Saturday, 5 February 2011

Units of the world, unite!

Somebody who follows my blog on Facebook commented on my previous blog about fire wood. He lives in another part of Bourgogne, in the Bresse region, and apparently the wood there is not delivered and measured in “stères”, but in “moules”. Ever since I started work in the petrochemical industry, and got involved in working in the imperial units of length, volume, weight, force etc. I have been fascinated by the variations in archaic units; the Netherlands knew in the past at least 6 (six!) different inches, ranging between 24 and 27 mm, depending on the region. It is interesting to know, that although the metric system was developed in France during the French Revolution, the first head of state to enforce the metric system by law (in 1820) was the Dutch King William I. This fascination caused me to open the French Wikipédia and look up what they have to say about moules and stères.
The moule is a unit of volume for cut wood, which goes back to pre-(French)revolutionary times. And as with most ancient units, this one is also regionally defined. In the Savoie a moule measures 1.6 stères, in the Chablais, a part of the Haut-Savoie it measures 3 stères, and in Burgundy it is as much wood as you can get into a cube with sides of 1.33 m.
This last dimension is no doubt an equivalent of 4 ½ French feet or a number of other local units. This boils down to a gross volume of 2.353 cubic metres. When 1 stère is equal to (effectively) 0.7 cubic metres, a moule should be 3.36 stères. However, my spokesman from the Bresse states that a moule equals 2.63 stères. A simple calculation makes 1 (Bresse) stère effectively 0.89 cubic metres. And that tallies with the rest of his story, wherein he tells that his wood is delivered in 1.3 metres lengths. One has to stack neatly, and hence economically, to stack 1.3 m lengths in a cube with sides of 1.33 m!

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