Architectural Scales

Learn The Visual Language of Drafting

Learning to draw is akin to learning how to compose music. Everyone has to start somewhere and the rough earlier work will help you build up to more complex pieces.  As a kid I loved to sketch — I would copy comic book images by hand.  As I got older I wanted to flesh out designs in more detail which required the accuracy of technical drawing or drafting. In High School I first learned the basics of drafting.  I took a quarter of mechanical drawing, a quarter of architectural drawing, and a quarter each of the AutoCAD version of each. The drafting skills I learned there have served me well ever since — both with pencil and paper and on a computer. Back then we had a machine that made actual ‘blue’ prints from our drawings and an old DOS version of AutoCAD that was even old by 1990s standards but the basics learned there served me well in later versions and even when using SketchUp today. I can still remember riding my bike 2 towns over with my best friend Jesse to pick up some drafting supplies including architectural templates so we could design houses in our free time. I still use those templates today.

Sample Drawing
Sample Drawing

I’m thankful that in the late 1990s the West Islip High School (NY)  had a technology wing offering classes in drafting, electronics, woodshop, autoshop etc and that I had some great teachers — Mr. Gerard Weick and Mr. Edwin Ermanovics who taught Industrial Arts and fostered creativity. I loved taking those courses and I still have the ‘Industrial Technology’ award from graduation somewhere — likely at my mother’s house. 🙂

5 years later when I bought my first house I put the skills to use in designing a loft and a custom mantel. When it came time to pull a permit I had all my documentation ready to go. I had my plans reviewed the building inspector — he didn’t make a mark on them and said ‘Wow, I wish we had more people in town like you’ setting the stage for a great working relationship. Meanwhile at the table to my left I could see a professional contractor getting his rear handed to him by another inspector who apparently was not happy with that guys’ plans as it was covered in red ink and there was a lot of heated discussion going on. It goes to show that some careful planning and a clear drawing can go a long way to helping you efficiently go about the work you are interested in completing.

Architectural Scales
Architectural Scales

5 more  years down the road when I entered the North Bennet Street School I was able to apply those lessons to my drafting exercises and much like riding a bike it comes back to you quite fast. While in the program we had to draft every major project we worked on by hand — that not only helped with speed and accuracy in drafting but it also created a body of work that is handy to refer back to when needed. I still have many plans and story sticks from my time at the school.

Today in my work I usually draft an project by hand on paper — I can get my ideas down faster that way. Most of the time the hand rendered drawing is sufficient. Occasionally I’ll take my drawing and enter it into SketchUp — either to poke around a bit more in 3D, but most often just for the 3D renderings to dress up a blog post or presentation.

The ability to capture you thoughts and designs in a visual representation is quite powerful. A well thought out design on paper can save you considerable time and expense out in the shop. It’s much cheaper to fix a problem on paper than it is in wood — both the cost of the material and the labor involved. A clear working drawing also allows you to communicate to someone else how to fabricate your design.

If you are looking to learn the basics of drafting by hand, I encourage you to check out the Webinar I am teaching on September 10, 2014 8:30pm for Popular Woodworking University here. During the live event participants will have the opportunity to ask me questions etc. If you cannot make the event live the folks at Popular Woodworking will also offer a downloadable recorded version of the Webinar.


The course will cover the basic toolkit for drafting by hand, talk about how to draw a line, line weights, sharpening your leads, cleaning up your mistakes, laying out a basic drawing, lettering, adding dimensions and basic skill building exercises that will get you on the path to generating your own plans. With this basic set of skills under your belt you’ll soon be on your way to composing a great set of plans that will serve you well and make you a better, more efficient woodworker.

If you’d like to learn more about this course,  please check out the official description on here. [Editorial Note: Live event link removed since the course ran as a live event. The link now will take you to where you can purchase the recorded version of the webinar]

I look forward to seeing you there.

Take care,

P.S. Mr. Weick and Mr. Ermanovics — Thanks again for all that you taught me — I hope that I am making you both proud as I look to share these skills with the next generation of woodworkers and craftsmen.

4 thoughts on “Learn The Visual Language of Drafting”

  1. I sincerely hope the linkage of Brain/Eye/Hand is notably shorter than achieving the same via SketchUp!

    Plus, please reinforce the power of carrying a sketch book for moments of sheer inspiration.

    1. Yep, I think drawing it by hand creates a closer connection to the object during the creation phase of design. Beyond my woodworking I am a trained software engineer (undergrad and grad degrees in CS, specialized in graphics work for over a decade in the field etc) and I still prefer to draft my first drawings by hand to start. I can get the idea out on to paper faster than I can in AutoCAD or SketchUp. In many cases the paper drawings are sufficient as is. For some classes or articles where I wand a 3D or exploded view I’ll translate my own drawing into SketchUp but I feel the CAD programs are not a replacement for creative drafting, just one more tool in the design toolbox that has a place but is not the be-all/end-all.

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