Buying Guide: Incremental Steel Rules

Incremental rules, also known as machinist or precision rules, can make: small, precise, and close-quarter projects easier to measure.

A tape measure works great for long measurements, but they aren’t as user friendly for short measurements. The large tape body, blade hook, and bowed shape of the tape become cumbersome in tight places and when working on small projects.

Steel Rule Features:

  • 6″length with clear and detailed increments down to 64ths or mm.
  • Some models have a conversion scale on the opposite side.
  • Pocket clip on some models, which can also be used as a sliding depth gauge.
  • Flat and stiff stainless steel bodies.

These convenient rulers are so economical and compact…I have several throughout the home and garage as a go-to measuring tool.

Machinist and incremental steel rules

Check local home improvement and craft stores for availability.
Brand (link) Purchase
General Tools
PEC Tools
Shinwa Measuring Tools

1) A very common and helpful use for a steel rule is to measure hardware length.

Get quick and useful information when buying replacement hardware, matching existing hardware, or needing a measurement for new hardware.

Quickly measure hardware length with a steel rule

Measuring door strikes and hinges is much easier to accomplish with a steel rule compared to a tape measure.

Note: A door hinge is going to have square corners or radius corners (1/4″ or 5/8″). To measure the radius, create imaginary lines as shown in the picture to square off the corner, then measure between where the radius begins on each side.

How to measure a door hinge length and corner radius

2) When I’m doing certain detailed trim work, I find these compact steel rules to be quicker and less prone to mistakes than a tape measure.

If fractions become a mathematical struggle, the metric scale with whole numbers works great!

A steel rule can be laid flat or on edge, and doesn’t have the hook at the end, like a tape measure, which can get in the way for certain measuring.

Steel ruler used for trim work

3) A level with sliding guides or built-in rules works great for hanging multiple pictures, but these short rules can work too, as a cheaper solution.

  1. Hang the topmost picture.
  2. Measure the distance from the picture hanger nail or screw location and top of picture.
  3. Decide the gap between pictures.
  4. Add the measurements from steps 2 and 3.
  5. Place the steel rule at the bottom of the already hung picture and make your mark based on the total measurement from step 4.

Note: Picture hangers are seldom perfectly centered on the picture and almost never in-line from one picture to the next. Make sure to adjust the wall-mounted nail or screw from left to right for perfectly aligned pictures.

Use a steel rule for measuring the gap between pictures

These are just a few examples of where I tend to use a steel rule opposed to a tape measure.

There are often times during building projects where I rely on my steel rules, and you may just find yourself doing the same to make your jobs easier!


Leave a Reply