In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I feel like a dirty English tool dealer this morning. But I’m OK with that.

Recently I purchased a bunch of brass-bound folding rules to give to co-workers and friends. Most of these were Stanley No. 62s, a common rule that I really like. If you want to know my favorite one, however, you’ll have to come to Cincinnati in May and fish it out of my tool cabinet.

In any case, the last folding rule I had left to give away was definitely an Alberto Fujimori (a former ruler). The scales on the outside were too dark to read. The scales on the inside of the rule were OK. The rule had cost only $1.76, so I wasn’t feeling overly shafted.

This folding rule was special because it had been used hard. The brass corners were worn from frequent use. One of the scales was charred a bit (that must have an interesting tale behind it). But despite the bad scales, its joints worked well and the rule had two of its three alignment pins intact , so it hadn’t been mistreated. Most folding rules are missing these pins, which keep all the components locked together when the rule is folded.

So I decided to try to restore this rule and see if I could turn it back into a nice piece of workshop equipment. British tool dealers have a bad reputation of taking beautifully patinated tools and wire brushing them into pupil-piercing brilliantness. I didn’t want to do that. So I started with a mild cleaning with mineral spirits and a toothbrush.

That did absolutely nothing.

So I consulted Philip E. Stanley’s book on folding rules (“A Source Book for Rule Collectors” , love the book, by the by). He recommends using Boraxo, a hand cleaner with lanolin. You can get it at home centers. It’s a bit gritty, smells like oranges and removes grease from your hands.

Here’s the ruler after I treated one scale with Boraxo (at top). The other scale is untreated.

I cleaned one arm of the folding rule with the stuff last night and things began looking up. The paper towel got a brown skid-mark and the ruler got easier to read. However, Easter morning I woke up and (after making French toast and helping the kids find their eggs) I decided to do a little ruler resurrection. I was going to potentially throw my $1.76 down the metaphorical toilet.

I mixed up some wood bleach (oxalic acid). I like a solution of three tablespoons of powdered bleach with 16 ounces of hot water in a glass salsa jar. I use this bleach solution for removing iron stains when I steam-bend wood and then nail it (like when I make Shaker oval boxes).

Here’s the ruler after I treated one scale with oxalic acid (at left). The right scale is untreated.

With rubber gloves on, I applied the bleach with a woven gray pad. Within a minute, the boxwood lightened considerably. But the ink on the rule stayed intact. Whew. I rinsed the rule in running water, allowed it to dry and applied two coats of wax.

Sorry tool collectors. You’re going to have to wait for another 50 years of patina before you can have this one. It’s going back to work.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 19 comments
  • magicbill

    What is the name of the hinge and where I can buy it.

    Bill Rosenblum

  • Jamie Ray

    Goop, another hand cleaner with lanolin is exceptionally good at cleaning up tools, brass especially. It doesn’t have the grit; it doesn’t need it. Just be sure to use mild detergent and water to clean all of the lanolin off before adding wax or a finish. I’ve used Goop to clean ten or so rules now. I usually apply a coat of dewaxed blonde shellac to finish everything off.

  • winton

    The Boraxo I use does not smell like oranges. It is white powder with mild high quality soap. Works great on my hands to remove auto grease etc. I was thrilled to here you were using it. Then I read the oranges thing. I get my stuff at King supers and it comes as dry powder like cornmeal. The grit is like corn meal; doesn’t seem like it would scratch anything.

    Keep up the great blogs Chris ! In my book you are a beacon in a gray fog these days when it comes to text and pics about wood working.

  • Michael D

    Thanks for the tips. I need to try the wood bleach trick for a ruler I have! I had lightened it up with a simple cleaning but it could maybe use a little more.

    On my rulers, the numbers and markings are indented in the ruler. I tried wiping on some black shoe polish and then wiping it off. It did a great job highlighting them again. And by wiping it off, it cleans up the leftover polish so its not going to get on other things.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I’ve discussed how to adjust the hinge pins here in the blog.

    The alignment pins are just brass pins that are glued in place. The binding is installed with simple rivets. I don’t know of anyone who has written about these in detail as they relate to rules. They are pretty straightforward "see it and fix it" repairs.

    I just dive in. You can always get another one to practice on.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    I’m afraid I don’t know much about the English manufacturers. You might check with Mensuration, The Rule Collectors Association." The last phone number I have for Philip Stanley there is 508-366-9442.


  • Bob Diehl

    I have a Epreston & Sons from B’Ham England with 1/16 on one side and 1/8 on the other from my grandfather. It is number 3815. What do you know about this?

  • Chuck Nickerson

    Restoring alignment pins, brass-binding pins, and tweaking hinge pins: where would I read about doing these things?

  • Christopher Schwarz


    If you mean the alignment pins, no. Nor did I touch the pins that attach the brass binding. But I did tweak the hinge pins to tighten up the folding action of the rule.


  • Bryce

    Hi Chris,

    Just curious, did you restore the pins?


  • Christopher Schwarz


    Some plans are drawn so that 1 inch equals 1 foot. (These days lots of people use 1/2 scale or 1/4 scale instead.)

    So on the folding rule it’s handy to have the inch divided into 12s so that each 1/12 equals 1".

    You also can easily divide an inch into thirds – sometimes handy when striking centerlines.


  • Bill

    Often, when people use the word "patina", they really mean "sticky grunge".

    And IMHO, preserving "patina" is for truly collector-grade tools. If it’s a common user-grade tool, have at it. Clean it to whatever level will satisfy you as the owner and user, to make it useful to you.

    Herb Kean of NJ CRAFTS wrote a book about cleaning and restoring tools. Years ago when I lived up there, I knew him and was a member of CRAFTS. I saw first-hand some tools he had cleaned and restored (in fact, I still have a lovely moving fillester I bought from him). He did really impressive work. As I recall, in his book, he repeated the notion that a tool should appear as it would have appeared "in the hands of a prideful worker". I.e., not beat-up, abused, dirty and grungy, but not shiny, sparkly, clean, spotless either. A well-respected, cared-for, but used, tool.

    That rule looks good to me.

  • Rick Yochim


    So why do you think the bleach didn’t wipe out the numbers and scales on the rule?

    And if you’d like to give a little free reign to the O in the OCD, Bob Howard at St. James Bay sells replacement pins for Stanley rules (along with a lot of other psychologically satisfying bits and pieces.)

    Rick Yochim
    Purcellville, VA

    Who’s in complete agreement with Wilbur about tool collector patina fetishes and has zero compunction about removing it if makes an old tool usable.

  • Gary Roberts


    Wow… this is the first I can remember of someone using Oxalic acid to clean tools. I used to use it regularly after I was introduced to the magic by a lumber yard employee (the problem was cleaning up slab cut pine). Somehow that trick fell from my head over the years. Great job.


  • Bob Demers

    Nice job, it really restored that rule into usability,
    Must have a closer look at mine (mostly British Rabones)
    Now, you pike my curiosity…What was the use of these 1/12th graduations? You briefly mentioned that they are useful, but for what? And then they fall out of use, why?

    Bob, curious as always, and avid reader of your written words

  • Luke Townsley

    Enough is enough! One more post like this, and I will be looking for a folding rule!

    Anyway, speaking of charred rules, in college, I used to work in a shop that flame cut steel plates using CNC and electric eye controlled torches mounted on x and y axes. A lot of the guys would buy tape measures with lifetime warranties since they would get burnt up after a year or so of use either from measuring hot plates or getting too close to the flame while measuring to set up the torch.

    I was using one I used in that shop until just recently that had burn marks all over the first ten inches.

  • Bjenk

    Woa, I am so trying this on my ruler.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    There are 1/16ths on the inside scales of the No. 62.

    The 1/12th graduations were common on rules made after 1880. They are handy.

    The No. 62 also has scales on the inside for converting scale drawings in 1/2", 1/4" and 1" scale.


  • Wilbur Pan

    That restoration looks fine to me, and personally, I don’t worry about the patina. I think that the issue of leaving patina on the tool is really more an issue of fashion in the collector’s market, not having any real basis in fact. At one point in the art world, the tradition was to leave the equivalent of patina on great works or art. Now, the trend is to try to restore works of art to the way they were when they were first painted. Anyone who has seen the Sistine Chapel after hundreds of years of grime were removed knows that this is a good idea.

    Also, people who are into old woodworking machinery think nothing of taking an old machine and polishing and painting it up so that it looks like new.

    If you don’t mind, I have a couple of questions about your ruler. It looks like one of the scales divides an inch into 1/12" divisions. When did 1/12" marks fall out of favor? It seems that the ability to divide an inch into thirds easily would be useful.

    Also, are there 1/16" marks on this ruler?

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