Thinking of Going Metric?
Guy Dunlap is experimenting with the metric system, but like many before him, he's discovering that it might be all or nothing.
After months of debate, my wife and I came up with what we wanted our new kitchen cabinets to look like. She and I both liked the clean lines of frameless cabinets and we decided that I was going to build the cabinets using the 32mm Euro cabinet system. This was a great option as there is a lot of documentation out there on building cabinets like this and the design is easy and straightforward when it comes to drawer and door sizes. The less thinking about design the better.
Now I have never had much use for the metric system in my shop, save for the times when I had to divide a number by more than two. The other issue is that I have been using the imperial standard for so long, it’s hard for me to visualize a length when I hear 280mm. So I’ve never used metric-only on a project. Until now.
I decided that since I was going to build my kitchen cabinets based on the 32mm system that I would go ahead and use only metric measurements. While that sounds easy, it actually opened up a whole new set of problems in my shop. First off, I only had a few rulers and a single tape measure that was dual metric/imperial. And of course all the machines in my shop are set up imperial, along with the marking on all my stops and fence systems. So there was a mindset and equipment issue along with all the problems of productivity when cutting the parts.
The first step was to get a new tape measure and a few new rulers that were only in metric. I fumbled around quite a bit at first, and really started to question my decision. I had a metric-to-imperial calculator on my phone that I could use to easily (or so I thought) convert the measurements on my cutlist to jive with the measurements on my tools. This proved to be a huge time suck every time I needed to set the fence when cutting a part. I quickly found another way was simply to use my dual tape measure and then use a square against it to find the correct number.
Now I was moving along a little faster. But the conversion still wasn’t tidy in every case. Since 1 in. equals 25.4mm, there was never a number that was a solid conversion that I could employ on a machine by just using the machine’s scale. So I decided to just use the tape measure/ruler to measure from whatever fence/stop I was using to the blade/bit I was using. Again, I was moving faster now.
So here is how my process went. Convert metric to imperial using the dual tape measure, set the tool I was going to use to the imperial measurement, then finalize it with the imperial-only tape rule. Now I know this sounds like a lot of extra hoops to jump through and I would be lying if I said it didn’t take extra time. It did. After a while though, I was finding that I could do quite a bit of the conversion in my head and could also start visualizing the length. This resulted in quicker setup times, and my productivity and efficiency were starting to return.
I am just about through the complete build of the cabinets and have newfound appreciation for the metric system. The plus to using metric is whole numbers, and being easily able to divide/add/subtract without any fractions whatsoever. Even a measurement of 36.5mm is easy to attain by just putting your mark between the two numbers. The only downside is the scales on my machines. It would have been nice to be able to just set it to 36.5mm instead of pretty close to 1-7/16 in.
After this experience, I am considering changing over to metric in my shop. I am not 100% sold on the idea as it would take quite a bit of time and money to change over the scales on my machines. I’m just considering it. Even though I can “see” the measurement in my mind’s eye better now than when I started the cabinet project, it still can be a little fuzzy. I do know that I will start incorporating more of the metric system into my workflow and see if I still feel this way after more time in the shop with it.