Stretching the Truth

I recently bought a new dressmaker’s tape measure to accurately determine the dimensions of a multifariously curved item of furniture that I have designs on.

It appears that some nations have as much trouble grasping the antiquated imperial system of measurement as others have grasping the metric system.

measure_for_measure_01a… with ends perfectly aligned.

Being pink, perhaps these tapes were made for dieting women.

Jack Plane


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Distractions, Tools and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Stretching the Truth

  1. Eric R says:

    The Imperial system will rule my shop until I’m in the ground.
    And I wish I had a dollar for every time my son has told me how vastly superior the Metric system is.
    (Silently, I agree, but I’m too old to change now.)

    Really enjoy your work Jack.
    Thank you from a Yankee follower.
    central Florida


  2. Ian Wells says:

    it might be in cun and chi , older chinese measures?
    I was trained in metric but have regressed to imperial for wood and cloth work as its easier to do ratios.


  3. Brian Eve says:

    I have a folding rule graduated in Danish inches. I have to be careful with that one.


  4. wilburpan says:

    市尺 Is a Chinese unit of length that equals 1/3 of a meter. Since the 3 市尺 mark lines up with your 100 cm mark, the tape is accurate.


    • Jack Plane says:

      Thank you for your expertise.

      Is 市尺 still a current unit of measurement?

      I’m not totally annoyed that it’s not an inch tape as it cost less than $1.



      • wilburpan says:

        Officially, China is on the metric system. But given that a good portion of the country is still underdeveloped, metric tends to get used in the urban areas (as well as engineering/production environments), while the more rural areas are still using the older system. There are probably fields where metric conversion is slower, like textiles, but that’s just a guess.

        The 市尺 has been used for centuries, but around 1930 it was redefined to be 1/3 of a meter.


  5. ant11sam says:

    Yesterday I discovered that my old french 6mm was off quite a bit from my new chinese 6mm cutter on the plow plane.

    Guess what, after I grab the caliper the cutter was 6.04mm and the chisel was 5.63 far from 6mm and out of reach for the 1/4″ witch is also marked on the tool!


  6. bobbarnettpe says:

    I have found this to be a problem with wooden carpenter rules. (Which I love to use.) I have learned to check them after making firewood instead of furniture. The one I was using was about 3/32″ off. It became firewood also. If I buy one now I take a steel tape and check it. It is amazing how many are off. Because of these experiences I mostly use steel tapes now. And even though I am a good old southern redneck from Alabama I mostly use metric in my shop. Old dogs can learn new ways to measure. Ok I need to go rip a board to 11 3/8″ plus one of the little marks.


    • Jack Plane says:

      I use both the imperial and metric systems, though not simultaneously. I still think in yards and feet outdoors for fences and sheds etc. and for conventions such as seat heights (17-1/2″), table tops (29-1/2″); carcase and drawer lining thicknesses; chair leg widths etc.

      If it comes down to 11-3/8″ plus one of the little marks, I switch to millimetres.



  7. Tim Raleigh says:

    My dressmakers tape is pink as well…I did not notice if it had a 3 with the Chinese characters or a 30 at 30″ mark. I like the metric system and prefer it as I dislike measuring in fractions, but learned [sic] the imperial system in school. As long as it’s accurate and I don’t mix the two, they both seem to work.


  8. D.B. Laney says:

    Perhaps a “plan measure” (aka map measure or inch counter) would be “just what the doctor ordered” to deal with those cantankerous curves. One should never underestimate the value of a piece of string, the “non-stretchy” kind, of course. Is it true that an inch was the distance between the first and second joints of Henry VIII’s left forefinger?


    • Jack Plane says:

      String is definitely useful at times, though errors can occur when measuring the string. Actually the item of furniture I want to measure-up isn’t that difficult, it’s just that a cloth tape will lie flatter than a steel tape.

      The Chinese tape would of course work… as long as I stuck with it solely through the entire project.



  9. bsrlee says:

    You can blame the Romans for the Imperial system of measurements, 12 unches to the foot from the Romans, the Greeks used 16 dactyls or fingers for the same rough ‘Foot’. Then you get into the old ‘traditional’ measurements like rods, poles and perches, barley corns (both English and Islamic systems) and fathoms. Interestingly the ‘Chain’ of 22 yards was invented c.1620 by Edmund Gunter, having 100 links, IIRC every 10 links there was a different shape welded to the link, much like a sailor’s lead line (by the Mark Twain etc.)


  10. Michael says:

    Being French I’m used to the metric system.
    That said, I moved in the US 3 years ago, and began woodworking there. For woodworking I now use exclusively the imperial system, as it seems more convenient for ratio (ans also because boards and tools are imperials).
    Though, I still have to calculate it if someone ask me a metric conversion of my work (mainly my dad is asking).


  11. ged gardiner says:

    French tradesmen were still using the Pied and Pouce (foot and inch or “thumb”) well into the 20th century, 100 years after the metric system had officially taken over. Decimals are an unfortunate accident of nature.


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