be slid out almost six inches. This feature makes it easy to measure inside an opening of up to almost 2-1/2 feet across, using only one hand to hold the ruler. (Various foldings of the ruler give a base measurement of 6, 12, 18 or 24 inches.) One of the uses for this tool in the 19th century would have been finding the inside diameter of a cask, needed to calculate the capacity of the cask.
In my next post I will look at a few zig-zag rulers, and one interlocking or slide ruler, that are in the Tison Tool Barn.
A folding ruler, also known as a carpenter's ruler or mason's ruler, folds or otherwise collapses, so that it is generally between six and eight inches long when folded, and can be kept in a pocket. Carpenter's overalls typically have a special pocket on the side of a leg to hold one of these rulers. (Carpenter's overalls sold today may advertise this pocket as also suitable for holding a cell phone.) Folding rulers have been largely replaced by tape measures, but 'zig-zag' rulers are still being manufactured.
Folding rulers have a long history. A (Roman) foot-long folding ruler made of brass was found in the ruins of Pompeii. Folding rulers are known from Italy by the end of the 16th century. Most folding rulers were made from wood, particularly boxwood. Some were made of ivory or bone, while many are now made of metal or man-made materials. Hinges, swivel joints, and bandings were usually made of brass or 'German silver' (a copper and nickle alloy).
The Tison Tool Tool barn collection includes about 20 folding rulers. The five rulers covered in this post are all made of boxwood and brass, and all include a caliper for measuring the outside diameter or width on an object. The first three are two-fold, and are one foot long when opened. The caliper on these three rulers each have a bar just over five inches long, which would allow measurement of objects up to about four inches in diameter.
First is this folding ruler, a model No. 36-1/2 made by the Stanley Tool and Level Company.
This next folding ruler doe not have a manufacturer's mark on it, but it is labeled as a model No. 36-1/2, and was probably made by Stanley.
This next folding ruler is also a one-foot two-fold ruler, a Stanley model 36-1/2 R. (Stanley also made a model 36-1/2 L folding ruler, but the Tison Tool Barn does not have an example of that model.) I am not aware of how this ruler (model 36-1/2 R) differs from the plain model 36-1/2.
The next folding ruler in the Tison Tool Barn is a Lufkin model No. 386, made of boxwood and brass. It is also one foot long when opened, but is four-fold, meaning that is is only about 3-1/4 inches long when folded. This ruler also has a caliper, but the bar is only three inches long.
The last item in this post is not a folding ruler, but at just four inches long, does count as a pocket ruler. It is a Stanley model No. 136 R, and includes a caliper.
In my next post I will look at some two-foot long folding rulers from the Tison Tool Barn collection.
I have been a volunteer at the Matheson History Museum. Feeling an affinity with old hand tools (some of which I remember from my youth), I have tried to learn more about the history of the tools in the Tison Tool Barn, and how they were used.
All text and photographs by Donald Albury in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. All illustrations taken from Wikimedia Commons are either in the public domain, or have been released under a Creative Commons license.
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