In Shop Blog, Techniques

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In the history of measuring equipment, there is one blunder so awful that it makes me twitter (old-school twitter) like a smack-addled squirrel every time I encounter it.

It’s a 6″ steel rule that I acquired in 1997. The numbers are engraved and filled in. The markings are nice and fine. And there are four scales: eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds and sixty-fourths.

What’s not to like?

Well, the rule doesn’t start on zero. Nor does it end at 6″. The rule is actually 6-3/4″ long and has about 3/8″ of blank steel at both the end and the beginning. To add insult to idiocy, it actually looks like the first mark starts at 1/8″ because the 1/8″ is actually printed under what is supposed to be zero.

Who would commit such a crime against the legacy of Pharaoh Djoser?

We would, actually. When I started work here in 1996 we owned a magazine called Woodworker, which we were closing down. As the powers that be were trying to save the struggling magazine, they came up with all manner of ideas to get more subscribers.

One of their great ideas was to give away a 6″ rule as a reward for subscribing. And this is what the marketing department came up with. Is it any wonder that the magazine folded?

After Woodworker closed, we had hundreds of these rules in the warehouse and tried to pawn them off on the unsuspecting public every year when we had a warehouse sale to get rid of damaged, overstocked or returned books. In 1996 we sold the rules for $1 each. The next year, they were 50 cents. Then they were “free with purchase.”

And we still had some left when we closed our warehouse years later.

Why post this grievous error? Two reasons: To let you know that even though magazine editors act like a bunch of know-it-alls, we can get whacked by the idiot stick at times. Also, as a way of making amends, to offer you your money back (50 cents) to anyone who acquired one of these rules and wants to be done with it. Drop me a line if you have one of these in your drawer.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 20 comments
  • Damien Fontaine

    By chance I was cleaning a rusted (cheap) calliper this morning . The top scale is in inches with the zero at what seems 6/8th of 1/16th of 1/36th of 0.9144 meter. Where on the lower metric scale the zero had a different alignment, situated at 2/10th of 0.001 meter. I was impressed by the basic mathematical skills (non decimal fractions of fractions) a top scaler displays in everyday life, even when making mistakes the intellectual effort must be far above my everyday doing.

    Greetings from the metric desert.

  • Larry

    I am not a machinist and my woodworking skills arent anything close to 1/64, nor is my eyesight good enough to read 1/32. But I like having small 6 inch rules that start at the edge. Yeah, in theory, if you have used one for lets say 25 years and its been used as a pry bar, paint stirrer, screwdriver, cabinet scraper AND cleanup mortiser, then maybe, JUST maybe its end has worn off maybe a 1/128, and boy will that shoot the heck out of that 1/64 inlay of mother of pearl your putting down.

    But, if you have any rules left over, send me one. My last 6 inch rule was left in a can of latex paint, and its rusted.

    Which shows I break more rules than most.

    (No actual rules were broken during this rant, well, probably a few English ones, but whose counting)

  • Jim Crockett

    Don’t sound so bad to me. If you want to get rid of another one, you can send me one! I’m always in the market for a new rule.

    Jim Crockett
    9 Oak St.
    Jay, ME 04239

  • Thomas Hafner

    If you any any left, I’d like one, both as a keepsake and a useful tool.

    Tom Hafner
    275 Crosstree Lane
    Sandy Springs, GA 30328

  • Michael

    I find rules like this and architectural scales annoying for woodworking. They are cheap to make which may have been the incentive at the time to the marketing department. The actual metal blade does not need to be cut to length very accurately, and the etchings do not need to be referenced exactly off of an end.


  • Henry Lyngos


    Send me 3 or 4…I will happily machine off the excess!


  • Derek Cohen

    Hi Christopher

    Send them to me!!

    What you have is a supply of excellent blades for scrapers and beaders.

    Regards from Perth


  • Dan Kennedy

    Are these thin enough for the ruler trick? If so, I’d like to get my hands on one. I am sure it’s worth the price of the postage (to me) if you have some spares sitting around.

    Dan Kennedy

  • Steven

    Biggest thing wrong with this rule is that it’s not metric,still can’t get to grips with how you still put up with 6/14th’s and such….

  • Ace Karner

    When I was studying pattern making I was taught to always "burn" the first inch, at least with these rules you won’t have to subtract that inch to get the true measurement. Of course I never forgot to do that. LOL

  • I have to agree w/ the other posters, I never start at the end of a ruler. Of course, I have trust issues, and the ‘1’ is a little too convenient for me, always sitting there, waiting to be used. So I mark off from 2-1/2". Sure it’s a little arbitrary, but so is measuring anyway. 😛

  • Murphy

    Me three (or four) for the extras. I too must confess to the start at 1" paradigm. Maybe there is a support group for those of us so untrusting of the end of the rule.

  • John Elliott

    Hey Chris,
    I was taught woodworking from my grandfather and his father which were cabinet makers and carvers. He was insistent that all measurements your making or taking started on 1" mark. It might be that they were Scottish, but I have run across other woodworker’s that did the same. When I looked at the 6" ruler, I immediately saw the 0 and the scale. Maybe it’s those of us that come from old school shops. And yes, I’ll take one if they are crowding out some closet somewhere.

  • Dan

    Nothing that a little time with the disc sander can’t fix. Well you might have half of the "1/4" left, but the end can easily be fixed to start at 0.

    If you overshoot and grind too much off pitch it in the trash, because keeping it around will guarantee that you grab it at the wrong time and have your measurements off.

  • Larry Gray

    Charles, NO, it’s a trick! You know how it goes … C.S. tosses out an offhand recommendation for an out-of-print woodworking book he bought for three dollars, and suddenly that title becomes unobtainable at any price. Now that he’s confessed to having played a role in distributing these rules, they’ll be commanding big prices on eBay within days. This is a ploy to corner the market and pump up Katy’s tuition fund, you mark my words.


    Oddly, perhaps, I knew immediately what was wrong with the rule because they generally resemble the architects’ scales I’ve used for nearly four decades (although not so much any more, what with CAD having pretty much replaced Mayline tables and drafting tools). The extended end is meaningless when scaling a drawing but would obviously be a hindrance in the shop.

    BTW, that may explain where the misplaced 1/8" and 1/4" markings came from, since scales are so identified near their ends. The identifiers are usually well away from the zero line, though.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    They’re not so good for inside measurements. Or adjusting the height of blades or bits.

    They do spread margarine well, however.


  • Tim Mahoney

    If you have any spares still sitting around, I’ve been looking for a cheap steel rule. And I agree with James C. I do measurements (when absolute accuracy is neccesary) by starting at 1 and then subtracting 1 (what i think James C meant.)

    Let me know if you’d like an address to get rid of the rest of your steel rules that you don’t like. 🙂

  • Charles

    I think you were on to something. You should make even longer versions and call them milling or first-cut rulers since it’s a good idea to cut parts over-sized.

    Appreciate the buy-back offer. I purchased 842. Please send money order.

  • James C

    I don’t know if I’d fault not having the scale running completely to the edge. When I graduated as an engineer, I quickly learned from more experienced engineers never to trust the beginning of a ruler or (especially) tape measure. Wear and abuse can quickly make that end unreliable. Even now, I frequently make my measurements starting at 1" and add 1" to my measurement. As for the 1/8 and 1/4, I guess they tell you the divison scale, but I hope that would be obvious.


  • Michael

    You’re such honest people. I’d put the blame on some tipsy fishermen. They do like to stretch the rule.

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