LumberJocks

The Measure of Things

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Blog entry by Don posted 12-30-2006 12:39 AM 1157 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Reading Franks blog about the reliability of spirit levels and Dicks comment about taking measurements has caused me to think about the trials of being arithmetically challenged.

I suppose I have my English ancestors to blame for the Imperial measuring system, but at least they had the good sense to move away from it. I mean, what on earth is logical about 32nds and 64rths?

I’m being honest when I state that it was the Imperial measuring system that kept me away from woodworking for a long time. I just found the mathematics involved in fraction conversion just to complex (read prone to error).

Canada converted to the Metric System sometime in the late sixties or early seventies. But at that time in my life, I was too busy earning a living to think of metric other than when purchasing gasoline by the liter.

Then in the late eighties I moved to Australia that had adopted the Metric system with zeal, much more so than Canada where, because of the proximity of the USA and it’s influence on them, has sort of a hybrid setup. People in Canada still measure a person’s height in feet and inches and their weight in pounds. And they purchase a pound of butter, and use American letter-size paper.

So what has this got to do with woodworking? I ask you what could be simpler than measuring everything in Millimeters? A person six feet tall is 1800mm, and that’s normally how their height is expressed, although it doesn’t take a Einstein to convert this to 180cm, or 1.8 meters. But most measurements used by a cabinet maker are simply expressed in millimeters. For example the surface of a large desk would be 1525mm x 865mm (5’ x 4’10”). Any math required to subdivide a measurement is extremely simple. No fractional conversions are required. A measurement of 1525mm divided into three parts is 1525/3=508. Granted, we’ve lost one millimeter in this division, but 1/3 of a millimeter in each part is normally inconsequential in woodworking.

The thickness of lumber is measured the same way. A 3/4” piece is simply 19mm. [This would be called a soft conversion. A soft conversion is where an Imperial standard is converted to a metric measure.] But most woodworkers abandon soft conversion. There is no logic in using a piece of wood 19mm thick. Twenty millimeters would make more sense and subdivisions of that size would normally be done decimally, i.e. 15, 10, 5. I like to make my boxes with a 10mm thickness, but anything up to 15mm looks OK depending on the overall measurement of the box. A typical small box would be 215×145 x 90 (8,1/2” x 5,3/4” x 3,13/16”). The convention of measuring lumber thickness in quarters in unknown, and frankly, confusing to metric woodworkers. Lumber is measured in cubic volume not board feet.

I’m not trying to convince any of you to switch to metric. That would be impossible in the USA without massive changes – you can’t go it alone. Any of you that have an engineering background already know how superior metric is over Imperial. But it’s sort of ironical; you Yanks turned your back on the Monarchy and all its trappings when your nation was founded. You even introduced a metric monetary system. I guess your founding fathers wanted something to remind them of their roots so they kept the Imperial measuring system.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!" http://www.dpb-photos.com/



11 comments so far

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3759 days


#1 posted 12-30-2006 01:04 AM

I think the U.S.A. is falling behind the rest of the world, because we’re so stubborn. I was a mining engineers aide quite a few years ago, and all the measurements where broken down into tenths of everything, like 1/10 of a foot. It would have been much easier to go metric all the way. The reason metric is unpopular is having to convert, and that complicates things.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Don's profile

Don

2603 posts in 3636 days


#2 posted 12-30-2006 01:11 AM

Of course, you don’t convert. It’s like using a new language. At first, when you are in the learning stage, you translate in your mind from your native tongue to the new language. But one hasn’t really learned the new language until they think in the new language.

There is no purpose gained in me saying, “How much is this in Imperial?” I simply use the metric measure and forget about my ‘native tongue’. It’s irrelevant.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!" http://www.dpb-photos.com/

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3759 days


#3 posted 12-30-2006 01:19 AM

Another thing, the poor mechanics’ have to double up on all their tools, which is quite expensive. I guess the people that sell the tools don’t mind.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Don's profile

Don

2603 posts in 3636 days


#4 posted 12-30-2006 01:56 AM

Yes, if you are speaking about the cost of conversion, it would be massive given the US population. It’s unlikely to ever happen.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!" http://www.dpb-photos.com/

View Roger's profile

Roger

37 posts in 3866 days


#5 posted 12-30-2006 07:19 AM

I remember being in the fourth grade and hearing about having to learn the metric system and being pissed off. I wish someone would of just slapped me and America converted our system is retarded (but then again so is our current President).

View Don's profile

Don

2603 posts in 3636 days


#6 posted 12-30-2006 07:59 AM

I can’t/won’t comment on your president, but it is interesting that the rest of the western world has made the conversion, as much for economic reasons as common sense. I suppose on a per capita basis, it cost the Brit’s, Canucks, Aussies, Kiwi’s, Sefricans just as much as it would cost the US.

Did you know that the US govenrment passed this law in 1975? The Metric Conversion Act of 1975 designated the metric system as the preferred system of weights and measures for US trade and commerce, and directed federal agencies to convert to the metric system, to the extent feasible, including the use of metric in construction of federal facilities.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!" http://www.dpb-photos.com/

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 3696 days


#7 posted 12-30-2006 02:23 PM

So would 1/10th of a foot be called a toe? (sometimes, I just crack myself up)

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 3696 days


#8 posted 12-30-2006 02:27 PM

o.k. so here I am converting again… let’s see 2/10th’s of a foot is 2 1/2 inches?

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 3696 days


#9 posted 12-30-2006 02:31 PM

so a toe would be 1.2” and we could call “Big toe” 1-1/4” and a “little toe” could be like
1-1/8”? Am I close? .... Martin, They’re making my face wrinkle and my head hurt.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3774 days


#10 posted 12-30-2006 06:55 PM

Somebody get Obi a Talking Fisherprice tape measure…

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3786 days


#11 posted 12-31-2006 01:57 AM

Anyone see the article in one of the magazines a year or two back, about the guy over at Whitchappel tool who made up a bunch of measures (rules, tapes, etc…) with the inch broken down into 24ths.

www.bobsrule.com

maybe we (being america) could get the world to adopt to this, ease them back into our system.

I remember being told throughout grade school that we were going to be converting, every couple of years…. here I am decades later, no mention of it anymore.

Gotta say though, in the kitchen, Metric would be awesome to use… (I’d make myself convert if magazines and tv shows would!) for doubleing/halving recipes… you (as woodworkers) can easily imagine dealing with fractions of teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups. With no common system between.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

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