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Folding boxwood rules... when?

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Eric The Viking

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A question for the tool collectors... when did folding boxwood rules come into general use?

I'd guess it was some time at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but I really have no idea.

I'm only curious because I'm having a clearout and came across a simple 2' one (just one hinge). It was absolutely filthy dirty, in a box of rusty files, so bad I didn't recognise what it was initially. It has no maker's name, and belonged to my wife's grandfather, so was probably bought any time between around 1910 and 1980. It's probably Winfield's finest, but it does seem to be bang-on 24", so I don't think he used it as a push stick! It's cleaned up reasonably well, but it's very stained and the scale is almost invisible in places.

My own grandfather always had one in a pocket of his dungarees, in fact think he had a pocket for just that purpose.

I expect you can probably still get them new, too, but I've never seen a short one before, at least not one that's intentionally short!

Just curious, and of course the follow-up question will be what people used before boxwood rules!

:) E.
 

bourbon

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I do medieval re enactment, When our carpender needs to measure something, he uses a piece of string. I know that's not helping the OP but that's my pennyworth.
 

Steve Maskery

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When I was very small, I broke my Granddad's boxwood rule, playing with it. I don't remember how it happened. I do, however, remember lying that it wasn't me...
Somewhere, I have a 6" one, quite wide, probably about 1½". IIRC it has a vernier scale on it, too. I'll have to see if I can find it.
 

Just4Fun

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Eric The Viking":meyo582v said:
My own grandfather always had one in a pocket of his dungarees, in fact think he had a pocket for just that purpose.
Was your grandfather also my grandfather? Or did all grandfathers come equipped like that?

I expect you can probably still get them new ...
Last year I saw a couple of plastic ones to the same design but I haven't seen a wooden one for many years.
 

Mr_Pea

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Before boxwood rules

The measuring rod

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_rod

Ancient Europe[edit]

An oak rod from the Iron Age fortified settlement at Borre Fen in Denmark measured 53.15 inches (135.0 cm), with marks dividing it up into eight parts of 6.64 inches (16.9 cm), corresponding quite closely to half a Doric Pous (a Greek foot).[14] A hazel measuring rod recovered from a Bronze Age burial mound in Borum Eshøj, East Jutland by P. V. Glob in 1875 measured 30.9 inches (78 cm) corresponding remarkably well to the traditional Danish foot.[15] The megalithic structures of Great Britain has been hypothesized to have been built by a "Megalithic Yard", though some authorities believe these structures have been measured out by pacing.[16][17][18] Several tentative Bronze age bone fragments have been suggested as being parts of a measuring rod for this hypothetical measurement.[16]
 

Steve Maskery

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Eric The Viking":8s68w7zv said:
My own grandfather always had one in a pocket of his dungarees, in fact think he had a pocket for just that purpose.
Indeed. My dad always wore denim bib and braces overalls, plus a jacket in the same material if it was cold. There was a long narrow pocket in the thigh for a ruler and a pocket in the bib for a pencil or two.

I remember the smell of it (although that could just have been the Park Drive...)
 

AndyT

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That's a good question, Eric. I'm away from my library this sunny Easter weekend so I can only offer a guess and suggest "the eighteenth century" and maybe in Birmingham rather than Sheffield.
Jane Rees would know, and I expect anyone with a copy of her splendid publication "The Rule Book" will know too.
I have read about very early carpenter's rules such as were found on the Mary Rose but they were simple non-folding sticks.
Making fiddly things from brass - such as hinges for rules - was what made 18th century Birmingham famous. The biggest maker by far was Rabone who according to Grace's Guide started in the 18th century. Exactly when the first jointed rule came out - I don't know.

The range on offer by the nineteenth century was huge, with special patterns for many trades which used slide rule scales to perform specific calculations and measure how much timber a log would yield, the weight of an ox, or the amount of beer left in a nearly empty barrel.
 

AndyT

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I recently bought a pair of Dickies brand work trousers. Not only do they have a loop for a hammer, they have a double rule pocket down the left leg. Highly recommended!
 

Bm101

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bourbon":12d9koi6 said:
I do medieval re enactment, When our carpender needs to measure something, he uses a piece of string.
How long is it?
:D
 

rxh

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IMG_4442C.jpg
It's an interesting question and I don't know the answer. However, I would like to pose two additional questions:
- When did folding boxwood rules cease to be produced?
- When did self-retracting steel tape measures appear?

I have these two rules, conveniently marked with dates 1966 and 1968. In the intervening two years it looks like the bean counters have got to work as the brass detail is simpler and the word "boxwood" has vanished.
 

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Rorschach

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Folding rulers are still available. I got one not that long ago, I figured it might be useful for certain jobs and I just fancied trying one.
 

Cheshirechappie

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My RCF Tools catalogus, dated Summer 1976, still lists folding rules. they all seem to be 3', though 1m ones have crept in. There are three quality grades, two by Rabone Chesterman, and a DIY quality by Taurus (these being made of 'hardwood'). The Rabone Chesterman ones are in either 'Makrolon' ('A material sufficiently rigid for a carpenter's rule whilst being flexible and virtually unbreakable' - which just sounds like throwing down a challenge to some people!), or Boxwood.

So in answer to the question, "When did boxwood rules cease to be available", I don't know, but they were still made and sold in the mid 1970s.
 

Eric The Viking

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But my original questions were, "When did they come in?" And, "what was used before them?"

I understand rods/story sticks, and I will follow up on AndyT's recommendations, but you can't build cathedrals entirely without measurements! Yes, I know they had setting-out floors, where the master mason would practice the black art of geometry, but there's more to it than that: the Romans had units of distance measurement, notably the inch and cubit (and foot too, IIRC), but did people just carry yardsticks around in the C16th (and divide-up geometrically), or what? And how standard was standard?
 

Just4Fun

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Rorschach":qnzb3b4x said:
Folding rulers are still available. I got one not that long ago, I figured it might be useful for certain jobs and I just fancied trying one.
What is your rule made of? Have you found it useful?

They have a certain nostalgic attraction to me but I don't find them useful for practical purposes. Partly because the design seems more awkward than a steel tape and partly because the old ones are imperial and I generally work with metric measurements.

Incidentally a chippie I used to know would use his boxwood rule to slice through wallpaper. He just folded the paper over and quickly swiped his rule down the crease to produce a clean cut. Whenever I tried that I got a ragged mess.
 

thick_mike

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I bought a Festool branded one last year, just because I saw someone using one on a YouTube video for making out sheet goods for ripping down (a bit like a panel gauge, but using your finger as the fence).

My grandad also used to carry a boxwood one all the time. I loved playing with it as a kid.
 

Doingupthehouse

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Rorschach

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Just4Fun":1mjvl4ng said:
Rorschach":1mjvl4ng said:
Folding rulers are still available. I got one not that long ago, I figured it might be useful for certain jobs and I just fancied trying one.
What is your rule made of? Have you found it useful?
Mine is made of wood, Made in Germany by Bauma and is is Class 3 accuracy. It is 2metres long.

So far I have not used it a lot (had it only a few months), as I said I was mostly just curious.

For a lot of jobs a tape measure is just simply better but I am sure there are time when a rule has the advantage. Only job so far where it was superior to a tape was for measuring the depth of a barrel. Pushing on a tape causes it to buckle and it's very hard to get it in position at the bottom etc. The rule was perfect, easy to align, no buckling.
 

Cheshirechappie

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Eric The Viking":3ecmcuf9 said:
But my original questions were, "When did they come in?" And, "what was used before them?"

I understand rods/story sticks, and I will follow up on AndyT's recommendations, but you can't build cathedrals entirely without measurements! Yes, I know they had setting-out floors, where the master mason would practice the black art of geometry, but there's more to it than that: the Romans had units of distance measurement, notably the inch and cubit (and foot too, IIRC), but did people just carry yardsticks around in the C16th (and divide-up geometrically), or what? And how standard was standard?
Sorry, Eric! I was trying to provide some info to RXH, and the questions he posed in his comment.

According to this link - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Ullrich - folding rules were first produced in the Rhineland 1851. I'm mildly surprised, having expected them to be a few years earlier than that, but maybe when Andy is back with his library he could check whether the history of the folding rule is a bit more complex than the link suggests.

I'm pretty sure that non-folding rules (as distinct from notched sticks) go back into the 17th century, when instrument makers were developing increasingly-accurate dividing engines, for navigational and mathematical instruments. Again, that needs checking, though!
 

JSW

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Doingupthehouse":2t0av45r said:
thick_mike":2t0av45r said:
I bought a Festool branded one last year, just because I saw someone using one on a YouTube video for making out sheet goods for ripping down (a bit like a panel gauge, but using your finger as the fence).

My grandad also used to carry a boxwood one all the time. I loved playing with it as a kid.
Surprisingly, for Festool, it’s quite reasonably priced!

https://www.ffx.co.uk/tools/product/Festool-201464-4014549263099-Wooden-Folding-Rule-2M
I noticed on that link the rule pictured has a Stabila mark on it, so Googling Stabila yielded this :-

https://www.stabila.com/en/company/history.html

1886

Anton Ullrich and his brother Franz receive a patent regarding a spring-loaded joint for folding rules.
This signals the date when the folding rule we know today was born.
 
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