Having followed the debate about English vs. metric measurements, I would like to add the following remarks. My partners and I do cabinets and interior trim work, and we measure everything to the 1/64 in. We not only measure quickly, but we also yell these measurements to a cut man who in turn can quickly mark and cut the stock (he uses a sharp 5h pencil). Our system is so ridiculously simple that I’m surprised it took so long for the necessary language to evolve. We’ve finally solved the problem of the varying hair thickness. Here’s how it works.
In our language 36-3/4 in. is 36-twelve (our code for 12/16, or 3/4 ). In our language 36-25/32 in. is 36-twelve and a half. Halfway between 36-twelve and 36-twelve and a half is 36-twelve strong (36-49/64 in.). To us, 36-51/64 in. is 36-thirteen shy.
If someone were to hand me a tape with marks every 64th of an inch, I would be lost. But I have no problem splitting a 16th in half and then splitting that half in half. If I have to add a column of numbers using this method, I signify the strongs with a plus sign, and the shys with a minus sign. Then before I add up the numbers, I cancel out as many of the shys and strongs as possible and adjust the total up or down according to how many shys or strongs are left over. To reduce my column of 16ths to whole numbers, I invoke the framers litany—16, 32, 48, 64, 80, 96—while extending one finger for each chant. For example, let’s say I’ve got 87-and-a-half 16ths in my fraction column. I extend a finger for each 16. When I get to 80, I’ve got five fingers extended. So my answer is 5-seven and a half.
At this point I probably sound like J. R. Tolkien selling used cars. But give this system a chance, and you’ll discover its benefits. Just take a small tape and try finding 23-43/64 in. Then take a 25 footer and find 23-eleven shy. Which is easier?
Jim Chestnut, Fairfield, CT
Edited and Illustrated by Charles Miller
From Fine Homebuilding #78