Measurements: which do you prefer fractions or decimals?

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Forum topic by Mark posted 01-14-2010 04:10 AM 10054 views 0 times favorited 67 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1807 posts in 3302 days

01-14-2010 04:10 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Funny thing I ran into a measuring tape based on just metric on this site which made me think…that is a good forum to start…we’ll compete to see who likes what…SAE (imperial) (fractions) orrrrr metric (decimals)?

I myself am a fraction man…easier math to me…but as for precision metric goes finer…I use them both when it comes to construction in the carpentry field…all depends what the blueprints go by. But like I said I prefer imperial.

-- M.K.

67 replies so far

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3397 days

#1 posted 01-14-2010 04:14 AM

It all depends on what I am making as to which system I use. Mostly fractions, but for small projects like puzzles or multi piece projects, I like the metric system based on 10s.

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3443 posts in 3902 days

#2 posted 01-14-2010 06:39 AM


I use machinists rulers in my shop which are INCHES divided into DECIMALS.

I hate fractions but here in the U.S. everything is in inches. So this system is the best of both worlds for me. And by the way most of these rulers have fractions on the other side just in case.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Dez's profile


1166 posts in 4105 days

#3 posted 01-14-2010 07:41 AM

All of the above, depending on the project. I have even been seen using the metric system.

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#4 posted 01-14-2010 08:14 AM

I’m a computer geek, so using fractions, where everything is base 2, makes a lot of sense to me.

I also use European tools, where everything is metric. But increments of 10, rather than 2, mean that a millimeter is too large, but a tenth of a millimeter is too small.

If I had my way, I’d use Imperial units with fractions, I think they make more sense and happen on scales that are more useful to human beings. However, I know that I’ve got to be conversant in both.

Besides, most measuring is really done with story sticks anyway, the only time I care what the numbers are is when I’m trying to match a router bit or somesuch.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

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187 posts in 3463 days

#5 posted 01-14-2010 10:54 AM

I’m a fraction guy myself. My combo square is divided into 8th, 16ths, 32nds, and 64ths (none of which easily divide into tens.)

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Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 3463 days

#6 posted 01-14-2010 12:43 PM

Measuring in whatever units floats your boat is just a personal choice that has nothing to do with, rationalization and standardization of measurement units throughout the world. Nigeria is the only other country that uses the (quasi) Imperial system, all others use the SI Metric system. The 2 Imperial systems – yes there have been 2, are not totally the same. SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers (US SAE) and the other, British Standards (the original – BSF, BSW). Differences between the 2 includes: SAE threaded products and B.S. threaded products – they are different, and 1 US Imperial ton is 2,000 lbs while the B.S. standard Imperial 1 ton is 2,240 lbs and a US 55 gallon oil drum only holds 50 Imperial gallons. Both Imperial systems were devised from non static objects and the measurement scales had no mathematical reference to each other, hence the Imperial system is badly flawed. The US does use the ISO metric system where precision is really important; medications, film, high end engineering and clarity. There are also many instances where the ISO Metric system is shown alongside Imperial units – very confusing. I just looked at a box of corn flakes and read that it contained – 1lb 8oz, 24oz, and 680 grams, wow 3 different measurements but all the same? I have a can of soda and it reads the contents as being 12 FL OZ and 355 mL ? So what is a Fluid oz? Well looks like if it is soda I have a can full of it, but what if the liquid was Mercury?, how much liquid would you expect in a can for 12 FL-oz??? I guess that’s why in medicine they give you shots by the c.c. and not Fluid oz.
So back to measurements: The ISO Metric system IS the way to go, after all it has been the only lawful measurement system in the US for over 100 years. We must change to be compatible worldwide, but we must start with the schools and let older folks carry on with what they are happy with. Once you get all the Imperial stuff out of your head you will find the metric system so easy and wonder why you ever used the stupid Imperial system. Yeah I work in Imperial, but I have also worked in Metric and would prefer to use it 100%.
In the end it is your comfort that decides the systems.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View Tony_S's profile


871 posts in 3111 days

#7 posted 01-14-2010 03:30 PM

“We must change to be compatible worldwide, but we must start with the schools and let older folks carry on with what they are happy with. Once you get all the Imperial stuff out of your head you will find the metric system so easy and wonder why you ever used the stupid Imperial system.”

This is exactly how it went down in Canada 30+ years ago.
Pretty much the only real ‘industry’ that still uses Imperial measurement here is residential construction. Commercial construction is strictly Metric…and Imperial measure is quickly dying out in the residential trade with the younger generations moving in.
Bottom line is metric is MUCH easier! FAR fewer mistakes made with the metric system due to MUCH simpler math. Everything is based on the #10.

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3922 days

#8 posted 01-14-2010 03:48 PM

I use both and I live in Canada. ...................and I feel sorry for the next generation who know little if any imperial measurements. 99% of everything I build, measure, is done in imperial. About the the only time I use metric is to divide something into equall parts and even then I often convert the # back into imperial.

The commericail industrial archtectectural drawings done in metric…........I have a hard time visualizing how long 22,176 mm is ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View paulcoyne's profile


133 posts in 3148 days

#9 posted 01-14-2010 03:51 PM

i love metric so much easier for me to understand because i was taught that way in school i still have a fair understanding of imperial and use it time to time when i am working on a project i start out in imperial when boards are rough and i cut to general dimensions i measure in feet and inches but once i am cutting to the exact dimensions i use metric i find it much easier to be accurate, it all comes down to how you were taught first i think..

-- thats not a mistake... i ment that

View bues0022's profile


250 posts in 3188 days

#10 posted 01-14-2010 04:38 PM

“The commericail industrial archtectectural drawings done in metric…….....I have a hard time visualizing how long 22,176 mm is ?”

I think what this statement says, is what units are you comfortable using, and have an inherent sense of using. Ask someone from England if they can grasp the concept of how tall a person is: say 5’10”. You and I might understand this very well, but they’ll want you to tell them that it’s about 178 cm. Then they’ll know.

I’m a cross country skier, and every ski trail is measured in kilometers. Even though I’ve lived in the US my whole life, and obviously use MILES when thinking about distance, if you were to tell me a ski trail is 10 miles long, I have to convert that to Kilometers before that distance makes sense to me – in terms of skiing.

Interesting topic that is brought up here. It shows ho ambidextrous we are (or not) to alternative ways of measurement.

-- Ryan -- Bristow, VA

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4246 days

#11 posted 01-14-2010 04:57 PM

Visualizing units of measure in a different system is like speaking a foreign language. If you have to stop and translate to your native language in your head, you haven’t fully grasped it yet. Once you are truly fluent in that language (so I’m told, at least), you actually begin to think in it, without having to mentally translate.

The same is true for imperial vs. metric. As Ryan pointed out, if you tell a European that someone is 178 cm tall, they immediately visualize that height, but most Americans have to convert to inches to know if the person is tall, short, or average.

I remember learning the metric system in school back in the 60’s. We were told that the U.S. was converting to metric, and that feet and inches would soon be a thing of the past. Here I am 40-something years later, and I’m still waiting.

Anybody who is willing to be objective has to admit that metric makes more sense. I’d be interested to hear if anyone can really make an argument for the imperial system besides that it is what they are used to.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View dbhost's profile


5726 posts in 3260 days

#12 posted 01-14-2010 05:02 PM

I grew up and went to school during the whole metric vs. SAE thing in the 70’s… I got used to both. Don’t care either way. But what DOES drive me crazy is trying to convert fractions to decimals, for example from my caliper which measures in imperial and metric units, but only displays decimal output. I should have bought one that does fractional AND decimal… Sometimes I am thick in the head and need some help with my math (public schooling you know…)

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View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10546 posts in 3457 days

#13 posted 01-14-2010 05:58 PM

If all my router bits, chisels, and dado blades were set up for metric, I would prefer that system. As it is, I use imperial and a calculator.
Man! do I wish it were all standard. Life would be so much simpler. I hate undersized plywood!

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Mark's profile


1807 posts in 3302 days

#14 posted 01-14-2010 06:02 PM

You mention that once you get the imperial out of your head you’d wonder why you would ever use it. The one MAIN reason I like imperial compared to metric is when I’m on job sites we dont have measurements that are way up in thousands when it comes to imperial. And the finest measurement we have to bring it to is an eighth of an inch not 16s 32s or 64s which is alot more precise like metric. When I’m on a site with metric its all in mm and construction doesn’t have to be that fine. And then we have to work with huge numbers up in the thousands. What I dont get is why cant metric go by cm or decimeter? why the mm? Like 30 cm is 300 and it makes me think long. 12 (inch) sounds shorter to me! I’d rather take a small number with a fraction anyday…easier to remember.

-- M.K.

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1807 posts in 3302 days

#15 posted 01-14-2010 06:10 PM

converting fractions to decimals is easy

top # divided by bottom #

-- M.K.

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