My work is my workout

When my hands ache from working, I remember the opening days entering the workshop to my apprenticeship and using hammers and mallets that gave me my first blisters. Not having worked more than an hour or two a week with my hands in school, they were indeed unprepared for eight hours of hammering and banging, driving nails and such. My first job was making something like 100 batten doors from T&G 4 1/2″ wide boards that were nailed to three crossledgers and two diagonal bracings; that was about 90 nails per batten door, all of which were nailed through by a 16-ounce claw hammer and then clenched over on the opposite side and points punched back in with a nail set to sink below surface. We completed a door every half hour, so sixteen doors a day each day for a week. These blisters formed at the four points where my fingers connected to my inner palm. The hope was always that they wouldn’t burst — they inevitably did. Could I stop nailing and do something else. “Don’t be such a “*****!”, would have been the only answer. No one those days dared wear cotton gloves with plasticized palm grips for fear of such name-calling and worse. Aside from that, these gloves had yet to be invented.

In those early days, no one I knew at the time used tape measures. We all had what we called a three-foot, four-fold ruler made by the then Rabone Chesterman Company from boxwood. By 1970, these were rendered pretty much obsolete by Britain going metric which was dubbed many to be a dumb move. At first, I did think that that meant ‘they’ felt it was a stupid move to adopt a metric system, but I realised later that it didn’t mean that at all. It meant that it was more a means of dumbing down everything to a system that required little or no thinking, in the same way, changing the British pound from 240 units to the pound to a base of 1/100ths. Mentally, we who had been trained to use both imperial and metric systems, be that measurement systems or money, were caught in between the generations and the mainland aspect of the continent of origin. For those used to it and raised with it from birth, imperial had a sort of cozy comfort feel to it and separated the men from the boys of that era, apparently. I think it was that feet and inches, imperial as it was known, took some brainpower to figure out its multiples and to divide them mentally as you were working. The then pound was divided into shillings and pounds. Twenty shillings to the pound and 12 pennies to the shilling resulted in 240 pennies to one pound. The pound was also divided by other coins such as crowns, half-crowns, sixpences, threepences and also quarters of a penny known as farthings. Imagine 960 farthings to a pound. Dividing 5/32nds of an inch into four is more difficult for an exact fraction in imperial than dividing 5mm by four, that is until you got used to it. Whereas the metric system didn’t need too many brain cells at all, the thought then was that it was good to stretch the brain as much and as often as you could, so “they” said. The three-footer, with 36″ to a yard, folded neatly into 9″ increments via brass knuckles and slid neatly into a long leg pocket, knee-high on the outside of the right leg where the knee folded. The metric versions were just that fraction longer at the fold points but longer they were and it never quite fit the knee-fold quite the same. Try as they might, Rabone had both yard and metre in a single rule, so there was always that 3.37-inch gap to the imperial side, resulting in a blank space twixt the two measuring systems. It always seemed as though someone had forgotten something.

By the time I was introduced to metric my hands no longer blistered and they haven’t done so for five decades to date. So it is with the human body. It adapts, absorbs and develops its own ways of protecting itself. I have no segs or callouses in the palms or on the fingers of my hands which seems funny. Here is a reality too, switching topics but still around health. When I used machines over the many years that I did, I might spend prolonged periods on one machine or another. It was nothing to spend eight hours on a table saw or at a spindle moulder (shaper USA) or router table or shoving wood into the gaping jaws of a thickness planer. No power feeds for us at that time. The shunts and shoves took their toll. During the more industrial periods of my life when I was younger I inevitably suffered many different aches in my back. Some issues would take me out for a week at a time. By that, I mean I couldn’t stand or walk straight up. It didn’t make any difference how much time I spent with the occupational therapist advising and training me, the constant repeating of actions to get wood into and through a machine day after day always resulted in bodily injury at some point, often later in life, and not so much at the time. Of course, this is in commercial settings and not in the amateur circles of home use. Since those days, the past 30 years, I have not had any back issues and I am glad my brain is not fogged up from years of only machining wood.

What I love about my handwork is that my body gets just about all of the exercises I need. Stretches come for maybe an hour or two a day just by planing alone. My legs spread in strides and widths simply by the requirement of bracing to push against a fixed position to get every plane stroke through each full thrust I make, and then through adjusting my height because the workpiece is too heavy to lift into focus. You would be surprised how much you lower and raise your height for different tasks just by adjusting the spread of your legs. How much effort these strokes of working take is of course never measured but it is very sizeable, especially when you think that I will indeed take a thousand full-length strokes in a few hours of a given day and that I do this every day at different points. This can be planing, sawing, spokeshaving and axing wood. Add in to this the fact that we are constantly lifting and moving wood and projects too. And then, of course, there are other efforts we exert in the day to day to day of making that maintain muscle and sinew to keep the body in as optimal a condition as it can. I did think of something recently, please don’t shoot me down too readily, but I have worked manually for at least 8-12 hours a day, six days a week, for 56 years going on 57. I actually don’t know anyone that has worked for 56 years. It is not a common thing. I have a contraction in both my hands that causes me no pain. I have no ache anywhere in my body except for some muscle ache caused by the covid vaccine that is almost gone now. I have no aches or pains resulting from my physically working standing at the workbench and moving round the workshop in the day-to-day. In four months’ time, I will hit 72!

43 thoughts on “My work is my workout”

  1. The old metric vs imperial debate will continue to rage on. As an engineer, I am used to working in mm. Although most of us still refer to nominal pipe sizes in inches. I fail to understand the argument people make about metric being “dumbed down”. Any engineer will strive to design a process that is as simple as possible to use. To me the metric system does that, and we are the better for it. However, if I had grown up using imperial units, I would probably continue using them. Horses for courses.

    1. I am so content using both even though the flack can come at me from both sides of the great divide. I would never think of something big like a building or a great distance in metres because feet and yards are registered so clearly in my brain and in most cases I can guesstimate things much more accurately in imperial. Get down to less than a metre and I can go in both directions no problem and a quick calculation in my head gets me where I want to be either way.

      1. I often switch between metric and imperial depending upon which is easier, works out best. don’t have an issue with using either or both.
        When I taught computing i couldn’t understand why students had problems switching between different number bases (binary, hexadecimal etc) until i realised that i had grown up with the imperial system, which was why i found it so easy.

      2. It’s strange, because I can readily ascertain height or weight via the imperial system (I would still struggle with metric equivalents of 6ft 1 and 15 stone!) and wood and pipe sizes, but I will measure in metric perhaps because I find mm a more precise determiner. I travel in miles but more readily understand 100m (race) or a 25/50m pool rather than the equivalent in yards. I guess I mix and match between the two systems as suits my needs and understanding!

  2. When I was young we were taught the metric system and were told that someday it would all be metric. Math is really a language and it helps if everyone speaks the same one. It leads to errors in the conversion process, just look at what happened to the lens of the Hubble Telescope and those were very smart people who made that lens.
    I tend not to do things just for exercise but rather get my exercise to make something I otherwise couldn’t afford. I find that if I do a repetitive task for long periods I start to hurt from using the same muscles over and over. So I change up what I’m doing to use different muscles, beats going to a gym.

  3. I remember my Father telling me of one of his first jobs of nailing subfloors. His hand was so blistered that the second day he had to tape it to the hammer!

    You are definitely a Superman! Count your blessings that you are in such great shape. Repetitive hand work causes me painful cramping so I must be careful to impose limits on my work time.

  4. FUN FACT. In the very early 1940s, the Bristol Aircraft Company sent aircraft plans for their Beaufighter and Beaufort so they could be manufactured in Australia. Production was delayed for several weeks because the 1938 plans had to be converted from METRIC to Imperial.
    In a previous job we would measure the thickness in Microns with the thinnest plastic film I had blown was 8 microns.
    I would hate to see the IT industry measuring the computer chip circuits in Imperial. Nanometres is small enough so what is that in Imperial.
    Having said that, Paul is 7 years older than me so imperial is something I grew up with too and even today I will say something is an inch or it’s 6 inches. 25mm or 150mm (or 15cm) seems to be so much of a mouthful and takes longer to say. It’s 6 of one, half a dozen of the other I guess. 🙂

    1. I was of the generation in the US that learned both in school. We were going to switch over to metric and the curriculum was intense on us learning the system. The change never happened. Later, I worked in a cabinet shop that used the 32mm system, and it was easy to learn. Eventually, I moved jobs to a large shop, and they wanted to adopt the 32mm system, so that was my first assignment. I couldn’t for the life of me get the older guys in the shop to rely on metric units. Then it dawned on me that they struggled with the relative scale, as in an inch is 25mm. We bought all new tape measures with both mm and inches and gifted them to all the workers. And we asked them to give metric an honest try for two weeks. It worked, after they developed an understanding of the scale between imperial and metric they had no problem going between both.
      Sometimes the carrot is better than the stick.

    2. Joseph Farrugia

      Hello Joseph, just for the fact, I have worked in the semiconductor industry and can tell you that we used both metric and imperial measurements. When not using the micrometer (1/1000000 of a meter or 1/1000mm), we use the mil which is imperial and is 1/1000th of an inch or 25 micrometers.
      Regarding both systems, though I lean more towards the metric system, sometimes I think that working with the imperial measuring system for wood is an advantage especially when doing joints like the mortise joint where you need to divide sections in 1/3, and also since timber is sold in imperial units. So, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.
      Finally I wish to thank Mr. Sellers for all the teaching giving us for these years.

  5. Blisters !! I Remember well,I’m 82 started woodwork 2 years ago, I last school at 15 got an apprenticeship as a boiler smith ,at 16 on the first day at work 6am I was confronted with a large cast steel holding down bench 12ft x 6ft x4 inches thick it was used for holding down steel structures and jigs it was covered in tack welds about 1long .I was given a large steel chisel a 2.5 pound hammer a told to chisel em off (flush mind you) my Hands were bleeding palms and knuckles.when I mentioned it to my mentor his reaction was to put it mildly unsympathetic.

  6. The one area of the metric vs imperial you didn’t touch was temperature. A friend of mine moved from Scotland to Canada (the province of Ontario) in the early 1980’s. To this day he registers summer heat in Fahrenheit and winter cold in Celsius. He learn a whole new cold when he immigrated to Canada.

  7. I have no doubt Paul the woodworking with the hand tools has help to keep you fit and active. My grandma with house chores, etc, kept herself very fit and active well into her 90s.

    Out of curiosity, I know at one point you used to wear a fit bit. Did you ever get any data on how much “excercise” it counted as? Mostly curious. When my doctor asks about exercise, I explain I take the dog six days a week for a 30 minute walk and I woodwork between 10 and 20 hours a week with hand tools. She understands the dog walk. I can tell she doesn’t know what to make of the woodworking. At some point, I will likely get one of those fitbit/smart watches so I can measure it. It’s obvious to me it has helped me.

  8. As a practicing Electrical Engineer for 47+ years, with all the math and physics that go with it, I’m comfortable with either system. And here in Arizona we have one stretch of road from Tucson south to Nogales on the border, that is posted in metric (106.9 km, 66.4 miles). When we travel that route I love the mental exercise it gives me converting speed and distances between the two systems. Beats listening to the radio, for sure!

  9. “the thought then was that it was good to stretch the brain as much and as often as you could”.
    I have nothing against stretching one’s brain but, IMHO I think there are enough better subjects on which to do it.
    I also wander how many kids saw their school career hampered by this unnecessary complicated system. Learning physics must have been a nightmare in imperial.

    For engineering I will use 10 to a power of (3n) (mega, kilo, milli, micro and so on).
    For me, mm is for engineering, for woodworking, I use cm. That is the basic length which was used at primary school because kids can use it to draw geometric figures on a school notebook. (We had notebooks whose pages had a 1 cm grid).

    Furniture dimensions are expressed in cm as one can see, for example, on the web site of the well known Swedish firm.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t read too much into what I say. It was just a small band of men sat on wooden stools around a bandsaw at lunchtime enjoying some chit-chat as we were all being shoehorned into accepting the EEC’s supreme metric system to become part of yet one more global system as the continuum of an Industrial Revolutionary process. Planting potatoes one shoe length apart and one hand width deep got replaced by 25cm apart and 100mm deep using a ruler, that’s all. Thankfully we can now buy organic lettuce a week old from yet another continent that doesn’t go limp like the one we harvest from our own veggie patch that goes limp in just an hour. How do they do that?

      1. EEC is far from perfect but is not the culprit of everything.
        The move toward a decimal system started in UK before the French revolution. James Watt was asking for it in 1783.
        Google “wiki metrication UK”.

        As regard the global system, I will blame people like the British economist David Ricardo (1772-1823) . His free trade theory was perfect for speculators as he was himself. Import/export business doesn’t make money with local economy. That is why, in his mind, Portuguese should not produce wool and British should not produce wine. But, of course, that is not how he “sold” his theory.

  10. Aloha Paul,
    As to Exercise, I’ve never spent a minute of my ‘working life’ at any. My work Was my exercise. It was enough to qualify me for the ‘task’ of First Responder of Job Site Emergencies. Just from my pounding nail, sawing work, toting the beams needed to preform my tasks , I was very enabled to pass any tests of endurance and stamina needed. Example: a First responder had to bear the load of his victim and himself by one hand > my grip in either hand was off the craft [over 185pounds]. This enabled me to be hanging and holding my victim, if needed. But I never worked out, I just Worked. I had one fear, that I’d fail at my task as a First Responder. Unfounded. I was awarded for my dutiful exercise of my work . Nothing came of exercise other than the Gym making money from those that Could have taken the stairs and drink more water daily. My water need , by the way , was 5 gallons a day during my extreme job site locations, everyday, in 8 hours of work. I’d start each Monday at 185 pounds and by Friday be 165 pounds, even though I ate equal to 4-5 people each day, by Monday I was ready for another week at 185.30+ years, at least 9 saves, 2 ocean rescues of 2 people each, just 2 weeks apart, with my steel-toed boots on .

  11. One day, my wife was having a chat with her 70 year old father while he was chopping wood at a pace that would wear out men in their 30s. He was telling her that the doctor said he needed to exercise more. When the doctor had asked him if he had exercise he said no. My wife pointed out the chopping wood, going up and down ladders, building his cabin, etc, etc. My father in law scoffed “oh, that’s not exercise.” It was a funny moment.

    1. This reminds me of an article I read where some scientists wanted to find out if there was any physical differences in people from eastern Africa as there are a lot of long distance runners from that area. They went to Kenya and started testing “normal” people; taking blood samples; having them run and/or sit on a training bike/step machine to find out if the oxygen intake levels were different etc. At the same time they asked the persons about their diet and excercise habits.
      One man stunned the researchers as he had the stamina of a long distance runner and exceptional oxygen levels under load but never excercised. This could be their research specimen to prove their thesis!

      After some investigation it turned out that the man lived about 8 km outside the city and couldn’t afford the bus or a bike so he ran to work and home – everyday – and sometimes home for lunch… day in and day out.
      When they asked him about it he answered – “that is not excercise, it’s how I get to work”.

      The concept of excercise and running for “pleasure” was foreign to him but he had to get to work and walking would take too long so run he did, but exercise it was not.

  12. Hello Paul; First of all, I’m a retired Operating Room Nurse. (AAS, RN, RN to BSN, MSN, CNOR & RNFA) I do realize that the standards of Medical Care in the UK are different than in the US, but you should have your primary take a look at your hands and elbows. It’s not uncommon for folks who put stresses on hands and elbows to develope Dupetryn’s Contractures and Ulnar or Radial Nerve Compressions. I managed to develop job related problems and like any good nurse, I ignored them. I won’t go into details, but I wound up having to retire because of them, and I really enjoyed my work. I was darn good at it as well. Now I cannot work as a Nurse. Take as much care of yourself as you do of the things you craft.

  13. My Work Bench

    4 September 2021

    Hey Paul it’s always awesomely rewarding reading your articles!!! While I don’t always follow them as often as I should eventually I always find them equally enlightening. I turned 65 this past 25 June and have been reengaging in the craft slowly as my health permits. I was my Father’s helper at the young age of 5 and we spent years together until he passed away just before I graduated at age 17. I’ve always credited him with my uncanny abilities as more than teaching me to use tools, he taught me to reason and think things through. I’ve been blessed with similar teachers throughout my life. And here you are continuing my Father’s style of tutelage. Most recently I’ve read your 4 March 2020 blog titled “More Low-Down on Workbenches” with great interest. Equally important to me are your readers comments and thoughts which are quite enlightening as well. This journey of mine likely restarted back around 2009 when I lost my career of over 35 years after suffering a heart attack about 6 months prior. So it’s been slow but purposeful as well as methodical. Here I am having turned 65 last 25 June 2021. I’ve lost my eldest daughter on 17 May 2020 after spending about 30 days in a coma almost a year earlier. That period was around 10 April 2019 through 23 May 2019. So over time I’ve purchased 2 – 27” by 60” by 1-1/2” Birch Butcher Block Tops. The first will be ripped to about 20” wide, while the second will be ripped about 4” narrower to around 16”. It will also be 4” shorter at 56”. This will give me a two inch band around the circumference to accommodate my Zyliss vises, which max at a two inch bench top. It will also accommodate other items with similar limitations although I’m still considering only shortening one end and one side, just in case. The 7” offcuts will be used to make a smaller bench top unit possibly for joinery. The journey has been long, tedious yet rather enjoyable. I’ve finally paid off the mortgage on my home in Ohio and have been living with my youngest daughter in Raleigh, NC. Long term plans include gifting my daughter sufficient monies to buy her own house with a work shop for me. I know I’ve digressed from the original story a bit, but that’s what happened to me as I’ve grown up and older, yet hopefully wiser as well. I’ve been writing my entire life and am actually thinking of combining all of my thoughts, memories and other musings into my life history. Although there’s likely only going to be a few copies completed, I need to tell you how much of an important impact you’ve made on my life as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed following you and learning from you!!!


    Jack Collins

  14. Clive Buckingham

    Being 72 I’m quite comfortable using either imperial or metric. Australia has also adopted the metric system. However, with timber tends to use the metric equivalent of imperial. I was recently doing a project that required using shop standard size bought dowels. Standard sizes were 25.4mm and 9.5mm. One cannot buy a 25.4mm or a 9.5mm forstner bit. One can still buy imperial bits at a premium price. Sheets of ply are also the metric equivalent of imperial. Being ex Navy and a sailor I use knots and fathoms. I inflate my car tyres using psi. Thankfully time hasn’t gone metric, although I still use the 24hr clock.

    1. It is funny when you bait a younger person and say cut it about 3″. Or when they ask how long is this or that or how far shall I move it and you say about seven inches or eighteen inches. I was using one of my favourite fountain pens as I wrote in my journal and a then 25-year-old said, “Wow, what kind of pen is that? I answered, “It’s a digital pen.” He said he’d never seen one like that before and asked how it works? I said, “You have to have the App but the App measures how much ink comes out and adjusts the flow according to the speed and distance you write at.”

      1. I remember visiting a woodyard in the early 1980s and asking for some 3 by 2 timber (inches of course). I was told “We’ve gone metric now and don’t sell 3 by 2, it’s 72 by 48 (mm that is – cut from 75 by 51 sawn stock).” Ok says I, I’ll take four lengths of 1metre. We don’t sell length in metres, I was told, only 0.9 metre or 1.2 metre. When I asked why I was told it’s a metric 3foot or 4foot! Of course the sawn 75 x 51 was actually 3 X 2 inches. Even today, of course, sheets of building materials in the UK are sold as 2440mm by 1220mm. 8ft x 4ft then! So it’s all imperial sizes re-labelled as metric. So we’re still using a hybrid system!

        1. Plasterboard is also sold in sheets 2440 x 1220 (8ft x 4ft). I understand that this is because practically all of our housing stock has joist spacings of 16″, 18″ or 24″ and metric sized sheets would require much cutting and patching and would result in a lot of wastage.

  15. Just for fun
    1/4, 1/2, 1, 3, 6, 12, 24,…?…., 60, 120, 240, 252
    lets see who can work out the missing number and you must state why

  16. I was born but I was born during the war and of course was brought up learning the Imperial system. I then started an engineering apprenticeship, the first half of which was with the Imperial system, the second half was with the SI system. When I finish my apprenticeship I worked on most of the aircraft which were built shortly after the war and were all Imperial. As new aircraft came in they were of course all metric and so did the spanners and other tools. Now I am retired I am into carpentry. I was on my boat today measuring up to replace the cockpit table I measured it in inches. I also want to build a book rack which is rather smaller than the table and I’ve drawn it out in centimetres. I measured the thickness of the wood of an existing one and found that it was 10mm and thought ‘just under half an inch’.

    I think this is fairly typical that when I’m making something larger are use inches because they are more convenient, when I’m making something small I use centimetres. Luckily I never seem to get confused! But I guess that I will continue to use both systems and never settle for one.

    I do have an annoyance though. I was in the US recently and shopped in a ‘tool supermarket’ called Harbor Freight. If you spent more than $10 they would give you a nice measuring tape – all in inches and feet. I was forever turning the tape over looking for the cm. so now it is relegated to my decorating toolbox.

  17. Any chance you can demonstrate, on one of your short video, how you nailed the battens mentioned in the first paragraph?

    And if possible with both wire and cut nails.

    This seems like a good skill to have for quick yet sturdy and lasting construction of every day items.

  18. I admittingly am new to wood working. But because of your videos and teaching methods hooked on it now. I was formerly a Chartered Accountant but have found a combination of my flie tying skills and my fledging interrest in wood working am about to start a bussiness around it. I thank you Paul for that.
    What I want to do is rather small and have decided that the Veritas ‘finger’ router is right for me. Also I recently found a Stanly Bailey no. 4 that I am restoring and looking forward to working with it. I have found a local business that sells old wood for use so it will compliment my Veritas 4,5 smoothing plan. I think that I will need to find a no. 5 as well. I live in North East Ontario, Canada and I thank you Paul

  19. I think we grow up measuring ourselves in relation to the world around us, how we fit in the space we occupy. As we learn about units of measure we can estimate those spaces. I think this process is similar to learning about tastes and smells; it’s imprinted on our brains. I’m an old, Imperial minded brain in spite of the elegant simplicity of the metric system.

  20. “I was born in 51.
    31 years to go and I’m still having fun”
    Lyrics to a song I play quite often

    My grandfather and father had a woodworking business and everything was imperial. They previously had a black smithing shop. Both were powerful men with a sense of carpentry being something one worked towards always. Blisters, aches and pains were a necessary part of becoming.
    Growing up in Canada we have to live in both systems due to our proximity to the US.
    My brother is 10 years younger and school for him was mostly metric. We worked together for at a time as the switch over in drawings from imperial to metric was happening. He was so comfortable in both systems that he became the layout man and I didn’t have to thinks about it much until working on my own years later I found out what a mistake that was.
    One other interesting thing about working as a carpenter 30 YeRs ago in Canada. There was a huge influx of european immigration post war so the British and Italian carpenters were raised in the ‘Guild’ system which meant for a lot of them that an apprentice was a slave. It never bothered me much when paired with one of them and being told to fetch and hold the ladder and always given the ‘dumb’ end of the tape measure having My brother, who is incredibly gifted as a carpenter/woodwork would chafe at the bit watching someone else struggle with something he could do with his eyes closed while he held the ladder. I remember watching it happen across the room and having a good chuckle waiting to hear him at break time. We finally convinced the supervisor that it was best if we worked as a pair and the tension level dropped considerably.
    Working alone in my shop now feels so relaxing because I can choose how I do things
    Thanks for these musings Paul. I am slowly switching off the machine and moving to hand work. I keep looking at my chop saw thinking I really should. Sell that thing it’s just too loud and dangerous to use and the exercise of the hand work feels so good.

  21. John Carruthers

    How true, my hands were like raw meat after the first week ‘hacking out’ windows at 14.
    I always suffered with blisters. As a glazier my hands were in linseed oil all day and so soft even looking at a screwdriver lifted the skin.
    Plenty of cuts, stitches and scars, but no calluses.
    Later I went over to stained glass leaded lights which involved masonry rather than wood or metal.
    Lime putty, plaster, or mortar still makes my thumbs split.

  22. After 40 years making orthopedic shoes, and coming late to wood, I have had the blister period twice now. My hands are not getting any better, however. But when I am at the bench, striving to master my tools and the wood, there are days when the pain fades to the background, and all that matters is the moments I am creating something useful. I am currently making a very large picnic table (with separate backed benches) from slabs of redwood milled from my own trees. (Redwood can be a problematic wood, especially for making mortises). As I plane and plug all the small bark-inclusion knots, I find my attention is so focused I don’t notice most of the physical discomforts (back, neck, legs, feet) I have been accumulating for decades. Heart over mind, mind over matter, I suspect.

    Thanks again, Paul, for your work and your words.

  23. Lonnie Funderburg

    First, the most important thing that you have taught me is to keep my tools sharp. I hope you find this amusing. It does have something to do with the Imperial vs. metric discussion. IMHO, use one system or the other. It’s the conversion that causes confusion. I live in the U.S. About 25 years ago, I was in Germany. On such trips, I like to purchase a souvenir tool. So, I bought a 60 mm level because it is such a useful length. Well, when I returned to the group, one of the guys just blurted out, “You bought a metric level?”

  24. I too am one of these people who thinks in imperial and measures/records in metric in everything except money. Imo, it has nothing to do with practicalities but more the unwillingness/need to change. I never have L, s, d a second thought – it was gone. Stones, pounds, feet and inches hovered around but it wasn’t because there was merit in them being there but rather they were not allowed to die. The milk I went for was a pint, the potatoes were stones, the budgie seed cwt.
    When I took up woodworking I realised I never fully and accurately embraced either system…they were just labels really. I still don’t really know how long 20cm is until I get a tape or rule out. And even then I measure from there to there rather than think an actual distance. I seem to have been stuck in a relative world rather than a measured one.
    That’s probably why I prefer to ignore the actual measured width of a chisel and just embrace it’s width as the measure. 4 years for my maths degree and I don’t truly know sizes but it matters not since I have proportions and fit.

  25. Yet another PoV for metrics vs imperial.

    I grew up in a country that is metric since its inception. I moved to a country that uses imperial measurements in all the daily matters. So here some observations:

    – it doesn’t matter. Adopting imperial took me maybe a couple of weeks. I do agree on the “brain stretching” and actually enjoy it quite a bit, yet most of the time I don’t measure at all, but just transfer a size from one piece to another.
    – a complex system of multiple bases doesn’t matter either, because in woodworking the most widely used units are feet and inches, so it’s a single base of 12 and most probably you would convert it to inches anyway.
    – transition to metrics was really botched. Idk who decided it’s a great idea to use odd sized nuts or just convert general dimensions to metrics and get sizes like 231.7mm. Usually dimensions are nice round numbers like 230mm or better yet 200mm, 250mm. Same with material sizes: an equivalent of a 3/4” is full 20mm back home, and 2x analog would be 50mm. So yeah, I agree that “metrics” is kinda dumbed down in this country.
    – while fractional operations require more effort compared to decimal (still debatable though, how quickly can anyone divide 173 by 3 and then lay out the result?) — it has an added benefit when one gets a bit hazy after prolonged physical activity of waking you up a little. Most of mistakes are done in exactly that state of mind — a little bit of tiredness and somewhat diminished mental capacity blunts our focus, stopping for a moment and doing a basic math problem is like a good sip of coffee.

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