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Drafting Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The architect who designs a building and the engineer who plans a difficult structure or devises a new machine do not them-selves carry out the designs. This is left to competent workmen under their supervision. But how do these workmen know how the machine is to be constructed, or the house built? How can they tell what materials are to be used for the various parts, what size and shape these parts are to be, how they shall be related to each other—how, in fact, the plans are to be worked out? If the workmen were to rely only upon spoken or written directions, it is quite certain that they would not accomplish very much, for such directions would have to be so minute and copious that they would easily be subject to misinterpretation. The most accurate, the most simple, the most easily and universally understood manner of conveying the architect's or engineer's ideas to the constructor is through the medium of drawings.

These drawings are not pictorial ones which might represent very fine looking objects, but which would hardly give the work-man an idea of how to proceed in order to reproduce these objects but what are known as working drawings. A working drawing is a clear, detailed, complete and accurate presentation of the object to be constructed, of its parts, of their dimensions and the materials to be used in making them and of the relationship of the parts to each other and to the structure as a whole.

It is the work of the draftsman to make these drawings. He occupies a very important position in industry, for he stands as an interpreter between the creative mind of the man who plans and the skilful hands of the man who constructs. In other words, he renders the ideas of the designer of houses, machines or other objects intelligible to the workman who is to carry out these ideas. Very often the draftsman is given only a very rough and incomplete sketch of the object which is to be constructed. This sketch is frequently more of a suggestion than anything else. It is his duty to turn the suggestion into a drawing which will give so clear and detailed a plan of the object that its absolutely correct interpretation will be assured. Some draftsmen merely prepare a finished plan from a rather complete general plan furnished by the designer, while to others is left the business of developing small parts and of working out details of construction.

Although the general purpose of the work of all draftsmen is the same, the field of draftsmanship may be greatly subdivided. But there are certain fundamental qualifications which draftsmen of every type should have. Of great importance are neatness and absolute precision in carrying out the work. The slightest deviation from the correct line, or the least messiness in the drawing, is likely to cause mistakes in construction. Excellent eyesight is another thing which the draftsman must have. His work makes great demands upon his eyes, and should not be undertaken if he has any serious optical defect. A certain amount of manual skill also is necessary for the proper handling of the draftsman's instruments. Of course, every draftsman must have a talent for drawing, be thoroughly familiar with the principles of drafting, should have a liking for, and a good knowledge of, mathematics; he should know as much as possible about applied mechanics, engine practice and physics, and about the strength and other qualities of the various materials used in construction. This knowledge is all necessary if the draftsman is to be more than a mere copyist of drawings. If he wishes to be entrusted with the actual working up of the designer's suggestions, he must have the technical equipment with which to do so.

Besides conforming to these general requirements, draftsmen must have the special qualifications necessary in their particular subdivision of the profession. The architectural draftsman should have some artistic feeling, should be able to plan and work out the architectural details of buildings, to make general building designs and to draw free-hand sketches of the proposed structures. He must have a knowledge of architecture, a practical understanding of construction materials and also the ability to compute the quantity and cost of materials required for carrying out the plans made.

The mechanical draftsman, who makes drawings and layouts of machines and tools, must know something of the principles of mechanics, be familiar with machines of many types and should be a good mathematician. Marine, mine, structural and railroad shop draftsmen are all closely connected with engineers in these branches, and should have as much specific knowledge as possible of the details of construction along these lines. The topographical draftsman makes maps and assists in topographic surveys of the coasts and inland territory. He employs numerous signs and symbols, and requires skill in free-hand drawing. The commercial draftsman should be skilled in general drafting, which involves the drafting of charts, statistical forms and records; the laying out of building locations; and the planning of the arrangement and utilization of space for rooms, offices and factories. The patent draftsman, usually employed by patent attorneys, is called upon to make drawings of the most varied sorts of mechanical devices, and his chief requisites are a certain amount of versatility, and the ability to do extremely clear and accurate work. Mechanical drawing furnishes the foundation for all of the above specialized occupations.

Even the most elementary work of the draftsman, that of tracing or copying drawings, requires some training on the part of the young man who wishes to enter upon it. To do even the simplest drafting, it is necessary to know the uses of the various instruments with which one is to work. This training can very often be obtained in the mechanical drawing classes of a public day or evening high school, or in a public trade school. Very often young boys who have had some school courses in mechanical drawing, are engaged as tracers or letterers. The principal requirements for such positions are neatness, accuracy, familiarity with the use of the draftsman's instruments and the ability to do neat and rapid lettering. Therefore, boys with no more preparation than high school courses in mechanical drawing can easily fill them. In order to advance to a position as a real draftsman, however, further training is usually necessary. Boys employed in minor capacities in a drafting room have sometimes managed, through actual contact with the work of the more experienced men, to gain sufficient knowledge to advance to a higher position.

In general, it is wisest to take a good course which will give one something more than merely the principles of mechanical or architectural drawing. The technical knowledge which stands the draftsman in such good stead, making him a specialist in some one field, can usually be obtained at a college or technical school. Many young men, graduate engineers or architects, are glad to accept for a while positions as draftsmen; in this way they gain experience and are enabled to profit by the practical knowledge of the men who employ them. It is best for the prospective draftsman to have at least a high school education, and any further schooling will be of great advantage.

The cost of training for draftsmanship varies from none at all, to several thousand dollars. One may take free courses in public high schools and trade schools, may study at a college or technical school which charges low tuition rates or may take a complete architectural or engineering course, which will usually cost, at the very least, $300 a year, for a period of three, four or five years. A list of public high and trade schools giving instruction in mechanical drawing may be obtained from your local Board of Education, and detailed information as to courses offered by other institutions may be obtained from them upon application.

The man of truly constructive type of mind may not be satisfied to remain a draftsman, for draftsmanship is not, after all, creative work; but it offers excellent training and a fine approach to the architectural or one of the engineering professions, especially on the designing end. The fact that it involves more or less steady plodding at the same type of work, and that it is apt to be hard on the eyes, constitutes its chief disadvantages as an occupation. Of course, the more technical knowledge one has, and the higher a position one attains, the more scope will one have for exercising his own creative talents.

The beginning draftsman, tracer or detailer may earn from $15 to $20 a week, but more experienced draftsmen can make from about $35 a week to $5,000 a year, according to their experience, knowledge and ability.

When one thinks how far trade and industry depend upon the construction of machinery of so many kinds, and upon the erection of buildings of all sorts, the significance of the draftsman's work becomes apparent. His function is, in its way, as important as that of the man who actually plans new structures, for without him it would probably be impossible to undertake large-scale construction.


BISHOP, CARLTON T.: "Structural Drafting and the Design of Details," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1920.

COLLINS, CHARLES B.: "Drafting Room Methods, Standards and Forms," D. Van Nostrand Co., New York, 1918.

FRENCH, THOS. E.: "Engineering Drawing," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1924.

HOWE, CHARLES B.: "Agricultural Drafting," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1913.

MILLER, H. W.: "Mechanical Drafting," The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Ill., 1919.

SAMPSON, CHARLES H.: "Mechanical Drawing and Practical Drafting," Milton Bradley Co., Springfield, Mass., 1919.

SEAMAN, GEORGE W.:. "Progressive Steps in Architectural Drafting," The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Ill., 1919.

STANLEY, FRANK A.: "Drawing Room Practice," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1921.

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