Woodworking has been around for as long as, well - probably for as long as humans have been cutting down trees. Computers, on the other hand, have only become ubiquitous in the last few decades.

Even so, there are some who seem to feel that using CAD (computer-aided design) software to draft projects is far superior to manual drafting. There’s definitely a solid place for computer programs in the design and engineering world but thinking that the computer is the only way to draft projects is a huge mistake.

Many of the world’s largest and most complicated buildings and monuments were designed using pencil and paper, and there’s no reason you can’t be incredibly successful drawing things out yourself.

Manual drafting is still an important skill taught in almost any architectural or engineering higher-education program in the country. Manual drafting is inexpensive, easy to learn, and can be highly accurate when you use a few simple tools. It’s where any craftsman should start when they learn to draft, even if you intend to learn CAD programs later.


The tools required to master manual drawing are easy to access and inexpensive.

Paper, of course, and you don’t have to have anything fancier than a spiral notebook. Many craftsmen start initial sketches in a simple notebook and move their design onto graphing paper (which is a little more expensive) once they’re ready to draw out exact measurements, angles, etc. Others just use graphing paper the entire time.

Drafting boards are large, smooth boards to draw on. A table works, but drafting boards are often portable and have features like a built-in parallel straight edge and a stand to adjust the angle.

Pencils and erasers, and you don’t need fancy drafting pencils. Any old lead pencil and rubber eraser is fine, although you may want to invest in a set of pencils with different types of lead to help you draw lighter or darker lines easily.
There are dozens of measuring tools you could use, but what you want will vary a bit depending on the type of woodworking you do. You will probably need a compass to help draw curves and circles, a triangle or protractor to get precise angles, and a T-square to make sure your lines are exactly parallel or perpendicular. Some other fun measuring tools include equal space dividers, curve rulers, and pantographs. Get yourself a drawing set and have fun exploring all your options.

Types of Drawings

Many types of drawings may be needed before work can start on a project. Here are some of the most common types:

Isometric drawing: This is a drawing of your project set at an angle so you can see all three dimensions equally. Here’s a tutorial on the basics of isometric drawings.

Orthographic drawing: Drawings of your project from each angle (top, front, side, bottom). Here’s a tutorial explaining how to do them.

Cross-sectional drawing: Drawing of the parts of your project you won’t be able to see from the outside. These are drawn as though you’ve cut away part of the wood and can see inside the object.

Assembly drawings: These show different components of a project with arrows indicating how they fit together.
With some basic tools and an idea of how to use them, you’ll be well on your way to successful technical drawing. CAD software is useful and worth the time to learn if you need to, but it’s hard to beat the simplicity and convenience of pencil and paper. It’s also very refreshing to sit down and draft your projects with nothing but your hands and a few simple tools.

We’d love to hear from you. Do you do your drafting manually or with computer programs? Is there a time and place for each?