Several readers have encouraged me to take a look at the OXO 16″ folding ruler, which is an inexpensive aluminum recreation of the classic 19th-century folding ruler.
I picked one up at Staples for $6.99 and have been fiddling with it to determine if it’s the second coming or just a second-string tool for the shop.
If you’re not familiar with the OXO brand, it’s a company that specializes in household tools for the kitchen, garden, bath and office that generally feel soft and pleasant to grip. As an enthusiastic cook, I swear by the OXO vegetable peeler, but I detest the company’s kitchen shears, which don’t seem to cut much of anything as near as I can tell.
The folding ruler is an interesting piece of work. In some ways, it’s a faithful interpretation of the folding ruler that every woodworker once used. The two arms of the ruler swivel on a round hinge; when closed, the arms are held in alignment by a small steel pin. So far, so sweet.
Also good: When you open up the ruler, its hinge tightens up, nearly locking the two arms in the open position. The ruler is substantially straight (don’t go checking handplane soles with it, however), and draws a nice straight line when open.
More cleverness: The round hinge is marked in 15Ã?Â° increments from 0Ã?Â° to 180Ã?Â°. I wouldn’t set my table saw with the tool, but it could work like a bevel gauge in a pinch. And I also like the fact that there is a hole bored through the hinge, which makes it easy to hang the tool on a nail.
The markings are accurate and fairly crisp, but be aware that it’s no Starrett. One face is marked in imperial (16ths, with 1/32s in the first inch), and marked in metric on the other.
I do have some misgivings about the tool for the shop, however. The markings aren’t etched on the aluminum. They’re merely printed on and are easy to scratch away (yes, I tried). Also, the profile of the ruler isn’t ideal for marking your work. The ruler tapers in thickness on the edge marked with its scale. If you want to actually mark your work with this ruler, you have to rock the ruler forward. Awkward. Speaking of marking, use a pencil when you mark with this tool. The aluminum is easy to slice with a marking knife.
And finally, while I love the hole through the circular hinge, I wonder how long it will hold tight. Loose hinges are a real problem with traditional folding rulers. However, with an old-school ruler, the fix is simple: You just peen the rivet that connects the rulers arms. If the OXO’s hinge gets loose, I’m not sure there is a way to fix it.
Truth is, I know I’m asking a lot of this tool. It was built for the office, not the workshop. And it’s $6.99. If you pick one up at Staples the next time you’re buying paperclips, remember the Clint Eastwood line: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
– Christopher Schwarz
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