What Annoys Me About Converting To Metric

There was a recent thread on one of the woodworking fora concerning metric measurements. As might be expected, there was some not no way, not no how rhetoric. One poster listed some items in his shop and made some inquiries about their size with attendant metric conversions. I felt compelled to respond, in a post entitled My Pet Peeve:

Every time I see a newspaper or magazine article about going metric, they do this same sort of thing. It drives me nuts. Some bozo will write how football won't have first and ten anymore; it'll be first and (insert silly conversion fraction here). Or famous phrases will be brutalized such as give them 25.4 mm and they'll take 1.62 km. Good grief.

I don't understand why everyone makes this so difficult. My in-laws in Ontario, fully Anglicized, I assure you, speak freely and comfortably of speeds in km/h and temperatures in Celsius. And that conversion has only been in place, what, 15 or 20 years? Or less?

All we have to do is do it. Go ahead and keep your tapes and bits, but let's give our descendants the opportunity to not have to go through a transition that is inevitable.

> Does this mean my 32" Unifence is now going to be an 81.28 CM fence?

It already is. But eventually it will be remarketed and will probably be an 80cm fence.

> Do I now have to buy 2.06 CM stock instead of 4/4 (1316") stock?

No. Eventually wood (and everthing else) will be sized in convenient units, not conversion units. For example, everyone recognizes a two liter Pepsi bottle, but do you in your Englishness go into a store and ask for a 2.1 qt bottle? No. (By the way, it is not lost on me that converting is so ingrained into you that you believe that 4/4 = 1316". If you can work with that fable, metric will be a breeze.)

> Do I now have to call my 25' tape a 7.62 M tape?

No. Isn't it a 25' tape? You will probably be able to buy a 750 cm tape sometime, though.

> And now when I order a new table saw blade, do I have to order 25.4 CM blades?

Order the size that eventually matches your current blade most closely. Frankly, you don't care whether your blade is really 10" or not. You are more concerned that the blade will fit. My guess would be that a 250 mm blade would work just fine. With a 16 mm arbor hole.

> What about router bits with ½" shanks from Jesada? Are they now 1.27 CM?

No, they are still ½". Eventually (and already in Europe) collets will be delivered in 6.5 or 12 mm sizes. Guess what size shank bits you'll need to order?

> I don't think a metric conversion will happen in my shop in my lifetime.

I don't know. Got a DJ15 or DJ20 Delta jointer? Yep 15 cm and 20 cm. Hah! You thought they were 6" and 8", didn't you? And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you've bought any tools within the last ten years, even good old American made Milwaukee, you'll see metric all over them. You are already well on your way. Don't believe me? Bought any ½" plywood lately? How about any Baltic Birch? Did it make a difference that it didn't measure a convenient English size? No, you adapted.

Maybe your shop won't be converted completely. As someone mentioned earlier, it may take two generations from the time we take it seriously for it to get good and happened. In the meantime, I will wager that you will be fully 50% metricized by the time you tip over. I would appreciate a mention in your will attesting to this wager.

There was a response from the gentleman, entitled if it ain't broke, don't fix it, most of which is quoted in my response below (which I titled It's not a fix, it's an upgrade…:

> …As was stated earlier in this thread, that was tried in the U.S. in the ;70s and it failed miserably.

That failure was a consequence, not of lack of merit, but of lack of courage of our leadership. Too much parochialism and inertia, and too little vision. Do you think Canadians were any more ready to change? But the signs went up, and the government said, “here it is. Deal with it.” That's what we have to do.

> The world is a great place with a lot of regional differences. But now you can get McDonald's, MTV or the latest American movie anywhere in the world.

Well, you can certainly get a McDonalds in Paris or Moscow, but neither Mickey Ds, nor MTV, nor even American movies are the standard of the world. That really has nothing to do with metrics. Particularly since nothing so fundamental as measurements are done in Big Macs or Road Rules.

> What's next, forcing the Brits to drive on our side of the road?

Sweden did it in my lifetime (but before yours, I think). But no, I don't think that will happen. Besides, Brits (or Japanese) driving on the other side of the road really doesn't have much implication in how they and the world do business. How they measure the width, length or thickness of that road does.

> All of my tools (except for some metric sockets and wrenches) are standard sizes. And since I buy good tools, some of which I will pass along to my grandkids, I don't see a reason to convert and buy new tools.

But you're missing the point. You don't need to convert. You will be changing (kicking and screaming, no doubt) along the way. As I said, tools (power-type) you are buying now or bought in the last ten years mostly need metric wrenches to maintain. You're already in the thick of it.

> By the way, why is the Record plane that I just ordered from William Alden made in England but sold with a 22" sole, a 238" mouth and weight of 9 lbs? They didn't mark it metric, even though it was made in the EU.

Well, I'm not familiar with this product, but take a look at one in a British catalog. I would bet that it is manufactured with a 560 mm sole, a 60 mm mouth, and a weight of 4 kg, and that someone at W-A, pandering to the metric Luddites, made the conversion for marketing purposes.

Let me give you an illustration. Every year we see track meets televised that are international. And every year we are inundated with what the latest pole vaulters have done with the 20' mark. Do you think Sergei Bubka has any clue as to how many feet he's jumping? If you look at the video of the scoring machine, or visit one of the venues, you won't see a foot measurement anywhere in sight. The media are doing the converting. If they'd quit doing that, we'd start getting used to vaulters assaulting the 650 cm barrier. Seen anyone run the mile lately? Or 100 yds?

> Having worked in the computer industry, I've seen the billions of dollars spent to fix Y2K. It would cost billions more to retrofit the USA to metric and there just isn't a compelling reason to do so.

Apples and oranges. Y2K was a problem that needed fixing, with some Chicken Little hysteria thrown in. English measurement is like Latin; hardly anyone uses it anymore. And no one does who wants to trade with the masses (oops, sorry). There is no more compelling reason than $$$. And it's coming—for the $$$.

> I also enjoy cooking and I've tried converting units from grams, liters and other metric units of measurement. Forget it! Not in my kitchen and not in my woodshop! I may be the last holdout, but so be it. I'm content with my decision.

I too, cook, and I would have some difficulty were I to buy some metric measuring devices and try to use them for my favorite recipes. Not going to happen. But, eventually, I will have some metric measuring devices, and when I run across a recipe that's metric, I will use them.

We have to stop thinking conversion. Conversion does nothing but cause heartache. My case about the two liter soda bottles is the perfect illustration. It's there. It's done. It's painless.

I mentioned Baltic Birch before. It's sold in 150 x 150 cm squares. But do you care? No. Why? Because you're going to cut it up into pieces of some English measurement. That's fine, but you are already complicit in the metric change. And if you want to cut it precisely in half, your world will be so much easier if you have a metric tape. But, your choice.

I concluded by saying that a sensitive subject such as this didn't need to be aired any further in that particular venue, and the other gentleman agreed and was kind enough to concede that my points had made him rethink some of his views.

P.S. Thanks to my friend, Michael Kortmann from Germany, who told me that in Europe, the equivalent size to our ½" collet is 12mm.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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