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Drafting Machines

timkline's picture

It seems a month doesn't go by without a post on the subject of CAD software. 

Rarely does anyone discuss drawing by hand, but I'll bet it happens more often than we think.  I've been thinking about picking up a used drafting machine, but I'm not sure what to get.

I've used the elbow type machines, but haven't used the track style.  An architect friend uses the track type, but that's all he has used.  The track style seem like they might be more versatile, but appear to be more intrusive on the table.

Anyone have any suggestions ?


carpenter in transition

carpenter in transition

(post #71085, reply #1 of 47)

contact you local high school drafting teacher. they know where to order stuff. and sometimes they can get better prices that they will pass on to you. sometimes all it takes is offering to speak to one or more classes on a trade.

(post #71085, reply #2 of 47)

'Back in the day' when I did drafting and then mechanical engineering (yes, it was before the real advent of PCs) I much preferred the track style, and those were considered the status symbol. The entry level guys had the arm machines but you knew you had made it when you got a promotion and a track style hand-me-down from one of the senior guys (and they got a brand new one!).

One thing to consider, the arm style typically had a large counterweight hanging out on the arm over he top of the table. Meant the table couldn't be snugged up against a wall, and on more than one occasion someone would lower the table or drop the angle and some poor bastard got clocked off the skull with the counterweight.

End of 'old school' lesson.




(post #71085, reply #3 of 47)

For years I owned a machine and then sold it. Now there are times when I wished I had it back. But I do drawings using ProE or CAD and then blow them up on a copy machine.

(post #71085, reply #4 of 47)

If you're doing architectural drawing, 95% of your lines will be horizontal or vertical- roof slopes, etc., being the exceptions.  I'd suggest just buying a parrallel straightedge- you can get one for around $100, vs spending $500 + for a "drafting machine".  The machines are constantly getting bumped out of alignment (in my experience) and are better served for mechanical drawings with a lot of different angles involved.   They also don't allow for a very long line to be drawn without being re-positioned several times.

One thing I'd suggest regardless of the tools you pick- get one of the self-healing surfaces for your table.  Working on a melamine, wood, or laminate top always imparts some texture to the paper from below, whereas the healing surfaces are smooth, and actually provide some cushion.

I still do some drafting by hand when I do small stuff- I don't do enough design work to make it worth the time to learn CAD proficiently, and I've got 4 years of high school drafting and a few years of hand-drawing under my belt from before the advet of CAD.


"Brilliance!! That's all I can say- Sheer, unadulterated brilliance!!" Wile E. Coyote- Super Genius

(post #71085, reply #5 of 47)

Tim,  I am a mechanical engineer by trade and old enough to have grown up in the generation of slide rules, mechanical calculators, fortran computer programs, and the old arm type drafting machines.

I think they are still the most useful thing I own as far as making practical working drawings for building.  Call me old fashioned, but I still use mine every time I work on a project.  I do all of my own design work, so it gets a lot of use.

I have a Vemco with all the new architectural scales.  I bought the whole outfit a few years ago from an engineering company for $100 ( this included the machine, an overhead light, a beautiful oak drafting table, and a nice raised chair)  How's that for a bargain!

I would get in touch with an engineering company.  They all converted to CAD and have these things laying out in the back room collecting dust.

(post #71085, reply #22 of 47)

Bojangles -

I'm a mechanical engineer too and (from your profile info) of the same generation.  I'm even familiar with your part of the country since I worked on the Kewaunee plant in the early 70's - lol.

I have "sorta-fond" memories of slide rules, drafting machines, and the really old computers, but I haven't touched (or even seen) a drafting machine for at least 10 years.  I got into AutoCad in the mid-90's and never looked back.  I "pencil whip" my notes when I'm at a customers house - and maybe a quick detail in the shop, but everything else is done on the 'puter.  I had to scale something last week and it took a couple of minutes to remember how to read my architects scale - lol.

(post #71085, reply #25 of 47)

Yup, you're dating yourself!  Walking around with a slide rule in your back pocket was a badge of honor in those days.  Don't get me wrong...I love computers and everything they can do but I also have always liked drafting and I find the old Vemco to be just the right tool for drawing floor plans and other working drawings for building construction.

I worked with Consumers Midland plant back in the seventies.  I believe they sunk about $4Billion (with a "B") into it and then walked away.  Apparently they are taking a close look at restarting that project.  (Cost projection $15 Billion)

(post #71085, reply #26 of 47)

Back pocket??  My slipstick was in a case attached to my belt loop.  That case and an armload of textbooks was the badge of the engineering majors in the mid '60's.

I sorta remember hearing about Consumers Midland planning a nuke back then.  Everyone was planning one - lol.  I suspect that the nukes will make a comeback but it will be too late for me.  I doubt if I could live thru another startup - lol.

(post #71085, reply #6 of 47)

I am one of those 'dinosaurs' (and I'm only 35!) that still draws by hand whenever possible.  One of the big reasons I became an Architect was because of my love for techinal drawing.  I've rarely seen any CADD dwgs that have anywhere near the character of a good hand drawings.

Right now I'm putting together drawings for a second floor on my house and thy're all pencil on vellum (they'd be ink on mylar if I had any technical pens that still worked).  I've always used a parallell rule as well. 

I always thought the drafting machine looked a bit cumbersome plus I always end up with a lot of extra stuff on the top of the drawing board that would get knocked all over the place by swinging arms, etc.

A couple of resources that I've used for drafting equipment and supplies include:

(post #71085, reply #15 of 47)

Ink on mylar- rookie! Try ink on Irish linen. That's some fun!
"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

Edited 3/23/2006 8:07 pm by highfigh

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

(post #71085, reply #16 of 47)

Did it come with the holes on the top for the pin registration?  Now that was a layer system that I could deal with. 

Never had a chance to try linen stock - sounds like maybe the electric eraser (or any eraser) wouldn't be too effective.  Maybe a lot of scraping involved?  Or did you just not make any mistakes? 

(post #71085, reply #17 of 47)

Never made any mistakes. No, really! True story!

Razor blades would pretty much scrape it all off. Not sure why he taught us to do linen, I'm pretty sure they weren't using it at that time (mid '70s). Most of the time, we used vellum. Mylar was interesting. I went to talk to my old HS drafting teacher and buy some supplies in the mid-'80s and when I mentioned the nice, new drafting tables/machines, he said they got rid of the others the week before. DOH!!!! Nice heavy maple frame, basswood board w/tilt, board storage in the side, adjustable top, 6 drawers and Post arm mechanism with extra blades for metric and whatever the others were.

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."
"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

(post #71085, reply #18 of 47)

My first boss told me we were getting rid of the old linen drawings from the 1930s but did not want them to go into any antique market due to proprietary reasons (early aircraft part drawings) so asked any of us who had a wringer washer to take as many as we wanted home and throw them in the laundry.  The starch apparently really gumed up them there new fangled top loading automatic washers.

Anyway, still have a number of high thread count C and D size linen dishtowels.

(post #71085, reply #7 of 47)

Ebay has some going in the $100 range right now.   The elbow style are no problem as long as the table clamp is tight. 

(post #71085, reply #8 of 47)

I worked at architectural firms while going through college right before the computer generation (late 80's).  Then started working for firms after graduation when everyone started getting cadd programs.  Just when I began to get a good hand at it,  I became a dinosaur.

Good for you doing things by hand.  Ironic that after years of cadd drawings and getting more experience, I'm now a design director whose back to drafting by hand.  Our interns look at me like they're watching a caveman rub 2 sticks together, but I don't care.  I have to admit, I'm doing it more out of ignorance than anything else (we use Autocad, FormZ, Freehand and Photoshop here) but I'm too busy to learn any of them.  And there's just something that's lost when it's done on a computer.  Another victim of progress.

Parallel bars are probably 99% of what arch firms used to use for drafting.  I only used the arm machines in high school, and only saw them used by engineers after that.  I never had any problems with them, but the parallel bars are simple and work well.  Get some triangles (a large and small 30/60, a 45, and an adjustable), a lead holder, lead pointer and a scale.  An electric eraser is great if you can find one, and also a brush and an erasing shield.  If you're near a college or art supply store, they shouldn't be too hard to find.  Cheap small drafting tables are available new, otherwise get a used one (seems like someone's always trying to sell on in the classifieds).  And somebody mentioned covering the drafting surface, which is a must.  I believe the material is called borco and comes rolled in sheets. 

Edited 3/23/2006 1:33 pm ET by draftguy

(post #71085, reply #12 of 47)

I worked at a drafting board from 66 thru 71, always used a cable strung parallel bar and triangle, including adjustable triangle. Never did like the arms. Still use plastic on mylar for personal formal-to-be-saved stuff, latched on to a bunch of Mylar in the 90's at the company surplus store when its use was being discontinued at the office.

Remember Ozalid ammonia copy machines where you had to adjust the ammomia drip by hand for darkness? PHEW!

Remember ducks and splines? Remember india ink and starched linen vellum? The drafting classes in college in the late 50's/early 60's still used drafting pens and ink.

Only once (doing a 707 wing profile) did I ever have to do the silver stylus on steel plate drafting with a big T-square.    

Still have at least 3 parallel bars. 

Son has a graphic arts business (Kevstoons) and last year he gave me back a parallel bar he'd used since the 80's as everything he does now is on digital formats, even the freehand graphics stuff in on an electronic pen board.

(post #71085, reply #13 of 47)

that was a trip down memory lane :)

'course, after inhaling a few dozen gallon jugs of ammonia, a couple hundred cans of spray mount, and maybe a thousand uncapped markers in an enclosed space

my memory ain't what it used to . . . french toast, please.

(obscure Simpson's joke)

(post #71085, reply #33 of 47)

We I was in school it was on a coop plan. For 2 years alternated work and classes every quarter.

First job was with Allis Chalmers in their pump sales department. That had an area in the basement where they did the prints and I always go elected to pick the up.

The last one was at a DuPont factory that has an amonia making prcoess amount many others.

They had an unknown leak and I was waking between 2 buildings and there was small depression where the fumes had collected.

I did not smell anything until I got into it and then my lungs just froze and I ran to the other side where it was clear.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #71085, reply #34 of 47)

When I was in school it was on a coop plan. For 2 years alternated work and classes every quarter.

That's the way it was at the Univ. of Cincinnati (my alma mater).  Remember running plenty of ammonia prints, but was lucky not to get any serious problems.

Heard plenty of horror stories though.  One architect i knew claimed he spent a few weeks in the hospital when he was younger from an unventilated print room.

(post #71085, reply #35 of 47)

We used a diazo copier for making print copies here at my office up until about five years ago, when we finally made the switch to a Xerox machine.  I think there's probably still a couple jugs of ammonia in the back room someplace. 

I'd like to find a drafting machine and table for my own use as well, but I'm left handed and lefty drafting machines aren't very common.

(post #71085, reply #37 of 47)

Here the diazo machines went away about a year ago.  They'd been in service since 1958.  I do a big workflow chart in AutoCAD, and the most recent update was done on a KIP 7095, basically a giant laser printer.  The one before was diazo.  The music department in the old days also used diazo for orchestral parts. 



-- J.S.




-- J.S.


(post #71085, reply #39 of 47)

I'm pretty sure this is a lefty.


carpenter in transition

carpenter in transition

(post #71085, reply #42 of 47)

I'm pretty sure the middle joint can be unlocked and converted to right hand. I doubt they would make left hand specific units.

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

(post #71085, reply #44 of 47)

"I'm pretty sure the middle joint can be unlocked and converted to right hand. I doubt they would make left hand specific units."

They do make left hand drafting machines, I remember we had a couple of them in my college drafting class.  I see the Vemco webpage still lists left hand models for sale:

(post #71085, reply #43 of 47)

"First job was with Allis Chalmers in their pump sales department. That had an area in the basement where they did the prints and I always go elected to pick the up."


I make my real living selling those AC pumps today.  Or what's left of them now under ITT.

(post #71085, reply #45 of 47)

Didn't know that there was an thing left.

I know that the time, About 1963, they where losing money on the pumps but did make a little on spares.

And if IIRC part of the problem was the pumps where over priced, but they also had to quote them with AC motors (unless otherwise speced) and they where even more overpriced.

I remember geting a call from a Canadain rep with a very British accent. It was for a boiler feed pump. He said that the "non pee sss h" (NPSH) was better (too long ago to rememember if higher or lower was better) and would that make it cheaper.

My commnet was that nothing could be AC pumps cheaper. With the new specs it might not be as expensive, but it won't be cheaper.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #71085, reply #47 of 47)

"Remember Ozalid ammonia copy machines where you had to adjust the ammomia drip by hand for darkness? PHEW!"

We had to dump the ammonia overflow bottle in the utility sink every couple of days and wash it down with running water. New guys takes the 3 gallon bottle into the Men's room and dumps it in the john, doesn't flush it. Next guy comes in to do his business, they take him out on a stretcher with ammonia burns to his arse. Ahh, memories.



(post #71085, reply #14 of 47)

You guys are speaking of where to buy, but I'm thinking I've seen tons of these fancy drafting tables going for $15-45 each at the state auctions.

There's a liquidation site - I think it's a US Govt. deal - I'd bet you'd still find a few there with very little interest from anyone else.


(post #71085, reply #9 of 47)

I remember my father using one of those arm type things back in the late 1960's and early '70's.  Definitely garage sale/swap meet/ebay type stuff, you should be able to find good ones cheap if you look for a while. 



-- J.S.




-- J.S.


(post #71085, reply #10 of 47)

Do an ebay search for vemco, big name drafting machine co. Tons of listings.
Good luck.