How we measure the world around us is a reflection of how our society interacts with the world. To wit: The metric system is, in my opinion, the most efficient way to gauge everything around us.
And that is exactly why I dislike it so. It is a system based on base-10 efficiency and little else.
If you spend any time investigating ancient measurement systems, you find that they are based on the human body – the thing that interacts with the world. What is “humane” about these systems are their intervals. The “foot” (from whatever system) is a factor of size that relates to the “pounce” – the finger or inch. Other measurements are related to our forearms, our outstretched arms and our heads.
I’m not trying to say there is great mystery wrapped up in these systems – quite the opposite. They are as plain as the nose on our face.
So I have been following the recent work of Brendan Gaffney, a woodworker and musician, with great interest. He has been investigating three ancient measuring systems – Roman, Egyptian and Japanese – and has produced three gorgeous rulers for sale that explore and explain the measurement systems from these three great civilizations.
I could go on and on about his research, but you should simply go here and read his words.
As I’m building two Roman workbenches this year for a quixotic book project, I decided to use the Roman system of measurement as I construct them, and so I adopted Gaffney’s Roman “Cubitus” ruler as my personal ruler for the project.
The ruler arrived on Friday and it is completely stunning. The CNC etchings paired with the hand-applied ink and tactile finish combine to make it an object that family members and guests pick up, admire and wonder about. Me, I just want to put the thing to use.
As of now, all three styles of rulers are sold out. But you should sign up for his newsletter to learn when he is able to make more. These might not be the rulers you use on your next project in the shop, but maybe they should be.
— Christopher Schwarz