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As Metal Thickness Increases, The Gauge Decreases… Why?

October 10th, 2006 by Howard Skolnik

Filed under: Cool Stuff

Though common knowledge, few people know why the thickness of steel diminishes as the gauge increases (ie: 16 gauge steel is thicker than 20 gauge steel). The explanation comes from the early development of a steel gauge measurement system in which the control measurement was based on a 1″ thick steel plate. The 1″ thickness of the steel was measured in diminishing fractions such as 1/14″ thick, 1/16″ thick, 1/20″ thick, and so on. The bottom number of the fraction became an easy identifier and eventually was adopted as the “gauge number.” Thus, 1/16″ became 16 gauge and 1/20″ became 20 gauge. The concept makes sense but without explanation, the converse number is often confusing. By taking the gauge number and returning it back to a fractional format, one can discover the actual nominal thickness dimension, in inches, of sheet steel.

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