Monday, December 3, 2012

Planning tool: small drafting board

I get that sketch up is becoming a thing, I get that computer drafting tools are very robust and efficient once you get the hang of them. But I'm a traditionalist, and there are times when I think that drawing things out by hand is more useful. Because it's a physical exercise as much as a mental one, the process of drawing out the details of a project engages the mind in a different way than CAD or sketch up does: You have to fill in the details by hand in the drawing, nothing is automatically generated. And as you put those details down on paper, you have to work them out in your mind. It's the shortest route I know to really wrapping my mind around a project.

I know from experience that many people have the same attitude: "I can't draw." The whole point of a drafting table, or a board like this one is that you have rulers and square edges to guide your pencil. You don't have to be a skilled fine artist to make a drawing of a piece of furniture. Some drawings are more involved than others, but the whole point of drafting in the first place is to build the piece on paper, first. The drawing is a place for you to work out the kinks of the design, and it's a representation of the physical object that you aspire to build. If the details of the drawing are too complicated for you to puzzle out, then constructing the actual object probably is, too.

Making mistakes and erasing them on paper is much easier and cheaper than making your mistakes in wood, and the simple truth is, we learn from our mistakes, and we learn from struggling with a topic. If you don't always have time to spend in the shop, or money for wood, time spent drafting new designs will be well spent, and allow you to spend time solving the puzzles ahead of time.

When I went to school, we had large, 40" x 5' long drafting boards for doing full size drawings of furniture. I have one at the shop that's 50" x 6', and it's great for that. But not everything demands that much real estate, so I came up with this small board, that's great for working out individual details, or doing small, scaled drawings on regular 8.5" x 11" sized paper.

It's just a small piece of MDF, with vertical and horizontal reference edges along two sides. These edges need to be square to each other, but other than that, there's not a lot of time or skill that needs to be invested in this project, which makes it great for beginners, both as a small project, and as a tool to help them plan out larger projects. It's very simple, very inexpensive, and all you need to make use of it is a pencil, and a drafting triangle or two. It's perfect for doing some quick head-scratching, and working out how something will go together. And I feel a lot more comfortable using this in the shop, than I would an expensive laptop.

At some point, I'll make another one to use at home. When I do, I'll probably make it wider, so that I can reference more of the triangle's bottom edge when I'm drawing vertical lines on the right side of the page.  Chances are pretty good I'll simply make a square version.

Shop drawing for a door, with stock list along left edge.


robert said...

Nice laptop. I like the robust components for the inevitable drops, dust, etc.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Love this, James -- although I've done most of my drafting and material planning in a small moleskine, the ability to use drafting squares would be very helpful.

One of the downsides to being an amateur -- and more specifically, to being one who is stepping into woodworking at 30, as a hobby, with no shop background to speak of -- is the lack of a framework against which to measure things I don't know, but should. Your third picture is a good example: my "drafts" are far less clean than what you have, and there are details (measurements along the edges of the drawing, I think?) that I tend to miss in my own work, and instead get figured out as ad-hoc measurements and marks on the wood as I'm working.

I think a small drafting board is next on the project list, before I tackle a library's worth of built-in bookcases. :)

JW said...

Hi Kevin,

I got into woodworking at 29, with a similar lack of background. Thankfully, woodworking as a craft is booming as a hobby, so there's a lot of material floating around these days.

Notebooks are great for sketching, which is the grunt work of any design method, so it's very important. But shop drawings like I have in the pictures are the reference material that you need when it's time to start cutting and putting things together. When you're standing there with saw in hand, in front of the wood you're about to cut... that's not the time to be figuring things out.

I'm not saying I haven't done it that way... just that I've found this way is much easier, and has given me better results. :)