Olde English is Such a Tool

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

One of the perennial red herrings that is enlisted by those who want to stop the metric system from being adopted in the US, is the cost of tools. As we have seen, representatives of small business in the 1977 metric hearings asserted that if they were compelled to purchase metric tools that it would cause a “metric apocalypse,” and requested the government have disaster loans available for small business. Tooling costs have been cited as a reason to resist metrication in the 1905, 1921 and the 1977 metric hearings. Last April I gave a talk about the metric system to an audience that had a considerable number of engineers and scientists. One of the very first questions was: “but what about the tooling costs of conversion?” I could not help myself, I laughed, and then explained why it’s nothing but a canard.

At one company for which I worked, a few years back, I was recruited to work on the development a system which would put RFID tags on tools. It was an interesting idea, each tool would have an RFID tag which would allow all the tools in the back of a pickup truck to be automatically inventoried at the end of each day. If there were any tools missing, it would be known immediately.

I naively said “Is this a big problem—losing tools?”

The reply was incredulity at the question “It’s astronomical, this is a great opportunity.”

The project did not continue, but the information stuck in my mind. Recently I had some work done on my house. The contractor showed up and soon needed to leave because he didn’t have a tool. It was an elliptical sander. In order to keep the work progressing I lent him mine. He admitted he had purchased three sanders this year because he had lost them. “I just don’t know how they get lost” he said with incredulity.

I mentioned this to my father who immediately recognized the problem. So many tools were disappearing each month at his printing company, that the resulting bills at the local hardware store caused considerable consternation. My father was asked what could be done to stop the loss of tools. He replied they could lock them up and only give them out when needed. It was decided that this could cause a considerable loss of time if no one with the key was around to pass out tools during an equipment breakdown. The cost of the tools seemed smaller than the loss of production time.

In the US we have two types of wrenches, US Olde English and metric, so potentially, in the worst case lost tools could cost us twice as much as the rest of the world. It also costs twice as much as the rest of the world to maintain two sets of tools.

The other aspect is to question just how many tools first of all are dependent on a scale and second would need to be replaced. When I look at my own tools in my Engineering prototype lab I see:

Screwdrivers — No change needed
Levels — No change needed (mine do not have any scales on them)
Cordless & Corded Drill — No Change needed, metric or US Olde English bits will fit.
Vice Grips — No Change needed
Crescent Wrenches == No Change Needed
Tweezers — No Change Needed
Clamps — No Change Needed
Files — No Change needed
Chisels — No Change Needed
Pliers– No Change Needed
X-Acto Knife — No Change Needed
Hammer — No Change Needed
Putty Knife — No Change Needed
Glue — No Change Needed
IR Thermometer — No Change Needed (Use Celsius only)
Pipe Cutter — No Change Needed
Shrink Tubing — No Change Needed
Scotch Brite — No Change Needed
Chemicals — No Change Needed (purchase in mL or L only)
Q-Tips — No Change Needed
Arbor Press — No Change No Change
Soldering Iron(s) — No Change Needed
Reflow Oven (Soldering) — No Change Needed (Use Celsius setting only)

Drill Bits — Yes (but  they wear out and are replaced)
Calipers — Yes (to get metric only)
Allen Wrenches Yes (to get metric only)
Radius Gauge Yes (to get metric only)
Wire Stripper — Yes (if metric wire is introduced)
Tape Measure — Yes (to get metric only)
Tap Set — Yes (to get metric only)
Machine Screws — Yes (to get metric only)
Scales/Rulers — Yes (To get metric only)
Socket Set — Yes (to get metric only)

This unscientific inventory of the common tools in my lab indicates that a majority of them would not need replacement. The ones that are cited for replacement generally already have been purchased by small businessmen out of necessity to deal with Domestic and Foreign products that are metric. The cost of changing over to metric would be minimal. It is also lost on businessmen that only in the US do we need to have two sets of tools, one US Olde English and also metric. Apparently this doubling of tooling cost doesn’t scare them nearly as much as legislation for metric only in this country.  It’s time to cast aside the irrational arguments about the incredible amounts of cost that metric “re-toolling” would incur. It costs us more, about $16 per day per person, not to have metric only tools and measurements in this country. Small business is wasting money by not demanding metric only legislation in the US.

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:

The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays  that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website,  but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.

The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.

The third book is not of direct importance to metric education. It is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.

17 thoughts on “Olde English is Such a Tool

  1. When Australia converted to metric the government helped business to reduce costs by:
    • waiving import duty and sales tax on equipment necessary for metric conversion
    • allowing income tax deductions for the purchase of equipment necessary for metric conversion

    I am sure that the sport of tax minimisation has the same sort of following in America that it has here in Australia, and that when the metric conversion becomes inevitable, an army of lobbyists will ensure that these sort of concessions are available to industry and small business.

  2. First of all, as you mention tools do wear out and do get lost. At one point they would need to be replaced. Second, one would think the tooling manufacturers would come to the rescue as it would be in their interest to support metrication. They would profit selling new tools. They would also profit producing a smaller inventory. Making an inch series of wrenches and a metric set that are similar but different has to add cost to production, a cost that would be reduced significantly with only a metric set offered.

    Was there ever an outcry from auto mechanics when the auto industry switched to metric fasteners? What about other industries switching to metric that required service using metric tools? What about Chinese, EU and all international products sold in the US that require metric tools for installation and service?

    A similar issue always brought up regarding cost is the cost itself to metricate. Yet, no one ever mentions the cost not to metricate. Which is greater?


    What about the cost of metric to USC errors?


    One would think that if the American people were as intelligent as they think they are, they would see that the the costs not to change far outweigh any costs to metricate and all metrication costs are one time costs that pay for themselves in the short and long term.

    How many tools can you buy for 327.6 M$?

  3. BTW, about prefixes, even if we have a base 10 numbering system (which maybe isn’t necessarily the best one: 8 or 12 could maybe have been better…? but now we must probably keep it, as changing the base of our numbering system would be a much more difficult than converting the US to the metric system, perhaps…) – well, but at the same time, in SI, we have essentially a base (3-6-9-)12 for the prefixes: 10^3, 6, 9, 12, etc. etc.; i.e., essentially 10 and 12 together, as in Caesar’s and Cicero’s times, albeit in a different way…

    If, instead, we had: 10^2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc. etc. – i.e., hecto, myria, mega, [not classified], [not classified], tera, etc. etc.? Or: 10^5, 10, 15, 20, etc. etc. (well, at this time, all not classified)?

    Mad scientists’ thought, maybe…

    Anyway, after all, also in SI, we have some ancient Roman heritage: base 10, but exponents in multiples of 3 (alias 12, for the most used range)…

    Of course, all this probably comes form the fact that thousands (M) and maybe also millions were all well established before the metric system.

    • This is an entirely moot point. We have a base 10 system, case closed. The best measuring system for base 10 is metric as it is harmonised precisely with it.

      Since we never had any other bases, it is only biased speculation another base would be better.

      These nonsensical rants about other bases is just vain attempts to distract away from and delay metrication. But a delay can only happen in the countries suffering without it, thus increasing that suffering.

      • I was onlly speculating from a theoretical point of viene: of course, the most urgent matter is currently that of the full metrication of the US and UK, obviously in base 10.

        Afterwards, one can maybe also think about perfecting the SI even more…

  4. Sorry for the typo, for course…

    BTW, IIRC, in the early metrical times, the French preferentially used “myria” (10^4) instead of “kilo” (10^3) (used in Italy and the Netherlands), at least for some time…

    In any case, it would be interesting to explore which base would be the best for a future numbering system: 8 (octal), 10 (decimal), 12 (duodecimal, which many says has the best global advantages) or 16 (hexadecimal)?

    … And coherence between base and exponents, of course, if possibile (today, there isn’t probably such a coherence (10 as a base, but exponents in successions of 3); but of course everything works, anyway, also for historical reasons – not a so serious matter, after all)…

    • No it wouldn’t be interesting to explore. It would be a complete waste of money and valuable resources. Nothing is gained, everything is lost.

      What happened before 1960 is moot. The SI is the world standard for today. The term “metrical” along with “metrics” was used by the opposition to metrication in the past and some times today as a derogatory term for the metric system.

      It is in the same class as calling metrication as metrification (there is no “if” in metrication) or deliberately messing up spellings and prefixes of units (kph instead of km/h, ltr for L, hr for h, sec for s, etc). This is done to corrupt SI appearance and to make SI look less coherent, thus eliminating an advantage to SI over imperial/USC.

      Calling USC as imperial is done to give the appearance the pre-metric is a unified, coherent system, when it isn’t.

      • Anyway, the SI isn’t perfect: for example, we have a derived unit, the kilogram, as a base unit; and, as I said before, the base is 10, while the exponents of the prefixes follow a ternary logic; last, personally I don’t like that much units named after persons, but would rather prefer naming them from their function, so to speak: for example, the old CGS system had units that rendered better what they meant, such as gram, erg and so on; while MKS units such as Newton, Joule and so on have no direct relation with what they express (being named after great scientists, but that has really nothing to do with what they should render intuitively).

        But let’s before all adopt SI worldwide – and only then can we discuss about further improving it!

        Including the measurement of time, today a notable exception to everything else in the SI system…

        • … Which also means, if we stay with a base 10 system, that time, too, should be decimalised, as they once tried to do (but it lasted only for a short period). Also, in the space era, maybe we wouldn’t need a time measurement based on the rotation and revolution of the Earth, anymore – who knows…

      • Ametrica said: “No it wouldn’t be interesting to explore.”

        Speak for yourself. Your opinions are your own, and being one of the most opinionated posters I’ve had the misfortune to encounter on the interwebs (under any of your various handles) doesn’t promote them to general, universally true observations.

        Ametrica said: ‘It is in the same class as calling metrication as metrification (there is no “if” in metrication)’

        Your ignorance is showing. Whether or not ‘metrification’ is correct, the ‘if’ part is nothing in its own right; the part is ‘-(i)ficat-‘, from Latin ‘-(i)ficere’, reduced form of ‘facere’ meaning ‘to do, to make’. ‘Metrification’ is at least as correct as ‘metrication’ is, or as ‘metrization’ would be if it were in use. Spinning an anti-SI conspiracy theory out of it says much of your unbridled bias.

  5. Apart from all these potential improvements for the SI (which should rather be called SP, à la “système planetaire”), the sad reality is that both people and politicians just do not seem to care, anymore (to say it with Freeman Lowell, in “Silent Running”; or “2002: the second odissey”, as it was called in Italy…): and this is certainly not a good thing, for positive change.

    • In a world where everything is indifferent, in other words, there’s no more impulse for rational and sensible change, anymore: anything seems to be good or bad; there’s no more critical common sense.

      Only a new season of ideals and projection towards a real, shared future could eventually reverse this sad situation.

      IMHO, of course: YMMV – hmmm…. YK*MV, of course… 😉 🙂

      * Kilometrage, naturally! A word which is obvious in countries where the metric system has been in use for centuries, or at least decades.

      OK, I’ve really spoken too much, for now: but how the #@$%&*^! can we make the US and UK go fully metric, given the absurd conditions of today’s “indifferent” (i.e., generalised almost non-committalism) context?!? Thats the question, of course…

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