Wise Buys: Precision Steel Rules
Why buy? One of the most important woodworking tools you should own is a dead-on-accurate steel rule. It not only helps you mark perfect measurements, but it also proves indispensable at setting blade and bit heights on machines, as well as checking the accuracy of measuring tapes. If you can get only one such rule, we recommend a 12" version. We tested several models in each of three categories, and then named our favorite rule for each category. All of our picks here feature a dull finish (to diffuse glare), etched markings (which are more precise) rather than printed or stamped (which can rub off with wear), and scales in at least 1⁄8 " and 1⁄16 " increments. While a 1⁄32 " scale proves useful, we find 1⁄64 " scales difficult to read and mark.
STANDARD BENCH RULE
Lee Valley's rule, shown above, provides the essentials for a bench rule at an attractive price. Its matte finish on hardened stainless steel proved the best at resisting glare of the four standard bench rules we tested. It has easy-to-read 1⁄8 " and 1⁄16 " scales along one side and 1⁄32 " and 1⁄64 " scales on the other. Another nice feature: The etched fraction lines are proportional for quick reference, with 1⁄2 " marks longest, 1⁄4 " and 3⁄4 " next longest, and so on.
I also preferred the beefier thickness of Lee Valley's rule (.040") to that of Starrett's standard rule (.025'). The only shortcoming I could find with the Lee Valley rule was the absence of end scales: perpendicular markings at one or both ends of the rule. These prove helpful for setting router bit and saw blade heights. Starrett's rule has these markings, but its price tag triples that of the Lee Valley.
-- Tested by Jeff Mertz, Design Editor
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If you're like me, you have a tough time justifying the purchase of a rule devoted solely to finding the center of a board. Hartville has the perfect compromise: A centering rule that's also an exemplary standard rule. I tried out five centering rules, and this one proved good enough to hold its own in the standard bench rule category. Hartville devotes only one of its four scales to centering, with markings in 10-mm increments. (It doesn't matter that it's metric; you only need symmetrical markings to find a centerpoint.) Just position the rule so matching increments rest on the endpoints, and mark the center at zero.
In addition to this feature, the Hartville rule has standard scales in 1⁄8 ", 1⁄16 ", and 1⁄32 " increments. The etched markings are graduated in length for quick reference. It also has 1⁄32 " end scales for machinery setup. The no-glare finish allows me to write on it with a pencil to mark a dimension when I need to make repeated measurements, and then wipe it off when I'm done. Because the tempered rule measures .042" thick, I can count on it to remain straight.
-- Tested by Jan Svec, Contributing Craftsman
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I love this rule because you get one of Starrett's high-quality bench rules with the bonus of a detachable hook. The hook catches on the end or edge of a board -- like a retractable tape, but with dead-on accuracy. You can center the sliding bar that acts as the hook, or extend it entirely to either side. When you don't want to use the hook, simply back out the screw and remove it. Just be careful to not lose that tiny screw and hook. (The hook's holder keeps the rule from lying flat on its face, limiting the rule's use while it's attached.)
I like the markings (1⁄8 ", 1⁄16 ", 1⁄32 ", and 1⁄64 ") on the rule because they're identical to my 6" and 12" Starrett combination squares, which I rely on regularly. My eyes appreciate that consistency. Starrett's hook rule, however, features a matte finish; the combination squares are glossy. I also appreciate the heft of this rule -- .042" thick -- that will keep it from bending.
-- Tested by Chuck Hedlund, Contrubuting Craftsman
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