Programs like AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Revit have established overwhelming success among designers and architects in the 21st century.
The convenience and speed of production that the plethora of digital tools offer streamline the drafting process to a remarkable extent.
An extent that perhaps may make you wonder if anybody uses the old-school method – that is, pencil, bond paper, compass, T-square, and most importantly, the iconic tilted desk that is called a drafting table.
Well, drafting tables have indeed taken a back seat to the newer and more efficient methods achieved through computer-aided drafting software.
However, this does not mean that drafting tables are not in use or no longer have a place in architecture and design.
They do, and for a few good reasons.
Benefits of Using a Drafting Table
1. More Space
Architects and drafting technicians often work with A2-size or larger drawing sheets.
Even if you are not an architect but a designer in other specialist disciplines, chances are you cannot escape having to deal with large paper sizes.
Sure, you do the occasional freehand sketching on an A4 size drawing pad. But having one large, even, and sturdy surface where all your drawings and tools are within reach makes your job so much easier.
2. You Have An Overall View
Although you could argue that computer monitors are getting larger these days, they still cannot beat having a bird’s-eye view that a drafting table affords you – and doing so without the need to zoom in and out using your mouse cursor.
Such a benefit also means that you are less likely to miss an error on your drawing or forget to effect an across-the-board amendment, which so often happens when drafting using one of the software tools.
3. The Experience Feels More Natural
It may sound silly, but it is true.
You engage senses through seeing your work unfold – feeling your pencil smoothly gliding along the surface of a sheet of paper, hearing the gratifying soft scraping of graphite along the edge of a ruler, even smelling the complex aromas of wood and paper.
You are more inclined to receive an inspired, creative spark during the process.
While computers are significant assets to architectural design these days, the rays of artificial light from a monitor beaming into your eyes all day long is not a particularly compelling aspect of the process.
Plus, a drafting table is the complete opposite of a computer when it comes to distractions – you can guess which one goes at which end of the spectrum.
4. Adjustable Angle to Suit
An ordinary work desk is a working plane that is fixed horizontally. It would require you to sit in an unnatural posture when drafting and cause neck strain and fatigue over long hours.
You’d find that the vast majority of drafting tables on the market can be tilted up to 45 degrees to the horizontal plane, with some capable of going the full 90-degree for easy storage.
Having an adjustable surface angle also means that you can use the drafting table for more than just drafting. It is a piece of equipment worth investing in for the long term.
For one, you can use a drafting table to assist in model-making, which has a slew of benefits on its own. You often use other tools with the workspace enabling you to make precise measurements, cuts, and folds.
Unless you plan on 3d printing your model, CAD software cannot help you with projects that require real-world measurements and hands-on interaction.
6. Stimulates the Imagination
It is another outcome of added sensory input you experience when using a drafting table.
Instead of staring at UI, pixelated datum, and software tabs, you are free to let your mind wander without the added visual stimulation that forces your attention to the math.
Great ideas often come from daydreaming, after all, meaning that the more you are free from distraction, the more likely you are to come up with a great idea that is going to elevate your final product to an entirely new and innovative dimension.
7. It Conforms to You; Not the Opposite
As a drafting table can have storage compartments, a large surface area, and adjustable in surface angle and height, carefully choosing your new drafting table would mean that you have infinite ways to make it conform to your needs.
Especially if you are starting your architecture program, buying a multi-purpose drafting table would eliminate the need to spend on other types of desks in the future.
How to Choose a Drafting Table
Has the ethos gotten to you?
Have you begun to think about the pleasure and inspiration a drafting table could bring to your work?
If so, that’s great; You exhibit impeccable passion!
Now, you need to navigate the options to make an informed decision as to what type of drafting table will best suit your purpose.
For better or worse, there are options abound. The time has come to enter the maze of decision-making.
Steel? Wood? Glass? Manufactured?
Your drafting table has got to be made out of something; which material you choose will depend on the factors you value the most.
Suppose durability is the ultimate goal of your purchase.
In that case, heavy-duty steel will provide the best longevity and resistance for those who like to pound on stuff, either in frustration or “Ah-ha!” moments.
Maybe you are a little bit more cautious of how you take care of things, and you do not want to undermine your passion for beauty and design with an ugly, uninspired workstation – if this is the case, glass or wood may be a suitable choice depending on your style.
You could choose a rustic oak drafting table as a nod to your decision to go old-school, or you could go with a more modern aesthetic with tempered glass to reflect your commitment to the future of great designs.
Maybe you value, well, value; If this is you, a solid manufactured wood drafting table should fulfill your requirements if you choose one that you have ascertained to be sturdy and well-built.
How much storage you anticipate that you are going to need is a question only you can answer.
If you plan to use your drafting table for a quick sketch here and there while doing the rest of your work on a computer, there is no need to spend money on something with dozens of compartments and drawers.
However, suppose you plan on using your drafting table as an all-around workstation for drafting, model-making, artistic sketches, etcetera. In that case, you are likely to make good use of the added investment.
You’d likely be glad you decided to go all-out with a table that can comfortably stash away a growing assortment of tools.
One of the primary appeals of a drafting table over other surfaces is the ability to tilt. However, the angles of tilt are going to vary between models.
You need to assess what type of work you will be doing to decide how this factor will affect you and your niche of work.
An extremely flexible workstation may provide added appeal if you consider yourself an artist who wants to draft and paint on the same surface and not want to purchase a dedicated easel.
If you only plan on building models on your table, then a shallower angle is likely going to suffice.
Ultimately, this is what your choice may boil down to.
If you have deep pockets or plan on using your drafting table as an all-around workstation, you can easily get a model that does it all.
Should you decide to spend a fair amount of money, your decision will ultimately come down to aesthetic appeal.
Many high-dollars drafting tables (purchased from reputable manufacturers or hand-crafted) are going to provide ample storage, durability, and other bells and whistles in a single package – meaning you won’t necessarily need to compromise.
However, if you are not an established professional, there is a likelihood that price willbe a significant factor for you. Then, alas, you will need to think about compromises.
It involves crossing off options that have extraneous features you likely won’t use so that even if you settle for a more inexpensive product, the shortcomings should not affect the use and enjoyment you get out of it.
Drafting Tables versus Other Drawing Surfaces
If you are an architect, then drafting tables were built with you in mind.
They have all of the appropriate accommodations, including tilt (usually up to around 45 degrees), comfort (for long hours), and a ledge at the bottom to keep your materials in place.
However, to better understand the benefits of using a drafting table, it is vital to understand the fundamental ways in which they differ from other drawing surfaces.
Drafting Table vs. Desk
You probably have a good idea of what a desk is. However, it is wrong to make assumptions.
A desk is the most common type of workstation, typically used for reading, writing, drawing, and as space for desktop computers to call home.
If you have a spare desk to use, you may wonder why you should consider purchasing a dedicated drafting table.
For one, drafting tables tend to be built to resist scratching, but perhaps the most obvious difference between a desk and a drafting table is tilt. Desks are usually fixed in a parallel position to the floor.
So why are drafting tables angled?
How does the tilt facilitate easier drafting?
The tilt present in drafting tables enables you to easily view much larger paper sheets in their entirety without the flat surface of a desk distorting your perception. Using a flat surface will inevitably result in the drawing looking unnaturally elongated as you work, and you will be shocked when you view the paper upright, and your drawing looks weirdly compressed.
Using a tilted desk is far more comfortable than staring down at a desk all day as your neck muscles scream in agony.
Drafting Table vs. Standing Desk
A standing desk is like a standard desk, but with an adjustable height so you can do your job on your feet. It is designed for the same general usage as a regular desk, such as writing and using a computer.
The primary appeal of a standing desk is the health benefits it offers over sitting for prolonged periods.
A drafting table, although adjustable in height, is primarily for tasks in the seated position. On the contrary, a standing desk has adjustable heights, but it requires you to be in the standing position. A standing desk’s adjustability only applies to the up and down movement – not tilt, which a drafting table can do – making it a poor choice for drafting.
Drafting Table vs. Easel
A similarity between the drafting table and the easel is that both are designed with more specialized purposes in mind compared to a desk.
A drafting table is more useful for technical sketches and architectural drawings, while an easel is the best choice for painting and general artwork. Both sit at an angle, with a drafting table usually adjusted to 45 degrees and an easel traditionally fixed at 20 degrees to the vertical axis (or 70 degrees to the horizontal).
Easels do not provide a stable surface by themselves; they are essentially scaffolding built to support a solid canvas for brush strokes.
Since architects generally work with flimsy sheets of paper, the lack of a solid surface will make an easel impractical for drafting.
Wood versus Glass Drafting Table
It’s a fair conclusion to assume that you will want a drafting table if you plan on drafting.
Well, now that you have landed in the right-field, you can safely choose either wood or glass without going critically wrong because you chose one over the other.
There are differences between the two that are going to slightly affect usability and longevity, however.
When it comes to lighting, tempered glass offers a considerable advantage over wood, thanks to its transparency. The option to place a light source behind the surface allows for another dimension of visibility.
Not only does backlighting your work allow you to see it better, but it also provides far more uniform lighting than an overhead source, which may cast shadows thanks to things getting in the way, primarily your hand.
If you plan on tracing, the added backlighting will enable you to see through multiple sheets of paper easily. For these reasons, glass has a significant leg-up on wood.
Scratch resistance is an essential factor to consider as well. Because wood tends to be softer than glass, it tends to be more prone to scratches.
Granted, you can purchase a cutting mat separately to place over the surface, but this is an extra step that might remove some of the appeal of choosing wood in the first place.
Suppose you are going to be doing your sketches without a barrier between paper and table. In that case, glass offers better resistance to wear and tear that passionate, aggressive sketching could bring about.
The tactile response also differs significantly between wood and glass. Again, this is under the assumption that you are not slipping anything else under the paper.
Wood is softer; while this may be considered a disadvantage due to its susceptibility to scratches, it also offers an advantage in how sketching will feel.
With a wood surface, that extra “give” will provide a smoother, more pleasurable experience than the hard, cold feeling of sketching on glass.
Aesthetics May Simply Trump All
Aesthetics, for many, are one of the most important factors in choosing a drafting table.
After all, by their very nature, architects tend to hold high regard for design, so it makes sense that a workstation would reflect that.
The chief contrast between the look of a glass drafting table and the look of a wooden one is age – that is, the former gives off contemporary vibes while the latter has a more rustic, antique look (generally speaking, that is. Some wooden desks are pretty sleek).
So, if you are like many other architects and professional designers, you will think twice about what your drafting table is going to look like.
When you become immersed in the experience they offer, you may come to realize that the term “drafting table” seems like an understatement for what it truly is – a continuation of yourself, your creativity, and your passion for design.
Make it reflect you!