How many millimeters to an inch?

Who cares?

After many years of listening to arguments about which system of measurements is better, I have come to a conclusion.


I have realized, that from the viewpoint of a woodworker or maker of things in the human-scaled world, the system of measurement is unimportant. To achieve the ultimate “fit” for any piece of furniture, or component of said piece, the items or components must be compared to one another directly!

Taking a dimension and transferring it to another part or component by using any ruled measuring device is always imprecise. The dimension may fall between ruling marks, at which point you must estimate by how far. Even if the dimension falls directly upon a ruling mark, the thickness required to make the mark readable introduces some amount of estimation as well.

If we take measurements by gauging them, precision is greatly improved, but units of measure aren’t needed. Placing one part against the other for marking is even better. Yet again, units of measure aren’t needed.

They aren’t needed, because the units are simply a form of language, which we humans use to communicate the value of weights and measures.

It makes sense to build a desk to the height at which your knuckles hang when standing, and a chair seat to the height of your bent knee. We often use adjustable gauges or story sticks to mark such dimensions for quick reference during the build process.

But would you even consider writing a set of instructions to build a desk or chair, using dimensions such as “height = to knuckle when arm hangs loose while standing, width = span of both arms outstretch to one’s sides, depth = length of one arm outstretched forward”?

Of course not! Such descriptive language gets cumbersome, quickly. Rather, we have developed several systems of communicating dimensions that is concise, even if not precise.

So stop worrying about which is better, easier, or more accurate. They all have strengths and weaknesses, but none of them beats a simple gauge for precision.

Now go have a pint, or a half-liter, while you ponder that!

And always remember to…

Savor the Sawdust, my friends!

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