Satin Black Rules (I’ve Failed You)

My eyesight is terrible, and so I’ve long relied on rules that have a satin black background with white etched letters.

For years I used one from Bridge City, but the markings were blurry. I suspect they were screen printed or not etched deep enough. After trying a few other brands, Peter Galbert gave me a flexible one made by SPI. It was a revelation. It’s not as good as a Starrett, but it’s close enough.

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When we started Crucible Tool, one of the products we worked on for months was making a set of black rules, 6”, 12” and one that would fit in a Starrett combination square. In addition to the black background, we wanted to remove the 32nds and 64ths. The rules would have 8ths and 16ths printed on both faces.

I won’t detail all the ways we failed, but we couldn’t find a manufacturer that could do the job to our satisfaction. 

This week, I finally closed the door on this project. We tried to get SPI to do a large run of rules with 8ths and 16ths on both faces. They politely declined.

If your eyesight is poor, I absolutely recommend the SPI rules. Just ignore the face with the 32nds and 64ths. When I work to those measurements for toolmaking, I’m going to use dial calipers or a micrometer.

The good news is that the SPI rules are an absolute bargain. Buy them from MSC Industrial Supply. Here are my three favorites:

6” rigid 4R rule. It’s $6.49.

12” rigid 4R rule. It’s $10.76

6” flexible 4R rule. It’s $5.73. This rule is ideal when marking out along a curved surface.

These rules are an incredible bargain. And your eyes will thank you. 

I wish we had been able to make them more appropriate for woodworking, but maybe that day will come in the future.

— Christopher Schwarz


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