Triggered by the recent acquisition of a Festool DOMINO, which is ALL metric, I’ve been investigating the “32 mm System”, developed, naturally, by a German - right after World War II (The War to End ALL Wars?). With a huge demand for cabinets and a severe shortage of wood, to say nothing of a shortage of skilled workers (wars are not good for furniture, forests or men between the ages of 14 and 70 - hell, wars aren’t good for people in general, to say nothing of its other problems), there was a real need for a quick, and efficient way to make cabinets that didn’t need many highly skilled workers or a lot of sophisticated machines and tooling. Naturally, it was an architect who came up with a method of building “knock down, ship flat, assemble on site” cabinets out of, let’s just say “not solid wood”, to meet a need of the Post War period - “The 32mm System”.
The 32mm System relies on standardized parts with standardaized holes of two standardized sizes, with standardized spacing for both assembly as well as hardware installation, the hardware also being standardized. Very efficient, and very simple - one “side panel”, one “top/bottom panel” - join a pair of each and you’ve got four sides of a box - with predrilled holes for drawer guided, door hinges, . . . All very slick and surprisingly flexible (options wise, not structurally) - WITH the right hardware.
Anyway - the Festool DOMINO is all Metric, so I’ve been converting back and forth between metric and emperial (Interesting ‘ “emperical” - “empire” - British Empire - but didn’t they use metric? I’m getting a headache.). So I’ve been playing with 25.4 (25.4 mm/inch) and 0.0397 (inches/mm), along with 16mm (very close to 5/8ths of an inch) and 19mm (very close to 3/4 of an inch) and a host of other conversions from The 32mm System back to the more familiar inches and fractions of inches, including decimal fractions.
Now the metric system has a lot of nice features - especially if you want to do calculations, or scale things up or down by a factor of 10. Calculations using fractions is pretty messy - divide 1 and 15/16 inches by three for example, or add 1/8 plus 3/16 plus 9/32 inches. On the other hand, doubling 1/16 and doubling it again is trivial - 1/8, 1/4. Going the other way by halves is just as easy 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, ...
Now all this converting back and forth, and thinking about “measuring” in general, got me wondering.
What would furniture be like if there were no measuring tapes, metric or emperial? What if all you had for measuring was a length of string and maybe a pair of sticks (slip sticks)? Parts would be “ABOUT this long, ABOUT this wide and ABOUT this thick” - no Rules, no preconceived, or given - stock sizes. “Parts that have to fit between other parts” is the only “need to MEASURE” constraint. Want the middle of something that's "this long"? Take a piece of string "this long" and, hold the ends together and find the bottom of the resulting "loop" - done - no reading a tape, dividing by two then finding the nearest fractional line on the tape.
Take a BIG piece of paper and sketch a full size drawing of a piece of furniture - with no preconceived notion of measuring, available stock size or how you’ll make it. What would YOUR chair, table or dresser look like? Throw away One Size Fits All and think in terms of a Specific Need for the piece. If you’re tall, or short, what would you change in the chair you’re sitting in? If you’re “slender” or “rotund” would that change what YOUR chair would look like?
Now imagine you have all the tools and equiptment you currently own - and could make the parts of your next piece any thickness and length you want - and imagine that didn’t involve a lot of physical labor. Most important, imagine not having to read a measuring tape or anything with little lines on it? “It” just has to be “This Long”, about “This Big (or Small)”.
How much does your tape measure - and readily available stock dimensions - affect your design considerations? What if you knew a sawyer just down the road?
(returning to trying to figure out the underlying reasons for the “presets” on the Festool DOMINO mortiser)