Full Chisel Blog

November 18, 2008

As a Rule…

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:10 pm

I make my own, well, rulers that is.  I will get to that in a minute, what got me thinking about this was a post over at Logan Cabinet Shoppe about over-rated thin shavings.  An excellent discussion about focusing on something that is of little importance, namely the shaving.  People treat these thin gossamer shavings as something wonderful, while I view them as something I am going to have to sweep up later.

The only shavings I am interested in come out of my spile plane, they are thick, have a nice curl and I can actually sell them.  Handy for starting a fire, but more often sold as a home decoration.  These shavings are important and I save and sell them.

I could check my shavings with a wire gauge (the only tool I have that can measure that small), but why would I really care if my shavings are .0001, I don’t think that matters, what matters is how the wood looks that I have just removed that shaving from.

Now to my point, I make my own tools including layout tools and rulers.  Here are a couple of rulers I have made along with the tool I use to make them.


The top item is the stamp used to make rulers.  The center ruler is a standard 12 inch ruler, the lower ruler is a centering ruler, marked out from the center.  I didn’t think I needed to include the gnomon.

Ruler Stamp

It is inspired by an original I had seen from an old box of tools belonging to a friend of mine and made this ‘copy’ of the original about 25 years ago.  It is made of a piece of mild steel 1/4″ thick and 1″ wide and 6 inches long.

Ruler Stamp

I start by carefully marking 8 equal spaces (1/8″) along one edge with a sharp file.  This is a starting place for the hacksaw to make the cuts down just under an eight inch.  I then use a triangular file to carefully sharpen the marking teeth.  I didn’t quite get everything just right the first time and found I could move the arrant tooth with a cold chisel, so after a bit of fettling I got the marks in the correct location.  I kept checking with a metal ruler to make sure it is the correct length.

I then filed off some of the teeth to delineate the 1/2, the 1/4’s and the eights, the last being the shortest.  This gives a visual as to where the individual marks are, the ends are the longest, then the halves, then the quarters then the eights.

One thing I did learn about this stamp is that you can’t just start stamping and moving the stamp to the next location as it will end up too short.  This is caused by the taper on the outside teeth and they tend to pull the stamp too close resulting in a ruler that is too short.  To compensate for this I mark out each inch on the ruler blank and mark it with a cold chisel (sharpened) on the inch marks.  This gives a positive register mark to align the stamp for the next inch.

And why do I have rulers marked in 1/8″ increments only?  Well I know that 1/16″ is right in the middle of the eighth mark and anything less than that I just don’t care about.  I make furniture by hand and measurements in the hundredths or thousandths are meaningless.  I make tools and those fine measurements are equally meaningless.

Very fine measurements are only good the moment you make them as wood is hygroscopic and will take in and give of moisture regularly, so tiny increments are irrelative.



  1. I love it! A great practice piece for die sinking!


    Comment by Bob Strawn — November 18, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

  2. But Stephen, without those microscopically thin shavings, how can we boast about our expensive planes and iron sharpening skills?

    So I can expect that signed and stamped hand made Centering Rule to be available at The Full Chisel Store – when?



    Comment by Mitchell — November 19, 2008 @ 7:20 am

  3. Bob,

    It took me a while to figure out what you said, I had to re-read it twice (that old dyslexia again) and then figured it out.


    I just have people feel how smooth something is hand planed, which I think is much more impressive than the shavings laying around the floor.

    As for the Centering Rule, everything is for sale and funny you should ask. I am in the process of adding both a Full Chisel Gallery of unique, one of a kind items as well as a Full Chisel Tool Store in which I will sell both old and new tools. Stay tuned. (Send me an e-mail about that centering rule).


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 19, 2008 @ 7:31 am

  4. I love your approach to rulers, Stephen.

    I do think this ‘what’s the big deal about thin shavings’ thing is taking on a life of its own in the blogosphere. Chris Schwarz has said on numerous occasions that aside from a smooth plane, he likes to take a THICK a shaving as possible. I’ve assume this is because his goal is to shape and surface wood, not clutter up the floor 🙂

    Cheers — Larry

    Comment by Larry Marshall — November 19, 2008 @ 10:26 am

  5. In January I start doing first-person interpretive woodworking at an 1860 stagecoach stop. That ruler certainly plugs a hole in my period tool kit.

    Comment by Chuck Nickerson — November 25, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  6. Rulers are available, I charge by the inch and configuration. Available in single or double sided, stamped left to right or the other way or/and as a Centering ruler. These are straight hardwood, usually maple, curly available on request, but they are rulers not straight edges.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 25, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  7. That stamp is another ultra-cool item. I had never really thought of user made rules before.

    Comment by Roger Nixon — November 26, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  8. Roger,

    I had always assumed that rulers were all factory made, but the original I copied was from an old box of tools that belonged to a friend. I still have after all these years one I made with his original stamp, but it is impossible to tell it from ones I made after I made the stamp.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 28, 2008 @ 6:56 am

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