Friday, June 14, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Welcome to a new blog--we are calling it "T-Squares and Slide Rules" after a couple of the most important tools draftspersons and architects used before the advent of calculators and then computers.  We not only used T-squares and slide rules, but math classes required the purchase of an inexpensive slide rule, both in high school and college, and we were taught how to use them.  Quaint, yes?

All of the tools required in drafting and design classes required quite an investment, and students guarded them carefully from pilfering by others who carelessly lost their stuff or left it back at the dorm.

One of my prized possessions is a red leatherette -bound book that is a catalog of the drafting supply company Keuffel & Esser Co., founded in 1867.  The main office was in New York with a factory in Hoboken, N.J., and branches in Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Montreal.  The last copyright date in this 37th edition is 1927.  The illustrations are beautifully hand-drawn ink renditions of every kind of drafting, surveying, engineering and art tool you can imagine.  There is even a pasted-in sample of a dozen tracing and craft papers inside the front cover.  I acquired the book as a gift from a good friend who is a true gentleman and renaissance man and I treasure it because it is so beautifully drawn--I consider it an art book and a history book as well as drafting supply catalog.

Wooden T-Squares and Straightedges from Catalogue of  Keuffel & Esser Co. Manufacturers
and Importers
Drawing Materials - Surveying Instruments - Measuring Tapes
37th Edition
  Our firm used many of these tools up until the invention of the computer and drafting software.  Slide rules were replaced by engineering calculators without much nostalgic longing for the "old days."  But the computer has really changed design and made many of the supplies and tools we used are hard to find, if not obsolete. 

Vellum paper is referred to in K&E as "tracing cloth."  Dozens of kinds of drawing papers are offered.  Is there any reader under 30 years of age who knows what "pounce" is?  Or Inkoff--that one is easy to guess.  Blue print, brown print, black print and Translux, tubes for storing paper.  Erasing fluids and white crayons for marking on blue prints.  Cross-section papers in several scales and sizes. township paper, logarithmic paper, isometric cross section paper, polar co-ordinate paper, triangular co-ordinate paper, and about 20 more pages of papers in pads, rolls, books...

My favorite section of the book is the drawing instruments.  The catalog offers "school quality" tools suitable for students, but cautions that the more expensive instruments are superior in quality,  Two full pages describe the difference in materials, dimensions, finish and construction of the finest tools and cautions "The most expensive instruments in first cost are the cheapest in ultimate cost."  There follows pages and pages of specialized pens, joints, pencils, set screw and shank attachments, compasses some with different type of beam attachments, wheel attachments, proportional dividers, hairspring dividers, spring bows, pivot joints, and knife springs--each type is drawn in beautifully rendered detail. 

If an architect treasured his (or her--less likely in 1927 than today) fine drawing instruments, he would want a velvet-lined case to store them in, or possibly a polished mahogany case, or a morocco case with silk-velvet lining.  Each type was available in small sets with the basic items necessary for a young apprentice beginning a career up to the complete deluxe set for the professional with earning power.  The brands cataloged are Paragon, Key, Pharos, Anvil, Special Arrow and Arrow.  Repair parts are offered for the various brands. If you have one of these sets, please treasure it.  

Pantographs (spell-check does not like this word--does any blog reader know what it is, or possibly have one?) are precision, suspended, with wheel supports,  or made of hardwood.  Both's Patent section liner and scale divider is made of nickel silver.  The Simplex section liner is made of hardwood or can be purchased with a "heavy transparent xylonite arm in place of wood arm."  The ellipsograph is "brass, nickelplated, fine quality."  I do actually know what a pantograph is, but the other tools are items I, for one, have never heard of.

Protractors are three-arm, circular, semi-circular and made of nickel silver, as are the tritractor, and limb protractor.  Less expensive versions are "plain metal" or xylonite--perhaps a type of early plastic?  Scales can be special-ordered!  I find this an amazing special service--obviously for the very special person who needed a special scale.  Three kinds of blanks are offered--2 bevels, 4 bevels or opposite bevels, any length, "State length of graduated part, not of the blank, unless special length blank is wanted...It is always safest to send a sketch."  One could also chose a "Boxwood" profile or "Paragon" profile, distinctive to brands of triangular scales.  It would be interesting to know if this was a service in great demand.  Regular scales, triangular scales, sheaths for scales, paper scales printed on Bristol Board, Patent scale guards (they look like little handles clipped onto a triangular scale), metric and inch comparing scales, map measures, shrinkage rules (what are they for?), jointed scale rules, folding wood rules, parallel rules, some "ebonized."  Kueffel and Esser responsibly did not offer genuine ebony due to "extreme scarcity" and describe exactly what "ebonized" and "ebony finish" refer to.  They scorn the "usual custom of designating a substitute as ebony."

Irregular (French) Curves from Keuffel & Esser Catalogue
37th Edition
Finally we get to the triangles, curves and T-squares.  Most of the triangles for lettering, the ellipses, hyperbolas, parabolas and mechanical engineering curves are transparent xylonite. Also available are nickel-plated steel triangles.  There are 29 kinds of French (or irregular) curves, a logarithmic spiral curve and a set of 121 Copenhagen Ship Curves that come in a wood case--all are pictured, and what the heck are they for--does anyone know?  For designing ships?  Also flexible curves, adjustable curves, spline and spline weights for custom curves and 2 pages of railroad curves that come with a wooden storage box to prevent warping.  For designing railroad tracks?  These can also be purchased individually.

  Straight edges come in maple or xylonite.  Bars are available for beam compasses.  Wooden T-squares come with pearwood, maple, mahogany or hardwood-lined blades, as well as with xylonite blades.  Nickel-plated steel is also available.  Centrolineads for perspective drawing are sort of like a T-square, but with 2 movable arms instead of a fixed head like the T-square.

The invention of the computer really changed things, but we still have some of these tools of the trade.  I won't say we are nostalgic for hand-drafting--it was slower, dirty, and wore out the elbows of your shirts.  But it could be beautiful, artistic, with individualistic details.  And architects and drafters had all these cool tools of the trade.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Welcome to our blog. Here we will try to give you a glimpse at the inner workings of our office. Stay posted.