The Canada / USA Language Barrier

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Forum topic by shipwright posted 05-22-2012 04:30 PM 2107 views 0 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7980 posts in 2796 days

05-22-2012 04:30 PM

The phrasetwo countries separated by a common language” usually refers to the USA / England language diversity but we have one right here in North America. I guess I first noticed it when I started seeing Norm Abrams on TV years ago. He would talk in some sort of code about nails and board sizes. Upon further exploration I discovered that no, Americans weren’t dumb enough to pay four cents for a little finishing nail, they just spoke a different language than I did.

Then there’s the quarters of an inch thickness measurement for hardwoods. In my experience, I’ve never bought 8/4 boards in Canada or 6/4 or even 4/4. I always buy the 2”, 1 1/2” and 1” stuff.

(That leads to another oddity in Canada at least, where we have for many years now been on the metric system but still buy almost all of our wood in inches. I am of the generation that made it through school in the imperial system just before the country went metric so I’m basically screwed up from the start anyway.)

And how about the all important gas mileage of the old shop pickup? It was bad enough before metric when upon crossing the border your gas mileage went from 20 mpg to 25 mpg (or vise versa) but now we on our side speak in kilometers per hundred litres so it becomes high math to compare fuel efficiency of one side of the border to the other.

This is starting to look like a rant so I’ll wind up now. These were just the obvious ones that came to me as I was writing. I know there are lots more…...anyone???

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

39 replies so far

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3302 days

#1 posted 05-22-2012 04:41 PM

when i first got into wood working, and had my first experiance with a sawyer, he flung around numbers like , well do you want this 4/4 6/4 or 8/4… did i feel dumb, for i know if he was using that as some sort of wood working code, i had no idea what he meant….my reply was well i want them about a 1 1/4 thick…and called it good…but for some reason i feel much cooler now if i talk to someone and say well i got it a 6/4…they look at me like what…just like i did in the sawyers place…lol…....then i have to explain it all…...maybe i should just say, 1 1/2…...might save me some time…yea paul, just wait until you start using the 8 penny nails…it really drains your pocket book…:))

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10097 posts in 4051 days

#2 posted 05-22-2012 05:01 PM

It can be confusing… can’t it?!

Too bad we can’t Standardize it… sure would be easier…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4399 days

#3 posted 05-22-2012 05:04 PM

Paul: I lived in Canada until I was 13. But we went to the USA almost every summer because my mothers kin lived in the states. So for about 1 month every year I was in America. The Americans had a hard time understanding the Canadians. They thought everywhere was like Sgt Preston of the Mounties.

I’m not sure if Americans are still sure of what their neighbours are like. (I still kick in the OU once and a while)

My father sold the family home to his brother when we moved to the States. His brother made the payment in whatever was the cheaper conversion amount. Either Canadian Dollars or American Dollars. It always ticked Dad off, but he never mentioned anything to his brother that I was aware of.

I think the sawyers terminology got into the main stream because a lot of hardwood that is sold is rough cut and the seller wants to get the best price. A 5/4 board that is surfaced might be only 1” when done but is sold as 5/4 to get the extra money.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4399 days

#4 posted 05-22-2012 05:08 PM

My favorite phrase at school was “A mouse in the house with a louse on it’s snout out south.” Everyone thought it was so strange.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2612 days

#5 posted 05-22-2012 05:14 PM

one time in Detroit, Michigan before they had casinos we always went to canada as they did have them. there was a great difference that even late at nite it seemed a lot safer as you could walk around there without being mugged where across the river in Detroit you better have a big stick. :) but the big difference was the money i won big time there in Canada at least i thought i was but when i cashed out there was a big difference of currency rate at least at that time it was. i didnt have nearly as much as i thought :)

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View Porchfish's profile


823 posts in 2531 days

#6 posted 05-22-2012 05:34 PM

What is all the concern aboat a language problem anyway ? What is this aboat for a boat wright ? I don’t know from nuttin… a ..except the difference between a Qubecer and a Quebecois ! Nom de Dieu ! non sacre bleu ?

-- The pig caught under the fence is always the one doing all the squealing !

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2513 days

#7 posted 05-22-2012 05:40 PM

How about the 32MM system, used in Europe after WWII to standardize all the remaining woodworking machines, where everything was measured in multiples of 32 millimeters? I think Ikea today still uses that system.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View b2rtch's profile


4861 posts in 3047 days

#8 posted 05-22-2012 06:20 PM

Go metric.
Sorry but nothing makes sense in the different systems used in the USA.
For wires and sheet metal : the smaller the number the bigger the wire, same thing for gauge for guns,I believe.
A 1/2”thick plywood is not 1/2”thick and it is different from particle board and MDF.
A i/2” pipe is not 1/2” inside or outside ,and copper is also different and so and so on.

These systems are obsolete and a huge pain in the rear.

-- Bert

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3333 days

#9 posted 05-22-2012 06:23 PM

Yes, different cultures can sure be different Paul. We measure fuel efficiency here by how many liters used per 100 kilometers. Maybe yours is the same?

I fully embraced the metric system used here in Norway, but almost all my woodworking books and websites are still using the imperial system. And in fact some woodworking measurements here are still in ‘tommer’ (thumbs or inches) The reasons are pretty obvious considering all the old tools, nuts and bolts, standards, etc. that are still imperial. When I read the English dailies, they count body weight in Stones (14 lbs to a stone last time I heard). Very confusing to start with. Since learning the 1/4 increment lumber thickness measurement system I still can’t understand it’s relevance. I’m sure there is some logical reason for it, but it escapes me. After using both systems for some time now I am familiar with the equivalents for the most common measurements, so that helps a little.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View b2rtch's profile


4861 posts in 3047 days

#10 posted 05-22-2012 06:30 PM

” After using both systems for some time now I am familiar with the equivalents for the most common measurements, so that helps a little.”
It gets really confusing for me when building something I use both systems at the same time.

-- Bert

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2513 days

#11 posted 05-22-2012 06:34 PM

When I build a guitar, I find metric the definite way to go, save I am forced to use inches for the string scale length. Everything else is in MM, just too easy. I don’t know where the 4/4 system came from, but wood to me is “thick enough”, or “has to be planed” to reach a required MM measurement.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3114 days

#12 posted 05-22-2012 06:47 PM

here they sell lumber in MM so a 4 by 4 should be min. 100×100 mm
but OH NO since people still say 4 by 4 they both advertise and sell them
but the numbers is 95 X 95 mm
and the prices has skyrocket ever since now they can sell in mm of thickness instead

for the milage we count how many kilometers per liters
just to add to the confussion :-)


View helluvawreck's profile


31082 posts in 2865 days

#13 posted 05-22-2012 07:19 PM

I reckon I ain’t got no idea bout what youins is talkn’ abouts.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View greg48's profile


601 posts in 2756 days

#14 posted 05-22-2012 07:37 PM

I’ve learned to carry a small pocket caliper when I’m buying sheet goods or lumber. I don’t make a value judgement as to which method is better, just that there is a difference (kinda like spaulding vs scribner vs doyle vs ad nauseam log scales). It helps to research the origins of the different terms to give a historical appreciation like why is a nail penny weight abbreviated with a “d”. However, nothing raises a clueless look like requesting a sawbuck or finn from a young grocery clerk when asked if I would like any cash back ($10 or $5)?

-- Greg, No. Cal. - "Gaudete in Domino Semper"

View bunkie's profile


412 posts in 3145 days

#15 posted 05-22-2012 07:38 PM

How do metric woodworkers deal with increments smaller than 1mm? Obviously, .1mm divisions would be too small to see, so how is this handled?

I’ve heard it said that fractional measurements have an advantage in that you can always go the the next half-division. Also, this nicely fits Zeno’s paradox.

-- Altruism is, ultimately, self-serving

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