An essential model-making tool

David Neat, essential model-making tools, solid metal guide blocks

I’ve always made a point of recommending these! I don’t know how I would get things done these days without solid, right-angled steel blocks .. to use as guides for construction, for gluing against or weighting down. I’ve noticed though that my enthusiasm has varied between ‘absolutely essential’ to ‘very useful’. The reason for my occasional reticence is that up to now I haven’t been able to recommend a reliable source .. but now I can! I’ve just received these .. seven in all .. which I ordered from because I’ve always wanted to use them on my courses.

In the past I had assumed that the custom cutting charge would be too high but these seven cost me all inclusive £33.10. I chose the ‘Bright Flat Mild Steel’ which has the essential square ‘sharp’ edges; and the bar type ‘1 x 3/4’ inches, which I felt was the smallest limit before the blocks lose the necessary weight; and I decided that a 15cm length would be fine for most tasks. Here is the specific link to the product

MetalMania do not have a minimum order so one could buy just one of course. This would cost £3.80 for 15cm, but postage within the UK seems to be fixed at £6.50 up to a few kilos so it would make more sense buying two or three.

A recap on why they’re so useful

I’ve written about them many times both here and in my book. The most useful application is when gluing two pieces on edge, applying glue to one and then positioning the two pieces together against the metal block so that one can be sure of getting a clean and straight edge.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

It is especially important having this firm ‘stop’ when using superglue because it has to be right first time and .. more importantly .. it doesn’t matter if superglue squeezes out onto the metal because it won’t stick to it strongly. The piece just needs to be ‘popped’ off. You have to remember to scape the metal surface clean with a scalpel occasionally because it can build up. If you have two blocks, as below, you can construct perfect corners!

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

Blocks of any kind with enough length are also invaluable when trying to layer thin strips on top of each other i.e. for these decorative mouldings.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction

They can also be useful for holding elements in place while gluing, as below where I’ve taped a curving piece of styrene between them to hold it in that position while I brush plastic solvent into the join. The same can be done with thin superglue.

David Neat, Using metal blocks to aid construction


Finally, and by the way .. I feel it’s worth noting that dealing with MetalMania was a smooth experience with a couple of pleasant curiosities! In the first place their website is different from what I’m used to when trying to get hold of heavy-duty industrial materials .. bright, friendly and simple to understand. Delivery was trackable and came within 4 days using Parcel2Go .. not the usual kind of breathless courier at the door but three teenage girls! I didn’t find out why because they didn’t seem to want to be quizzed about it. On the MetalMania website they state under the heading ‘Animal Policy’ that ‘It is this companies policy NOT to supply any organisation or individual involved in animal experimentation of any kind’. Currently on the website is also a condolence message for those affected by the attacks in Spain which is accompanied by this photo. I don’t know what to make of it .. but it’s really got me thinking!

condolence message


Cutting smooth holes in foam

I chanced upon this method of making almost perfect holes in rigid foam after I was asked about the best way to do the same in cake .. making holes to take tube supports between storeys of a wedding cake! For this I very roughly carved ‘teeth’ in the end of a plastic plumbing pipe, which as it turned out could be twisted into the cake without a problem. So I wondered whether something similar would work for other materials. I was fairly certain it stood a chance of working if I could cut the teeth finely enough, and for this a slightly harder form of PVC pipe is needed .. MuPVC ..which stands for ‘modified unplasticised polyvinyl chloride’.

I’ll need to cover this briefly first. The various plastic waste/drainage pipes you’ll see in any building supplier or DIY store (whether white, black, grey or brown) are likely to be two or more different plastic types. They will either be polypropylene (PP), ABS (a form of styrene), uPVC or MuPVC. MuPVC is harder than the others, but actually easier to cut or file cleanly because it is slightly more brittle. The only sure way of identifying it is finding the letters ‘MuPVC’ as part of the printed info along the side of the pipe, but also if the pipe is referred to by the store as ‘Solvent Weld’ it’s very likely to be MuPVC.

hole-cutting tools for rigid foam

Obviously there are only a few available diameters when it comes to these pipes and it depends on the store which ones they actually have. Standard outside diameters start at 22mm and normally end at around 44mm .. before they become something else, i.e. drainage or guttering pipes which are either brown or black. At the moment in the UK Wickes has the best selection of MuPVC .. 22mm, 36mm, 40mm and 50mm .. but don’t search for ‘mupvc’ in their online catalogue because that will only bring up one of them. Instead find the sub-section ‘Plastic pipe’ in ‘Heating & Plumbing’ which should show all the others, just described as ‘solvent weld’.

Wherever and whatever you find, the supplier normally should list the pipe according to its outside diameter, not its internal one. For more technical details see ..

squaring end of Pvc pipe

After trialling a few ways of making the ‘cutting’ edge, I found this to be the best method. Firstly, the end needs to be cut and filed/sanded straight i.e. at 90 degrees to the pipe length, as above. Then, using either sandpaper wrapped around a dowel or a round file, the thickness of the cut edge needs to be reduced to almost a point, as below. This should be a gradual slope (over 5-10mm) and on the inside .. the outside diameter remains constant.

chamfering end of Pvc pipe

The next job is to file the ‘teeth’ and I would recommend using a small-size power drill and a diamond-coated bit .. if you have those things. If not you have to do it by hand using a round needle file, but again, I’ve found the diamond-coated needle files more effective on hard plastics. The box of diamond-coated bits below is from Rolson, found in Maplin, costing around £5.00 as I remember.

fine filing tools

For each of the ‘teeth’ shown below I held the drill bit or file at a slant outwards from the centre of the ring and also slanting forwards around the ring, as saw teeth normally are. This may look painstaking, but it wasn’t really .. it look a while, but the plastic sanded comfortably. I made the teeth on the inside of the pipe so that the hole cut might be smoother.

finished 'teeth' on pipe

These tools worked well on the three types of rigid foam I work with .. blue styrofoam (extruded polystyrene); Kapa-line foamboard (polyurethane foam), and ‘Recticel’ another polyurethane insulation foam sold in thick sheets i.e. from Wickes.  Below, the pipe is first positioned on the foam and then turned very carefully until it has some purchase. After that it needs only moderate pressure while turning, making sure to keep the path of the tube straight .. the angled teeth will draw the tube in. Recticel is very soft and fibrous, but the tool still managed to make quite a smooth-sided hole.

turning foam 'hole cutter'

cutting holes in Recticel PU foam

I made use of the technique for the sculptural pieces I’m working on at the moment .. i.e. this prototype base shape for casting, which is meant to take a number of peg forms.

base unit shaped from styrofoam


Making a non-slip ‘gripping board’ and a bench hook

polyester grip fabric

I would imagine you’ve all seen this material or something similar .. textured rubber sheets for placing underneath rugs or mats to stop them sliding about. I’d bought this version from Poundland a few weeks ago for another idea which in the end didn’t work and so it was pure coincidence that I had it still lying around when I had to cut a lot of Pvc piping for another project. I’ve never bought myself a proper bench vise .. that probably says something about me, though I don’t know what .. and in the past I’ve made do with something like the setup below, the pipe slightly raised on a cutting mat with perhaps some kind of coarse cloth underneath for extra grip. It’s always worked, more or less, but it’s never been comfortable. Cutting mats grip the table well enough for normal knife cutting but rather lose it when the force acts across them .. such as when sawing.

trying to support Pvc pipe for cutting on table

So I tried a few cut pieces of this grip liner underneath and pressed down firmly in position as I would normally do, and I have to say that it worked incredibly well! Although there was a little give, it felt as if the pipe was in some kind of vise. By the way, as you’ve seen .. for once I prefer the American spelling as opposed to ‘vice’!

polyester grip fabric as support for cutting or sanding

I could have just left it like that and it would have been enough of an improvement, but I felt I was onto something and wanted to make a proper ‘gripping block’. I clad both sides of a piece of 8mm MDF with the material, using double-sided carpet tape to stick it down. The carpet tape needs to fill the surface, otherwise the grip material may ruck when the block is used. I thought initially of using rubber glue to attach the material but the carpet tape holds it well enough in place and it means that it can be easily replaced.

cutting block surfaced with polyester grip fabric

I call this a ‘gripping board’ rather than a ‘cutting board’ or mat because I hadn’t intended it to be cut ‘on’ so much, it’s more about helping to hold things steady while cutting slightly ‘off’ the edge of it, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used for both especially if a softer base such as chipboard is used. I found that the board gripped anything, round or flat .. plastic, wood or metal. It was just as beneficial when sanding ends or edges, as below.

sanding with gripping block underneath

I tried various thin strips or rods of metal which I’d hitherto only been able to cut using a small metal vise I have .. and it was, again, almost like having a vise! I find it bothersome to set up the vise every time I want to do this and it’s difficult to keep the surface of the metal undamaged.

using gripping block for cutting metal

I found it worked even better after I made a small ‘finger block’ surfaced with the grip fabric which meant that I could press down more firmly without crooking the fingers uncomfortably.

using gripping block with additional 'finger plate'

I’ve always thought I should make a bench hook so this was a good time to try my own augmented version! I just used a piece of laminated chipboard I had (this one 15cm wide, 20cm long) attaching end-pieces of timber (25mm x 15mm) firmly screwed. The screw-heads need to be countersunk!

simple bench hook build

The ‘bench hook’ is so-called because it hooks along the front edge of a work table to provide steadiness while sawing .. at least on the forward stroke! They have been around for centuries, and making one often used to be the first project in school woodworking classes. Here, below, are a couple of manufactured ones .. from

manufactured bench hooks

If I’d bothered to look at examples like these before I very hastily put mine together I would have made the timber end-pieces a little short on the right side (for right-handers) as shown above, so that the block could be sawn ‘on’ .. but I wasn’t using the right kind of wood for this anyway.

Nevertheless my idea of covering the working surfaces on both sides with the grip fabric turned out to be a significant improvement, because it gave even more steadiness on both forward and back strokes. Since it is only attached with double-sided tape the fabric can be easily replaced if it gets too damaged.

bench hook with grip cladding

using bench hook

I also found it very useful to have both the bench hook and the simple mat for supporting lengths of wood while cutting.

using mat as extra support


5 favorited in February – Lost Art Press, Prop Agenda, The Lonely Crafter’s Guide to London, Geffrye Museum of the Home, The Wood Database


Lost Art Press

from Lost Art Press blog

The thought of a woodwork-related site might conjure up visions from the bad end of ‘retro’ .. fuzzy snaps and hideous neon text! On the contrary, the site alone is worth looking at as an example of a sleek, classic/modernist jewel .. clear and simple on the eye, but seriously rewarding if you have the time to delve!

Christopher Schwarz and John Hoffman introduce themselves as ‘two woodworkers with laptops .. trying to restore the balance between hand and machine work by unearthing the so-called ‘lost arts’ of hand skills’ and by publishing a small selection of woodworking books .. including reprints of antique works, some new ones and some fiction. There is also a WordPress blog attached, furthering the same cause, with a lot of info and good photos.

hand-made wooden vise


Eric Hart’s Prop Agenda

Prop Agenda header logo

Eric is a prop maker from North Carolina and author of The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film and TV. His site is a must for any prop-maker working in theatre or film who wants to keep in touch with what’s going on, or anyone considering the profession. There are scores of interviews with ‘Prop Masters’ .. a good balance from theatre and film .. and a wealth of useful links under the ‘Useful Sites’ category, worth taking the time to browse through! This will keep you busy for a few months. Eric is pretty modest when it comes to pushing his own work on us though. Some of it can be found there, but buried within the ‘How-to’ category .. if you’re able to find that! Alternatively some of it can be found here:

Eric Hart shaving fake rabbits


The Lonely Crafter’s Guide to London

This is the best little guide to fabric shops in London that I know of. Unfortunately the compiler, Susannah, signed off in 2011 and went back to the States promising that someone else would ‘take up the torch’, but that didn’t happen. Nevertheless you’ll see it still popping up everywhere to this day because it’s still very useful. Almost all of the links still work and the maps are still valuable, because most of the fabric or haberdashery shops recommended are long-established.

Locations of Central London fabric shops


The Geffrye Museum of the Home

Geffrye Museum 1790 parlour

Although I’ve visited the Geffrye Museum countless times in the past as a theatre designer, I don’t remember their website being quite this good! For those who don’t know, the museum comprises 11 recreated period rooms, from the late 17th-century to the present day .. and is an essential visit for anyone interested in period interiors. But their website is also packed with value for designers, or researchers of anything domestic!

If one can’t get to London to see the rooms there are some good photos and 360degree views of each .. but move the viewer slowly, otherwise it may make you nauseous! But the Geffrye also maintains a collection of objects and images relating to ‘the material culture’ of the English home from the 17th C to present day, and much of this has been made available online. Although much smaller than the V&A collection, in many respects it’s more useful for period research. A search for ‘chair’ will produce 346 entries arranged chronologically .. so for example if you’re looking for images relating to chairs around 1780 they will be grouped together. Each chair is photographed clearly in multiple views and some details and the ‘Detailed Description’ includes basic measurements. Elsewhere on the Geffrye site the ‘Documenting Homes’ collection concentrates on current domestic life and the previous century with lots of photographs of homes submitted by the public, starting from 1910. In the ‘Collections’ section are links to complete copies of a number of household catalogues dating from 1885 to the late 1930s.

Geffrye Museum 1965 living room

Photos courtesy of the Geffrye Museum. Photographers: John Hammond, Chris Ridley


The Wood Database

Wood Database image

I didn’t know that there are almost 30 different types of ‘oak’ in use! Anyone who’s interested in wood will like this site, but I’d imagine most would know of it already. It’s also very useful for anyone who wants to identify a wood or just find out the basics of a particular one. It’s a very long list, and each entry contains clear sample photos ..comparing the appearance sanded with ‘sealed’ .. together with information on origin, common uses, working properties and sustainability. Eric Meier started his database in 2007 and has developed it with help from other wood professionals and enthusiasts.

Handy containers for small amounts of paint

One of my favourite paints is Rosco ‘Super Saturated’ scenic paint .. I like it because it has a more liquid consistency than most other acrylics, thins and mixes easily, adheres better than most to non-absorbent surfaces, covers incredibly well and dries almost completely matt! However, a major disadvantage is that it is only available in 1litre tubs .. really rather prohibitive in cost if you’re not a scenic painter and if you want a full range of colours! Added to that, the paint doesn’t keep very well once opened .. after about a year on average some of the colours start to smell, curdle or later still develop a thick skin of mould (but see postscript with solutions below). A couple of years ago I seriously splashed out on a number of 1litre tubs, partly because I intended to provide this paint to be used on my courses. Rosco has put together a sample box with small amounts of each colour .. costing around £50 if you can get hold of one .. but these sample pots don’t hold very much and once the seal is broken the lids aren’t quite tight enough to keep the paint inside from drying out.

Rosco SuperSaturated range

I needed to find better and more secure containers to transport portioned amounts. I’ve tried the smallest available food containers and for a while these worked quite well, but even these are a little bit bulky to transport in large numbers, if one wants to provide an interesting range. In any case none that I tried were truly ‘watertight’ so I had to bind them for transit with electrical tape. It also meant that the paint could only be properly dispensed from them with a spoon. What it did seem to solve fairly well was the problem of the paint ‘going off’ because I could fill a number of these to the top and thereby reduce the air contact. Nevertheless, I just didn’t like working with them .. too messy!

using food containers for paint

Another of my favourite forms of paint are the bottled acrylics from DecoArt, shown below. These are certainly not the richest colours but in all other respects the paint behaves surprisingly well for an inexpensive hobby-paint! Like the Rosco these acrylics are dense but liquid. But in this context it’s perhaps the bottles that have impressed me most of all .. they keep the paint completely where it’s supposed to be and allow it to be dosed in the smallest droplets needed. I’ve never had any leaks from these when carrying them around and when I’ve refilled empty ones with Rosco paint its appeared to keep for much longer.

DecoArt bottle acrylics

I tried to find identical ones online a while ago but couldn’t. But then, once ‘pound shops’ really started to get corporate and become a feature of almost every High Street I came across these in 99p Store, in packs of four as ‘travelling beauty bags’ .. or something like that .. containing shampoo, shower gel etc. They’re the same size as the DecoArt bottles, which hold a little more than 60ml of paint, but always square and made from a slightly harder plastic. I’ve never had the courage to use the contents!

travelling wash bag

But the bottles are almost perfect for paint! .. at least any paint that is liquid enough to be poured into them. Because they’re not quite as squeezable as the DecoArt bottles it’s best if the paint is cut with a small amount of water and .. if you’re familiar with the ‘ketchup bottle jab’, it will help at times! But their squareness is convenient when packing and, I suppose most of all, at 99p for four they’re cheaper than any options I’ve seen online unless you want to buy them in the hundreds.

using 'travelling bag' bottles for paint

As a postscript to this little piece celebrating small plastic bottles! .. I started trying to find out the best ways of preserving the Rosco paint and others that are predisposed to deteriorate and develop mould over time. It may not be simply a case of having to scrape off the mould layer .. the whole consistency of the paint or medium underneath may have altered and become useless. In addition the mould itself may be harmful to health, so it seems to me that prevention from the outset would be far wiser than making do with scraping the mould off as/when it occurs. What for example is it in the paint or medium that ‘goes bad’ in the first place? Is it simply solved by eliminating air contact? .. packing a layer of cling-film down on the paint surface when storing, or pouring a thin layer of distilled water, or even oil, over it? I was given these and other helpful suggestions when I posted the question on the Society of British Theatre Designers facebook page. A little later I received a very helpful confirmation from Jenny Knott, Paint Product Manager for Rosco Laboratories, which is worth quoting in full:

“Most mold/bacteria growth in paint is caused by introducing it into the paint.  Always use a clean, dry utensil to take paint out of the container.  If you use a wet stir stick to scoop the paint out, the water has bacteria in it so it will introduce bacteria into your paint.
If you have mold/bacteria on the paint, scrap all of it off then you can either put a couple of drops of pine oil floated on the top or plastic wrap over the top of the paint surface to seal it from the air.
Another thing you can do is to float distilled water on the top surface of the paint to protect the surface.”
In addition I would imagine that the colder the paint can be stored the better .. apart from freezing! I guess that these safeguards work best from the outset and that probably once the medium has become contaminated there’s really nothing that can be done to purify it again and that whatever can be salvaged probably has a short life, if it still works at all. I’d also imagine that all of the above applies to any water-based medium .. I know that it also happens with Idenden texture medium for example. I’ve just added one suggestion of my own which has worked for me so far .. decanting into smaller, separate, sealed containers.


Making a simple all-purpose modelling tool

I’ve seen these coloured ‘lolly sticks’ in the past in places like The Works but recently I saw that Poundland also has them. I’ve found these very useful for making quick, all-purpose modelling tools when I have been teaching large groups. I don’t know exactly what the wood is but even though soft it can take a fair amount of pressure while working because it is pliable .. best though with fairly yielding modelling materials such as fresh natural clay, properly conditioned Super Sculpey, soft modelling wax or warmed plasticine.

Poundland wooden lolly sticks

Basically, what one needs from a single tool for fine modelling are the following .. a fine blade-like point and edge; a more rounded point and edge; a flat spatula-like end with rounded edges. With this combination one can achieve a lot .. but of course not all! This tool is for pushing, impressing and dragging, but it’s not designed for scooping i.e. removing clay. A separate type of tool is needed for this, shown later.

Here below are the simple stages in making, shown from top to bottom. First a pointed end is made by slicing off at an angle, to a little less than half-way along the stick. As said, the wood is soft and easy to cut, not brittle, with a fairly fine grain. The cut edge then needs chamfering down (sanding at an angle) on both sides, to make the blade-like cutting or scoring edge .. any sandpaper would work but I used a fairly coarse one, i.e. P80 first . I’ve also rounded all other edges, especially giving the opposite end a smoother shape. All that was then needed was a careful rub-over with fine sandpaper or sanding-pad, shown below, until completely smooth. I didn’t find it necessary to oil or varnish the surface to seal it .. at least, if one mainly works with polymer clays or waxes the bare wood will quickly get a protective patina, as shown by the slightly darker tone of the used tool below.

stages in making an all-purpose modelling tool

It’s a funny thing .. I must have almost a hundred different modelling tools, bought over many years, but I often end up just using this one, partly because of the range of marks it can make but also maybe because, having designed and made it myself .. I feel I truly ‘own’ it.

variety of toolmarks made in Sculpey

Here are some other self-made tools for fine modelling .. using standard dowel from model shops, which I’m guessing is probably birch for the thinner, pine or ramin for the thicker. I’ve carefully drilled most of these at both ends (Dremel, 0.5-1mm drill bits) so that metal can be inserted. Shown at the top, I’ve fixed a slightly bent pin in one end and an ‘L’ of ‘piano wire’ in the other. Piano wire is very hard spring steel, available down to 0.4mm thickness from 4D modelshop. As with all of these shown, I’ve used a 2-part epoxy glue to secure the metal inserts. For the next down I’ve inserted the ends of a plastic cocktail stick.

Next is a collection of fine ‘scoopers’ made by bending 0.4mm piano wire into various shapes and inserting into the wood. I found that they needed to be strengthened by mounding the epoxy glue over the insertion point. Only piano wire will work, as ordinary wire will not be rigid enough under pressure. This type of tool is important because one can only achieve so much by displacing the modelling material .. one will often need to cleanly remove it. Last of all here, I found that LEDs make perfectly round and smooth impressions and they also come in a variety of sizes.

a selection of self-made modelling tools


Technical drawing for theatre, film or television – a lexicon of subjects and terms

I’ve put this together to follow on from the simple summary of the basics posted at the beginning of September. I know that glossaries like this are usually written after everything important has been said but sometimes it’s much more interesting to reverse the logical order. Besides, part of my purpose in writing things here is to organize information for myself and I find it easier to locate things if they’re arranged alphabetically. The lexicon is a starting point; a framework which will be built upon. For example, illustrations are certainly needed, but I have too little time to spare for these at the moment.

This lexicon will go in the Technical Drawing section, but as usual I’m previewing it as a post mainly so that I can tag the contents.

A4-A0 paper sizes, see ‘ISO 216’

Breaking the line i.e. if a structure or distance needs to be shown condensed (because the whole can’t be fitted on the paper, or space needs to be saved). Shown with a wavy or jagged break line.. or two, spaced a little apart. Obviously this is only an option if no information is lost by doing this i.e. for a completely plain wall or a regular pattern. What’s most important is that the true length of the wall should always be clearly indicated with a written measurement.


‘Coding’ is a recognized term used in technical drawing to describe the cross-referencing of parts of a drawing, either within the same sheet (i.e. relating an elevation to its place on the ground-plan) or from one sheet to another, often when details of a structure in an elevation need to be drawn in a bigger scale on a separate sheet. One could just call this ‘labelling’ in normal language, but as the name implies shorthand letter codes are used rather than words and it relies on everyone understanding how to read them. Using just letters and numerals rather than descriptive words has proven more effective in practice .. they take much less time to write, and they are more easily found and recognized!

For example, the simplest method when cross-referencing parts on the same sheet would be to label or ‘code’ a drawn view of a wall as ‘Elevation A’ and place the same ‘A’ beside its representation on the ground-plan. Both the style and the symbols do vary. In whatever case though, it must be made clear not only the direction seen from but also the ‘point’ in space seen from (especially with sections).

‘Coding’ when it means referencing a part of a drawing within a number of separate sheets of drawings must include both the view title i.e. ‘Elevation A’ or ‘Elevation A-A’ and the sheet number where the corresponding drawing can be found. Often this information is conveyed with a small circle cut in half with for example the elevation letter written in the top half and the sheet number below it. Connected (often surrounding the circle) is an arrow pointing towards what this relates to.

Obviously one definite common sense ‘rule’ is that the letter ‘A’ or ‘A-A’ (describing the extent of the view) should only be used once on the same sheet, but it can be used for something else on a separate numbered sheet.

In addition to whole views, smaller elements are sometimes easier to label with a letter, for example if a specific door is labelled ‘Door C’ on groundplan and elevation rather than having to write ‘the upstage door on the stage-left side of the fireplace …’

Construction drawings Technical drawings are not, strictly speaking, construction drawings! They show what is to be constructed, but not how. In theatre/film/television it is generally understood that the designer’s responsibility  extends only so far as to describe the visible form and not necessarily define how it will be constructed .. though it is certainly appreciated if the designer has some knowledge of construction methods, especially an awareness of what’s possible or reasonable!

However, there are some common exceptions to this. For example, if a theatre set needs to be broken up into small pieces for touring (a fact which, hopefully, the designer will know before starting to design) it is not only pretty vital that the breaks are decided in consultation fairly early on, but also that the designer works them into the design and indicates them on his/her drawings. Often this will need to take account of standard sheet timber sizes etc.

The more complete and accurate a designer can draw up exactly what he/she wants, the less work there is for the construction manager to convert what’s given into proper construction drawings.

Drafting or ‘draughting’ if anyone is not content to use the simple word ‘drawing’ in this context, there is some confusion about which of these two other words should be chosen. There’s no difference in meaning between them. ‘Drafting’ implies mechanically assisted and measured drawing, while ‘draughting’ is the older English version which is steadily being replaced .. although ‘draughtsman’ still seems to be more commonly used in the UK than ‘draftsman’.


A proper drawing board is considered the standard, indispensable investment for anyone who has to produce technical drawings. Apart from being a clean, flat, stable surface to work on which can be angled to make the physical act of drawing easier it is simply a tool for drawing right-angles and parallels. All manufactured drawing boards are sized in accordance with the ‘A’ paper sizes ( see ‘ISO 216’) .. that is, they’re big enough for that size of sheet with a few cms extra on all sides for taping.

A drawing board is needed, whether one prefers to work with a simple board and separate ‘T-square’ to create right-angles and parallels, or whether one prefers a drawing board set up with integrated parallel bar or ‘parallel motion’ as it’s often called. The choice is not just financial! Parallel bar drawing boards are not as portable, and even the lighter, portable ones need to be moved with great care because the attachments, especially the taut wires which keep the bar straight, are sensitive. Some experienced ‘draftspersons’ argue that getting used to working with separate board and T-square gives more freedom and ease .. because for example the T-square can be used to draw both verticals and horizontals. On an integrated drawing board verticals have to be drawn using a separate set-square against the bar, making it often difficult to draw a full vertical in one pass. On the other hand whereas integrated drawing boards used to be quite pricey, there are now good quality inexpensive ones.

Blundell Harling ‘Challenge’ A1 drawing board recommended as an adequate, inexpensive option. Has a convenient carrying handle. Needs to be looked after because the mechanism and parallel bar are the most basic and not super-durable. Normally parallel bars are not meant to be interchanged (i.e. they are calibrated in centimeters in case this is useful but normally the desired scale rule is placed on top for measuring work). There is no ‘feet and inches’ bar available. The ‘Challenge’ has only one moderately raked position. If you need one with more upright options there is the ‘Ferndown’ which is more expensive.

Blundell Harling ‘Challenge’ A1 (£61.19 inc VAT, £65.99 amazon). ‘Ferndown’ with variable stand, costs more (e.g. RRP £120, £90 at Prices from August 2014.

The ‘Challenge’ represents the most reasonably priced and adequate. There are more expensive brands which include for example .. bar lockable in fixed position; more choices of working angle; bar can be adjusted either tight on the board or slightly away from it i.e. to accommodate drawing on thicker materials .. and so on.

Looking after and using the drawing board

Clean board regularly (household degreaser or low-odour white spirit), check for smoothness and wash hands before working; covering the drawing board first with a paper underlay will result in stronger pencil lines and will also minimize damage to the board when using a compass; fix paper to board with small diagonal tape strips at extreme top corners (this minimizes parallel bar catching); avoid prolonged resting of hands on tracing paper (will quickly expand with heat and moisture, resulting in buckled drawing surface), position a movable hand rest underneath the drawing hand to help with this (just a scrap of paper), which also helps prevent smudging while working; vital to be able to work in a physically comfortable position, but in addition ‘stretch breaks’ must be regularly taken.

If there are stubborn tape residues or sticky patches that do not disappear with soap/degreaser and water try either white spirit, methylated spirits or lighter fluid.

I used to work with the paper taped down to the board in as many places as possible (or even fully taped on all four edges) in the hope it would stay flat, but nowadays I find that this just increases the effects of buckling. Tracing paper will always buckle with even the slightest humidity or moisture from the hand. Now I find it easier just to fix the paper at the two top corners, allowing the rest just to lie.

When using an eraser, particularly a putty rubber, make sure that the parallel bar is first moved to the top so that particles of rubber aren’t allowed to fall between the bar and the board .. they’ll most probably stick there.


The ‘upright’ views .. i.e. front view or side views, in everyday language .. are commonly called ‘elevations’ in technical drawing, because they’re usually taken up or ‘elevated’ from the ground-plan. Wherever possible this relationship needs to be maintained on the sheet, for a number of reasons. In the first place, if dimensions are plotted on the ground-plan first they can be reproduced on the elevation just by using a set square and without the need to measure out again. Secondly, if the two views are in exact alignment it’s much easier to read them in conjunction to explain features.

Elevations are always drawn straight-on, seen totally frontally .. in other words using parallel projection. This means that parts of a wall which are angled away from this frontal orientation will appear ‘condensed’ in the elevation. It is important to realize that this is not ‘perspective’ distortion, and that it is entirely logical for this type of drawing. Usually when this occurs the elevation should always be accompanied by the ground-plan, or part of it, so that the true dimension can be shown.



Anything that has required the positioning of a centre to draw it has to include the clear position of that centre on the drawing, usually with a precise but definite ‘X’ cross and a dotted line linking that to the curve it relates to, and with a written measurement for this radius marked with a small ‘r’. Unless of course .. the circle is very small in which case just the diameter is given, often with a little symbol like an ‘o’ with a line through it.

If you need to find the centre of a circle: pick two points on the circumference, draw line between them, bisect this line and draw right-angle from that point. This line will pass through the centre. If you do the same from another part of the circle, the centre will be where these two lines cross.

Creating 45 degree and 60 degree angles without protractor or set square

A 45 angle can be made by drawing a regular square and drawing a line between opposite corners. A 60 angle can be made with a compass; drawing a base line (length doesn’t matter), putting the compass point at one end and the lead point at the other and drawing an arc upwards a little over quarter-circle, then doing the same in the other direction on the base line. Where these arcs intersect is now the top point of an equilateral triangle so if you join the points up all the angles are 60.


It is generally accepted that the ground-plan is ‘viewed’ in the drawing from ‘eye-height’ .. that is, the eye-height of a person within that space, but being able to look completely down on it .. and that walls are sliced through at roughly this height. So no, we are not looking down on the top of the building like a bird, but neither are we looking at just the ‘footprint’ left on ground ‘0’. Instead a ‘level of most information’ is taken, meaning that we can include more details through window structures for example.

It is also generally accepted, at least in the UK, that when ground-plan and elevations can be drawn on the same sheet the ground-plan occupies the lower part and the elevations are placed principally above.

On the ground-plan even the slightest floor-level variation should be indicated and each height is taken from ‘0’ being the stage or studio floor. The plan should not be cluttered with too much overhead info .. if there is a lot of this it is better to draw a separate upper-level view. Where there are doors which are ‘practical’ i.e. can be used, there should be an indication of direction opened and preferably an arc showing the extent.

‘Master’ ground-plans differ from the ground-plans of individual set elements in that they are often a summary of a whole show set-up or a whole scene .. so they include information on the movement of elements; they relate the set to features of the space i.e. position of traps underneath and lighting or flying bars above etc.

ISO 216

The international standard for metric paper sizes is known as ‘ISO 216’ (ISO stands for ‘International Organization for Standardization’). Developed in Germany in the early 1920s and since adopted by most countries. An A0 sheet measures 1189x841mm precisely, because this is as near as this comfortable ‘landscape’ format can get to a square metre in area without using fractions of a millimetre. The format (the proportion of length to width) is special in that when it is divided in two across its length the smaller sheet retains the same format, and so on .. dividing down from A0 to A5. So A1 measures 841×594, then A2 measures 594×420, and so on. That 1 millimetre has to be lost from the length of A1 on the way down because it can’t be divided .. if anyone ever wondered about that. The system was designed so that paper manufacturers could manage paper more precisely by weight. It means that an A1 sheet can be counted as half the weight of an A0 sheet while an A3 sheet can be counted as an eighth, etc and so on.

The fact that the ‘A’ range keeps its proportion means that the contents of the sheet can be enlarged or reduced from one ‘A’ size to another while the drawing or image still fits exactly as before to the paper. A common mistake though is to assume that, because two A4s make an A3, an A3 must be twice the size of A4 i.e. 200% on a photocopier when in fact it is not! It is twice the area but not twice the length and width. But the next-but-one size is 200% .. so for example if you need to enlarge an A4 drawing by a full 200% it needs to become A2.

‘landscape’ format Technical drawings are almost always drawn in ‘landscape’ format ..even if ‘portrait’ format may seem an advantage when drawing up a tall structure. Obviously this arises mainly from the design of drawing boards .. ‘portrait’ orientation of the board is not possible. To manage an A1 drawing in ‘portrait’ orientation one would need an A0 drawing board and this is too large for most people. It also has to do with standard worktable or desk formats .. spreading out ‘tall’ drawings to look at them may not be easy!


The accepted layout of parts of the drawing on the sheet is a result of three things .. the conventional layout of parts for an orthographic projection (see entry) .. ground-plan, front view, side view; the easiest way for the drawing to be drawn in practical terms (being able to extend the same lines through different parts and therefore save on having to measure again each time), and the clearest relationship of parts for the viewer (being able to relate features along those common lines). But at the same time enough space needs to be left between parts of the drawing for ..often .. more than just one string of measurements and other written information.

Layout has to be rehearsed rather than made up/added to as one goes along. It is not necessarily easy to achieve a balanced layout i.e. one where the parts are close enough to read the relationship but not so close that they encroach on each other. The easiest way to rehearse this (rather than draw/erase different outline possibilities on the full-size sheet) is to make up a smaller ‘model’ i.e. smaller-scale paper cutouts of the principle views needed together with a similarly reduced sheet so that positions can be easily played with. Another easy way using SketchUp is to mark out a sheet size i.e. A1 or A2 in ‘scale’ within SketchUp on the ground plane, make outlines of the views required on that sheet and use the ‘Select’ and ‘Move’ tools to move them around until they look comfortable.

One of the most important aspects of this initial rehearsal is establishing a fairly clear idea of just how many separate views, including cut-through ones or sections, are needed to convey complete information. Simple geometric shapes will need just three as a rule .. a view from above, a view from the ‘front’ and another from the side. But set designs are not simple geometric shapes, and even a simple block structure may have different detailing on each surface so the views required can be many more than three.

Sometimes there may be a choice or doubt as to which view should serve as the main or ‘front view’. It should be the most informative view, most representative of the overall structure (i.e. a car is always shown from its side). It should also be an angle of view in which the principle structure can be drawn ‘frontally’ if possible i.e. aligned parallel to the viewing plane.

There may be many variations on a basic principle (think of the number of different ways you might separate the sides of a box) but usually the ground-plan, being considered the foundation of everything, is placed quite logically at the bottom-centre.

It makes sense that the number of separate sheets conveying a set design should be kept to a minimum not because of printing costs but as ‘containment of information’. Therefore it is normal to try to fit as much as possible on the drawing space. But there is no need to take this to extremes .. as is sometimes done! It all needs to stay comfortable and above all .. clear!


See ‘Text’


Technical drawing is a language of lines, quite literally because the reader of the drawing needs to rely on the fact that every line on the object visible as an edge is shown unless clearly stated, so if something is missing it throws the sense out and introduces doubt. After layout, the quality and meaning of lines in the drawing is probably the next most important aspect.

Lines signifying visible edges can also be termed ‘object lines’; sometimes a bolder line for principle architecture (i.e. the ends of walls or structures), a thinner line for details within that. Varying line thickness, or line weight as it’s referred to, can make a structure more readable and add the illusion of depth to the drawing.

One of the many advantages of drawing in pencil is that the line weight can be modified in more than one way; the thickness of the lead, its hardness i.e. 2H, HB, 2B (going from hard to soft) and the pressure exerted while drawing. Some ‘draughtspersons’ make a point of emphasizing the beginnings and ends of lines with a little more pressure. They also claim it looks more human, or elegant .. it gives more character, personality. Lines can ‘direct the eye’ by being more than just ‘a line’ between A and B. Every practised draughtsman will have their own preferences and advice re. lead strengths to use for different elements of the drawing .. here is another version .. ‘4H mark-up lines which are not meant to show; 3H 0.3mm for the thinnest visible i.e. dimension lines, dashed lines; 2H 0.5mm general inc. visible detail; H 0.9mm strongest lines, i.e. outlines, ‘solid’ look hatching. Probably the best advice though is to test the various possibilities (different lead widths, hardnesses and pressure applied) yourself to find what you’re most comfortable doing and .. importantly .. have a copy made at a good reprographic shop (i.e. a dedicated printing/photocopying outlet) to see what results you can expect.

Lines signifying hidden elements , structures at other levels or imaginary reference lines are always dashed or dotted to distinguish them from visible lines. For example, centre lines commonly drawn on stage ground-plans always alternate short-dash with long-dash and include the letters ‘CL’ written at least once. Hidden lines are most often pulses of short dashes. Phantom lines i.e. showing alternate positions of objects, often have two short dashes then one long dash. Some people try to distinguish the ‘hidden’ lines representing something obscured from view from those representing ‘beyond viewpoint’ by making the latter long dashes instead. The language of technical drawing strives to be universal .. at least international .. but there is inevitably variation, even based upon personal preference. Usually this is no problem .. as long as the chosen methods are used consistently.

This is just a selective summary on the subject of lines .. there are many others .. but one final one deserves a mention. It is common practice to finish off a sheet with a border-line (usually just a centimetre or so inside the edge of the paper). Although this frame enhances the drawing it has a more practical purpose. It makes it clear, when the drawing is copied, that the sheet has not been cropped and nothing is missing.



Before recent improvements in photocopying, drawings always had to be made on transparent paper (commonly known as tracing paper or draughting paper) and almost always in ink, so that they could be reproduced by the dyeline method. Now drawings made on normal white paper are just as easily replicated. But there are many advantages to being able to trace when working on a technical drawing i.e. tracing from other drawings, tracing printed lettering, tracing repeated elements, and so on. Tracing paper also generally remains cleaner or at least can be cleaned more effectively. Even thick pencil lines can be removed with no trace and ink can be scratched away (though this is rather painstaking) with a scalpel or razor blade. However there are drawbacks, especially when using ink. The paper surface should not be touched too much because grease from the fingers sits on the surface and interferes with the ink. Hands must be rested while working on piece of scrap paper or cotton gloves need to be worn.

Drawing originals should never be folded (as this will affect how they reproduce) whereas white paper copies normally are (folding so that title block is visible). If white paper copies are stored as rolls the printed surface should be facing outwards so that, when unrolled, it will be easier to flatten them.

Tracing paper comes in different thicknesses. The thinnest is c. 60gsm (grams per sq metre), too thin and fragile for display itself and will buckle a lot while working. It is cheaper of course, so this paper is most often used for working drawings or ‘roughs’. At the other end 160gsm will stay fairly flat and presentable, but this can be even more difficult to work on if it buckles. I find the standard one in between .. 90gsm .. to be a very ‘happy medium’, strong enough to survive but not so thick that it refuses to lie flat after it has been stored as a roll!

On the whole it is not wise to display original drawings done on tracing paper. However thick, they will be affected by heat and humidity, and although they may have an ‘agreeable’ look the lack of contrast can make them difficult to read. It is better to mount a good copy on foamboard.

If the decision is made to work on white paper the sheet size needs to be checked to make sure that it conforms to an ISO standard .. i.e. either A2, A1 etc .. otherwise there will be problems when machine copying.


Bartoline Low Odour White Spirit recommended for cleaning drawing board surface or even smudged tracing paper (also to degrease) because this will not warp the paper.


The inclusion of written measurements is a fundamental which distinguishes a technical or ‘measured drawing’ from any other type of drawing, that coupled with the fact that all structures are conveyed frontally in an exact and consistent scale without perspectival distortion. In the UK it is customary now to write all measurements in millimetres .. so 3metres and 25.5cm is written simply as 3255. This is in the interests of greater accuracy, but I guess it’s also meant to be clearer and unequivocal for the reader. It is also common practice though to round-off fussy measurements .. for example there’s unlikely to be a good enough reason why a 10505 wall can’t be 10500.

Although technical drawings are done to scale and the lines can be measured, thorough written measurements are also necessary because copies of drawings (by whatever method) can distort i.e. stretch a little. The copy needs to be checked in this respect before any independent measuring is done. Sometimes large drawings may be printed out at a reduced size, purely for information and not meant to be measured from .. if there are no written measurements on the drawing it may not be possible to check whether this has been done!

It is traditional practice to align written measurements to be read ‘from bottom upwards’ and ‘from left to right’, just those two directions, rather than following all four directions. Often space will dictate whether the measurement values should be written parallel to the measurement lines or at a right-angle to them, but where possible they should run in the direction of the line. Also, detail measurements are positioned closest to the object, followed by larger measurements, then an overall measurement. The reader should be able to locate the overall dimensions easily, without having to search. The question of whether the numerals should be written above or below the measurement line, or whether there’s a gap in the middle to insert them, is purely personal preference .. and in this case can even be varied if need be according to available space.

Transferring dimensions from a working drawing to the final one

There are many different ways of doing this. It’s one of the advantages of drawing on tracing paper that one can lay another drawing underneath and trace over it precisely. When this is not practical .. one can use dividers, compass or just mark points on a paper strip. I prefer using the paper strip method to the numerical i.e. measuring a distance on the working drawing, storing it in short-term memory, then measuring out on the final drawing .. too many things can go wrong in the process!


Easily identifiable moving parts such as hinged or sliding doors are often represented clearly in one position with an unbroken line, but with a dotted version (usually of their closed position) and with an arrow indicating the direction of movement. With regular hinged doors this arrow takes the form of an arc and it’s advisable to indicate the maximum that a door is meant to open, partly to clarify what possible obstruction this may cause, and to check that the doors themselves don’t clash!

Orthographic projection is the name given to the way three-dimensional structures are represented in 2D in a technical drawing, by means of multiple views involving completely parallel viewpoints and without perspective distortion. ‘Orthographic’ here simply means ‘at a right angle to’ or perpendicular to.

Plan see ‘Ground-plan’


Representing something ‘in scale’ means that the subject is reduced according to a fixed ratio and that every part of the subject gets the same reduction. So for example if something is drawn half its real size the ratio is 1:2 .. ‘1’ representing the actual size, and ‘2’ representing the number of times that the drawing is smaller. So 1:25 means that the drawing is 25 times smaller than the real thing. A good mindset while drawing is to say to oneself ‘Every centimetre I measure on the paper represents 25 centimetres of the real thing’.

The scale chosen should depend on the detail necessary to give a complete account of the build i.e. very simple structures could be conveyed in 1:48 (‘1/4inch’) or metric 1:50 without the need for larger scale details, but period architecture (which normally includes specific detail in doors and windows) is better conveyed in 1:24 (‘1/2inch’) or metric 1:25 .. at least for most of the main structures. Details such as specific wall mouldings (decorative profiles) have to be described in an even bigger scale such as 1:10, even 1:1 if necessary.

If you own and have room for a sizeable drawing board, i.e. A0 size, a lot can be fitted on one sheet. But if you are limited to A1, as most people are, it would be a big mistake to choose a smaller scale just to fit more in. As I say, the scale should be chosen appropriate to the detail necessary, not the working conditions, so in this event it means spreading the work over a number of sheets.

Metric v Imperial

In other words .. whether one should work in metres/centimetres or feet/inches? I have heard said a number of times, something along these lines .. ‘film uses Imperial scale around the world; metric is the standard for architecture (except in the US) and for theatre design in the UK; television uses both, except for the BBC which has its own scale rules’. What I’ve yet to hear though is an acceptable reason why film drafting should be in Imperial around the world!

In the UK we should all commit to metric .. as we were supposed to do back in the 1970s! At least we should commit to something! .. the current ‘hotchpotch’ makes little sense and will just create more confusion the longer it continues. There’s some value in having an awareness of feet/inches in terms of understanding some traditional standards re. architecture and furniture. There’s also an aesthetic appeal in being able to divide feet just as smoothly into thirds, as halves or quarters. But metric is more smoothly divisible, hence easier to work with, when it comes to the usual scenic or spatial design scales.

You have to decide for yourself! .. or rather, according to what you’re most comfortable with but also taking into account the consensus of the people you’re doing the drawings for. It’s difficult to argue with a solidly-built workshop chief who insists on Imperial .. you either have to design and think in Imperial from the outset or design and draw up in metric then convert. If you go for the second option, unless you’re convinced that the workshops can afford to care about every nuance of your design as much as you do .. you should convert your drawings yourself.

Converting a whole drawing from 1:25 to 1:24 or ‘1/2inch to the foot’

First all measurements need to be manually rewritten on the original drawing, one by one, and many may need to be adjusted or rounded off (i.e. checking will be necessary if a whole floor is designed with 300cm square tiles which are then to become 1ft square .. unless you’re content that someone else has the headache!)

Then the whole drawing needs to be copied at a different value to 100% i.e. if 1:25 is to become 1:24 it means that the drawing needs to be enlarged by a certain percentage. Divide 24 into 25 to give 1.0416 which is (near enough to) an enlargement of 104% .. in other words 4% bigger in common language. See ‘Working in scale’ in the ‘Methods’ section for more on scale conversions.

If you’re just doubling the scale of a drawing .. whether Imperial or metric .. here is a cautionary word. A surprising number of people think that an A3 sheet of paper is ‘double the size’ of an A4 and that pressing the ‘A4 to A3’ enlargement button on a photocopier will enlarge whatever is on the sheet by 200%. In fact an A3 sheet is just double the surface area, not the dimensions .. the percentage enlargement while keeping the same format is actually only a little over 141%. Place an A4 sheet on an A3 while keeping the same landscape orientation and you’ll get the idea. To fully double the size, i.e. when converting a 1:50 scale drawing to 1:25, you would need to go from A4 to A2.


Just think of ‘section’ as short for ‘cross section’..

Often the most effective way of representing a complex shape is to show what it looks like ‘cut through’, exposing the interior but also revealing the shape. Cuts through a solid are most often represented by diagonal hatching (though sometimes by solid infill). Diagonal hatching originates from wood construction, the hatching mimicking a saw cut. Often the outline of the ‘cut’ surface is drawn with a bolder line to emphasize it against the hatching. The ploy of hatching on the reverse side of the paper when working in pencil (to prevent smudging) should also be noted here.

It is not always immediately obvious where the most effective point might be for a sectional view .. it should be thought about .. but the point of ‘most information’ should be chosen.

Sections are often placed to the right side of the sheet, or rather the right side of the elevation they apply to, simply because this is the direction in which we’re used to reading. Most often the hatching lines follow a 45 degree diagonal, but sometimes a 60 degree angle is chosen. Another common practice is changing the direction of the hatching to indicate separate elements of a cut-through i.e. to differentiate wall mouldings from the underlying wall. It is best to avoid varying the direction of the hatching too much though, otherwise clarity is lost in the visual ‘busy-ness’ this creates.

Just as important in clarifying a section is showing clearly where the ‘cut’ is placed i.e. its exact position in the structure, and also from which direction it’s being viewed from, by means of coding symbols.

Steps and levels It is generally agreed that steps or levels indicated on the ground-plan should include their heights clearly and that this should be written on the step or level drawn, rather than to the side of it. There may be some variation as to exactly how these are displayed. The most accepted method nowadays is to indicate each height starting with a ‘+’ so that a 200mm step up from the floor would be written ‘+200’. Most importantly these heights are all individually taken from the same ‘0’ level i.e. the stage or studio floor, so that a flight of regular steps would read ‘+200’ on the first, ‘+400’ on the second, ‘+600’ on the third and so on. If all the steps are mounted upon a platform, i.e. even a small 100mm one, this would be added, so that the first step would now be ‘+300’ and the second ‘+500’ etc. This means that we know the relative height of all steps and levels in relation to each other .. in much the same way as mountains ‘above sea level’.


As mentioned elsewhere .. there should be room for personal style .. there is certainly room for personal style!

Representing surfaces or materials

There may be no absolute necessity to represent surfaces or materials in a graphic way (as long as that information is noted somewhere), but it can enhance the drawing, even make it clearer. There is a lot of freedom in representing surfaces, such as a decaying brick wall or bark of a tree, by whatever means you choose as long as it’s not misleading (i.e. it should stick to the intended appearance, rather than too graphically stylized) and as long as it will copy well. Most often only a representative portion of a significant surface needs to be indicated, such as brick pattern on the bottom left corner of a wall elevation. Filling the whole of the wall surface with this pattern may diminish the clarity of other details.

Window areas which are to be ‘glazed’ are commonly represented by 2-3 short diagonal strokes in each pane, or just the word ‘glazed’.

Inclusion of scale figures

Again, this is not a necessity but one can choose to include a figure to represent scale and it is well worth it in some instances i.e. showing clearance under overhead walkways or stair units. Obviously if a figure drawing, in whatever style, is included the most important thing is that it represents an ‘average’ in terms of size. According to the US publication Interior Graphic Standards the current height average is 1.75m for a male, 1.63m for a female.

Inclusion of isometric or perspective drawings is not a common practice, but they can enhance the drawing’s effectiveness and appeal .. it can make what is being represented much clearer, sometimes dispelling confusion and preventing error! A simple perspective representation is nowadays very quickly achievable using SketchUp, and this can be printed out and traced onto the drawing. See ‘Some of the principles of technical drawing simply illustrated – Part 1’ for an example of the use of this.


i.e. anything on the drawing which needs to be expressed in words as opposed to numbers, using where possible regular ‘everyday’ words rather than jargon to convey information.

All writing should be in straightforward capitals.

Title block or ‘title box’ containing production title, drawing title (if not prominently elsewhere on the drawing), name of designer (production designer, art director), drawn by, date (or dates), drawing number in the series (i.e, ‘Drawing 1 of 5’), principle scale (other scales may be indicated next to part of drawing). The title block is often consistently in same place (usually lower right corner) so that it can always be looked for there, and so that it’s visible when sheet is folded in the standard way. If there are lots of sheets, it may be worthwhile to design ‘sheet number’ to read larger, so that it can be more immediately seen.

Lettering style

Really the only important objective in terms of lettering method is that the words are easily readable. Anything that conflicts with this is a mistake. Anything that takes too long to create is also .. realistically speaking .. a mistake.

Rather than spend so much time mapping out guidelines etc. for the even shape and spacing of lettering why not print out the words or sentences you have to include in a clear, simple and enlarged font, place underneath the sheet and traced from. There are good quality plastic stencils available for smaller lettering i.e. for technical notes and writing dimensions.

Supporting information

Notes can be very important, but it  needs to be left to basic common sense in deciding whether a note is necessary. Writing them can take a long time especially if a stencil is used and too many notes can obscure a drawing. Sometimes an area underneath the title block is reserved for general written notes, sometimes areas next to separate views .. whichever may be better i.e. less cluttered.

Title block see ‘Text’


See also ‘Drawing board’, which is the main ‘tool’


Soft white type best when working in pencil. ‘Putty rubbers’ are particularly recommended when working in pencil on tracing paper, though the rubbers themselves may be harder to keep clean.

Ink pens

There is nowadays less need for drawing in ink because reprographic processes are much better at recording pencil lines clearly! However, if you love ink ..  Rotring pens can be the most satisfying option, although they are expensive and need an awful lot more maintenance than Rotring says! My feeling is that the far cheaper and easier ‘fibre-tip’ drawing pens always look a bit fuzzy and the lines are weaker.

Using ink at least removes any doubt as to whether, however thin, a line will be picked up by the copier.

A common problem when working with ink pens (though not so much with the fibre tip) is the ink being drawn underneath the edge of the ruler (or set square, or French curve etc.) if the nib is placed too close. For this purpose good rulers or set squares often have at least one edge which is ridged to prevent this, but it never completely eliminates having to be careful.

Rotring pens do not give any problems if they are used regularly .. i.e. at least every week. However, if they are left for months the chances are that the ink which remains in the ‘hypodermic’ like nibs will dry to the extent that the only option is to replace the nib, and unfortunately this is almost as expensive as buying the whole pen!

Masking tape

Recommended for taping sheet to board rather than ‘sellotape’ which can be difficult to detach from the paper without tearing it.


HB standard, H for fine detail lines (even up to 3H), B-2B for heavier lines. 0.5mm thickness also standard. Mechanical pencils are always better because they give a constant line width and the cheapest ones are adequate (except that many of the cheapest sold in multi-packs have a 0.7mm lead which I think is a little too thick for detail work.

I also like using a 0.3mm pencil for even greater accuracy and line-variety, but these are only available as £4-5 versions.

Pencil retains the ‘hand’ quality, more versatile, more character; infinitely easier to alter/erase;

Scale ruler

Think of the scale ruler as just a miniaturized tape measure .. as simple as that! I strongly recommend the colour-coded ‘triangular’ type, especially those with just one scale per edge .. much easier to read! This type of ruler (i.e. the triangular) will also rest better on the parallel bar. A common mistake made when using the 1:25 scale is to misread the very smallest divisions as representing ‘1cm’ each, when they represent 2cm. See also ‘Working in scale’ in the ‘Methods’ section


A large set-square (transparent plastic triangle) is essential in combination with a parallel bar or T-square and an adjustable one is also often essential. Can buy just the adjustable rather than both .. but you should know that the adjustable ones are made of a much heavier, thicker plastic. On the whole I’ve found it trickier to draw verticals with them and I need to take extra care that they don’t slip off the parallel bar.

Why are there 45 degree set squares and 60 degree ones? A ‘45’ can be used on the parallel bar to create diagonals in either direction (in addition to 90 degrees) and it sits more stable, but it doesn’t have as much vertical reach as the long side of a ‘60’. The ‘60’ can also be used for 30 degree angles, but not for 45 degrees.

Linex ‘College’ brand, clear light-brown tinted. Good weight and thickness .. not too heavy, not too light. Reasonably finished edges. The 45degree ‘36cm’ size is a good large average without being unwieldy, combining fairly good reach with stability (36cm is measure of longer diagonal side, as with tv monitors). £7.32 at LGC, £4.74 (£3.95 plus VAT), cheapest seen for £4.27 on eBay August 2014 (not inc. postage).


A long T-square is necessary if you’re using a plain board without parallel motion bar. If the board is on a stand which allows it to be placed jutting slightly over the table edge, the T-square can be used on all four edges of the board in other words for vertical lines as well as horizontal.

French Curves

Essential if you want to draw small, steady curves of the ‘irregular’ type i.e. curves which cannot be made with a compass. There are 3 distinct types of French curve and they come in packs, rarely single. The most useful ones I’ve used are from Herlitz because their edges have a central ridge, which means that they can be used for pen work without fear of the ink being drawn underneath if the nib is too close to the edge. This means they can be used from both sides which is an advantage when compositing curves. I didn’t find the Herlitz brand in a recent search, but the Linex College French Curve Set has similar edges (£3.99 Ryman online)

Paper stumps to smudge or even blend pencil (a specialist technique)


This is often the term used to refer to drawings done purely for the purposes of working out during the design process, including in other words ‘rough’ or ‘sketch’ drawings, as opposed to ‘finished’ or final drawings.

Just as the process of model-making often involves two phases .. one more exploratory, rough or sketch-like, for working out or developing ideas and the other ‘final’, perfected and complete .. the process of technical drawing can be similar. One difference though is that if the designer has chosen to explore and then perfect in model form first, the technical drawing may just be a straight transcription of information with little adjustment needed. On the other hand many designers, particularly when working to the often tighter deadlines of film and television, prefer to work foremost from the drawing board. Here it is common practice that whatever ‘models’ are produced actually come after the finalization of the technical drawings .. the so-called ‘white card models’ which are 3D pasted versions of the drawings themselves, to give a more identifiable spatial rendition of the set.

A strong word of caution about working solely from the drawing board! Many professional designers recommend it. How did they get to be ‘professsional’? .. over a length of time and through a great deal of hands-on experience. One needs a very practised familiarity with scale, proportion and real spatial relationships to be able to judge a spatial design purely on the basis of drawings. In my experience any beginner attempting this will just be pushing the ‘cart’ out .. entirely without the ‘horse’!

My recommendation, always, is to utilize both design tools .. drawing and model-making .. in conjunction from the outset. Even the roughest, quickest models will furnish a truer sense of space, while at the same time measured drawing is indispensable, for example working out stair units or rakes, or proportioning wood panelling.

SketchUp provides an excellent means of ‘modelling’ by drawing ..


Being methodical

The first thing that books on technical drawing should tell you is that after you’ve got all the ‘knowledge’ or theory, and you’re familiar with the ‘rules’ etc. the most important resource while actually doing it is .. thinking a little bit like a ‘drawing machine’ .. thinking very methodically. What I mean is .. how a machine might manage tasks i.e. doing all of one task first then moving to the next. For example, wait until you’re ready to write in all of the final measurements then do it all at once. It makes sense to enforce a somewhat ‘blinkered’ mentality rather than ‘roaming’ around the drawing or flitting from one type of task to another.

Physical conditions

Comfort/posture (but not too much comfort, keeping mind awake); lighting and direction of light; organized/uncluttered space, remove anything not immediately needed .. helps with focus.

Unless you’ve got a particularly long worktable you’ll find that there’s not much side space left once an A1 drawing board is on it. It’ll save a lot of frustration to have a raised place (a trolley, platform, flat chair) to put all pens, geometry tools etc. in easy reach otherwise things get lost under drawing board and won’t stay on top of it.

Some prefer covering the board with a sheet of white paper, because the slight ‘give’ strengthens drawn line and pen work is not so ‘scratchy’.

Cheap (£shop) masking tape is probably best for securing drawings since it’s particularly low-tack, removable.

If working in ink on tracing paper, do not rest hand on paper because grease will prevent the ink from properly taking. Have either a piece of paper or set square underneath. There isn’t this problem working with pencil.

Never push a compass point into the drawing board. Two pieces of masking tape should be fixed underneath where the centre is on the drawing and this will be enough purchase for the compass point.

Adequate lighting, especially direction, can become very important! i.e. if right-handed, light coming from top and left.

Other drawing tips

Having a built-in familiarity with standard dimensions and proportions is of vital importance, but takes a while to acquire. In the meantime it’s usual to have scale figure drawing close by, or even one of a chair or similar familiar reference object.

When doing finished work in pencil and doing areas of heavy shading or hatching, these can easily become dusty with graphite particles and easy to smudge. A clever idea is actually to do these areas on the reverse side of the paper so that they’re protected, at least while drawing.