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Wood rules and tape measures are similar tools, and I've realized I almost always default to the tape measure. When should I be using a wood rule instead?

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A measurement by a rule will usually be more accurate than a tape measure and will not bend. You can hold a rule against a flat object much more securely than can be done with a tape measure. Also, if you have a machinist's rule that is accurate to the end, you can scribe using the end of the rule, something that is impossible with a tape measure.

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You should use the wood rules when:

  • you have a beard
  • prefer flannel
  • use only hand tools
  • prefer your lattes with artisan made, gluten free, non-dairy, coconut milk
  • live in Brooklyn, NY or Portland, OR
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    While certainly said in jest, I do challenge the down voters to prove me wrong! :) – DA01 Nov 7 '14 at 18:38
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    I'm giving this a +1 because, although delivered in a tongue in cheek fashion, it does illustrate the point that wooden rules don't really have a place in a modern workshop unless you're deliberately trying to be old timey. If you work at Colonial Williamsburg that's fine, otherwise go buy a steel rule. – user23534 Nov 7 '14 at 18:53
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    When voting on jokes, vote the joke, not the answer. – Tyler Durden Nov 7 '14 at 18:53
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    The dream of the 90's is alive in Portland. youtube.com/watch?v=0_HGqPGp9iY – bobfandango Nov 7 '14 at 19:15
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    ... or when it's easier to grab. – TomG Nov 7 '14 at 22:54
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Wood rules work great when it is impractical to use a tape measure. They are great in tight areas, or when you are measuring small distances. When you do use one, just make sure that it is accurate.

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Let me spin this in a slightly different direction:

If I use a wood rule, it's because I like the feel of the wood and/or need the rigidity or straight edge. Or nonconductive.

If I use a rigid metal rule, it's because it's more accurate than a tape measure and/or I need the rigidity or straight edge.

If I use dividers, or a story stick, or something of that sort -- wood or metal -- it's because I'm measuring one thing against another rather than against numbers; again, that can be more accurate.

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  • Story stick; so that's what my outlet-and-switch mounting-height-marking 'staff' is called. – Mazura Nov 7 '14 at 22:40
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No real "should" here as far as I know. sometimes a wooden rule can be stiffer, and it has the nifty feature of being able to do some interesting stuff with angles/trigonometry due to having hinges regularly spaced... but I would just call those handy features rather than rules.

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Nowadays, the only place I regularly see them used are with masons. Mason's rules have sizes and lengths for standard cinderblocks and bricks printed on them (for measuring multiple courses with the appropriate number of mortar lines, etc.)

I still reach for my smaller folding rule when making decorative boxes; though I might just as likely reach for a small steel square or flat ruler.

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