Sunday, May 19, 2013
EAST MADISON -- New rules are made the old-fashioned way at Skowhegan Wooden Rule Co.
Steve Meisner, owner of Wooden Rule, Co., stands with a height measuring ruler, with one-of-a-kind L-squares that are made exclusively by Wooden Rule, Co., in East Madison.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
Rulers, yardsticks, flat bench rules, L-squares for glass cutters and time line rulers to measure a child's annual growth, all with solid brass tips and fittings, are still made the way the original products were manufactured by the Lufkin Board and Log Rule Co. in 1869, according to owner Steve Meisner.
Graduations -- the parallel lines denoting fractions of inches -- and markings and numbers on the measuring devices all are engraved into the maple wood and blackened by hand, using linseed oil and a blackening slurry, not printed or stamped by a machine, he said.
"This is an ancient process," Meisner said. "The methodology that's used to make these is called sharp-point engraving. It's done with hard tools on this original machine that's been updated. It puts the numbers and the graduations on the sticks."
When Meisner, 64, bought what was left of the original Lufkin Rule Co., he also bought some of the post-Civil War precision machinery that was in the old building to continue making the products. He has diversified, too, over the years, making the wooden base mounts for mouse traps, shells for block-and-tackle pulleys and cedar hot tubs.
The Lufkin company moved from the Midwest and set up shop at the former Anson Stick Co. in North Anson in 1951 and later Madison. Cooper Industries bought the company in 1967. Meisner bought it in 1999 and later sold it at auction, but kept enough equipment to start the rule business.
Fire destroyed the vacant brick building in 2007. What was left was sold, torn down and turned into a parking lot in 2011.
"This is the way rules were made at around the time the Civil War was being fought," Meisner said of some of the original machinery. "Just after the Civil War is when the Lufkin Rule Co. was put together."
Meisner works with four employees in a converted airplane hangar on the shore of Wesserunsett Lake in East Madison. Meisner's wife, Marcia, a retired school teacher, runs the office and keeps the books. Their son also helps in the manufacturing plant. Meisner grew up in Turner and earned a degree in economics from Northeastern University in Boston.
"All the wood we make rules out of is rock maple, and it's all sourced locally," Meisner said. "I buy from Kennebec Lumber in Solon and another guy in Fryeburg. We're the only company that I'm aware of that still makes wooden rules, high-quality wooden rules, in this fashion."
Blank maple sticks, machined smooth and precisely to length and width go into making the popular time line rules to chart a child's growth, he said.
"We sell a lot of them -- a lot of them," Meisner said, though he would not say what his annual sales are.
The cost of the time line rule is $79, delivered.
"And it's pretty much forever," he said.
Doug Harlow -- 612-2367