In North America we don’t see many folding “Zig Zag” type folding rulers anymore (in North America anyways), as they have been waylaid by the tape measure (at one point Lufkin catalogs dedicated 10 or more pages to these rulers). Growing up though, there were numerous folding rulers from Switzerland in my house. In Europe, they are often branded with company names and given out to to advertise the company. They are still heavily used in Europe, especially by trade such as cabinet makers. They are portable, light, adjustable, and accurate. Below are zigzags from Lufkin, Stabila and Wiha. Lufkin called these rulers “spring joint rules”.
Last week I bought a new Wiha zigzag ruler at my local industrial tool emporium “Atlas Machinery“. It was just sitting there on the shelf for $15.95, and I thought – why not? What drew me to this one was, firstly the “Made in Switzerland” stamp, and secondly that it is made of plastic (with both imperial and metric scales). Part of the issue with older rules of this form is that they were made of wood, and the joints often became loose over time. The fact that they are made of wood is only an issue if you want to use them outside, the joints are another issue all together. Below are some of the features of a zigzag – a brass sliding depth gauge (for inside measurements), and the clarity of the scale.
In the older zigzags, the joints are often made of metal that tends to rust over time, which means bending the joints is less than smooth. The new plastic zigzags have no play in these joints because each is spring loaded, and unlike their wooden brethren, these have 90º stops. Better than tape measures? They certainly aren’t as long, however they won’t rust, or kink. And they stay open. The scale is embossed, so it won’t wear off. These new rulers are made of fiberglass, and are chemical, water and scratch resistant.
Historical note: Lufkin patented the folding rule joint in 1953 (Patent No. 2,713,206). They cite a zigzag patented in Switzerland in 1941 (Patent No. 215,429, Fabrique D’Instruments de Mesure). They also mention the patent of Stanley Rule & Level Company of 1913 for a “Folding Rule Joint” (Patent No. 1,080,192).