The Good/Bad Old Days of Hand Drafting Part II


My last blog entry on hand drafting received more hits than my best previous blog entry by over 120 hits. I thought I was blogging on an arcane art that was esoteric to say the least and would have very little wide spread interest. It was, to my eye, a pretty self indulgent blog entry. I was really surprised in the interest it attracted. So I have decided to do a Part II and go into a little more detail on the tools that were common place in old design offices. I have enlisted the help of my cronie pool over on Cruising Anarchy for this task. I think for them it was fun to dig out the old gear. Thanks Tad, Jose, Sons, Yves-Marie et al.

When I was a kid, probably 1962, I was reading an article about Ted Jones, the hydroplane designer in Seattle, in SEA Magazine. There was a photo of his drafting table with a hydro design laid out. Along the top of the drawing board were these "things". I thought, "What the hell are those?" I could not identify them at all. I was familiar with drafting tools but these funny shapes with little prongs sticking out of them were new to me. They kind of looked like boat hulls, weird boat hulls, so that wasn't it. They looked a bit like whales but that couldn't be right. What the hell are they? I later learned that they were spline weights. Yacht designers call them "pigs", "whales", "ducks" and spline weights. "Ducks" was probably the most common name for them.

ducks.gifThey are usually weigh about 3.5 lbs., made of lead with felt on the bottom with a hooked prong extending out from the end. The prong is designed to fit into the groove in a plastic spline so you can bend the spine to do your bidding and hold it in the desired curve with the ducks. They are tapered in shape so you can better squeeze them together for tight radii. When I was a kid I had a small collection of ship's curves but if I was going to move to the next step of drawing hull lines it was clear that I needed some spline weights. But they were expensive. I worked at a meat market after school so I had some income and I began buying ducks one at a time. It was a bit frustrating. I was feeling like a yacht designer with my small collection of ducks but you need at least ten to really control a long spline. I asked for ducks for Christmas and my folks bought me three more. I eventually bought enough so that they were useful. The plastic splines were relatively cheap and could be bought in various lengths and various stiffnesses. My attraction to ducks continued and having worked so hard to collect them I started buying them up whenever I could find a pile of used ones. I found one group of ducks in a store that sold second hand yacht equipment. I bought two from Boeing Surplus. I even had a few chromed just for fun. I have one duck that belonged to Bill Garden. I have another duck that belonged to Bjarne Aas. When a helper would move on from my office I would trade him a spline weight as a memento.They were important to me. You could not design boats without them and they were a tool almost exclusive to the art/science of yacht design. Today I keep about 6 of them on my drafting table. Paper weights. The rest are in a bucket, lonely and neglected in my garage. With the spline functions of modern computer programs physically bending a spline and fixing it with  carefully placed ducks is a thing of the past. Oh well. One of the problems with ducks was that when I wore a tie to work I would sometimes set a duck in place with my tie clamped under the weight by accident. When I stood up to survey my long curve the tie would pull out, upsetting the duck and tipping it over, leaving a lead divot on the soft mylar. The bad old days.

my eraser.jpgWith all that pencil and ink drawing going on young designers quickly learned that the eraser was an important tool and just as critical as a creative tool as the pencil. I think I must have erased miles of bad sheerlines over the years. You could use the standard Pink Pearl drafting eraser and do it by hand but that got old fast. I used a chordless electric eraser. I named mine "Steely Dan". You'll have to have read NAKED LUNCH to understand that reference. But I thought it appropriate. I went through several electric erasers. I found a certain eraser that was great on ink and others that worked well with pencil. Having the exact right recipe eraser in your machine made a big difference when you spent a good part of the work day erasing.

my planimeter.jpgThe other tool that you can't be without when designing yachts, ships or boats is the planimeter. It measured the area of odd shapes like hull sections. When I was a kid I would make a grid of squares on paper, place it over or under my body plan and then count the squares to see how many square feet were in a particular section. It worked fine but it was slow and not very precise. As time went on I knew I had to find a planimeter. I found one in a pawn shop down on Seattle's seedy 1st Avenue. It was $100 and I managed to come up with the money and buy it. It was German made and a marvel of the machinist's craft. You read the area on a vernier scale. It did take some getting used to but I almost got comfortable with it over time. The orange planimeter you see in the photo above is electric and digital. I thought I was hot shit when I got that, high tech. Fact is it worked great and for years I did my best to wear it out.

See that little green disk next to the planimeter. That is a parallel spacer "template". If you want to draw a cap rail of a constant 1.5" thick on a bulwark you stick your pencil into the appropriate hole in the parallel spacer and drag it along the spline. You get a perfect parallel curved line that way.

See that funny elliptical curve just below my pipe? That is a K+E 1007-8 curve. I used to call it the "egg". That little curve is responsible for the shape of the Valiant 40's stern profile. I could not have worked without that curve. I bought them whenever I saw them to be sure I'd never run out. I still have two very well worn examples.

Above the pipe is an erasing shield. You use this tool to protect the areas you do not want to erase. The erasing shield was indispensable. I had several, still do. But my favorite is gone. Damn!

When we started discussing tools over on CRUISING ANARCHY my buddies started dragging out their old planimeters. I don't recall anyone saying, "Oh, I threw mine away." Most said, "I think I can dig that out." And they did.
jose planimeter.jpg

Tad planimeter.jpg
bob ducks.jpgThis last photo shows some of may various ducks that I collected.
The duck on the far right belonged to Bill Garden. The shiny green one said "747" on it when I bought it at Boeing surplus. The tired looking orange one is one of my very first ducks. I think that rounded one second from the left was made by Paul Bieker and left for me after he did his internship in my office. Tall ducks don't work so well as they are too easy to tip over. The black worn out one third down from the right belonged to Jay Benford, my first boss in a yacht design office.

Maybe I feel sorry for the youngsters that will never know the challenge of lining up their ducks, getting them all in a row to define the perfect sheer or waterline or buttock or diagonal. There was a real hands on sense when you drew with this old stuff. I would hunch over my drafting table and manipulate my planimeter around an immersed section three times and then take the average reading for accuracy. Now you push a button and get the areas, all of them, immediately. But in the old days there was that moment of anticipation when you would read the mysterious vernier scale and hoped you had a reading that looked right. There was a truly visceral connection to the design process.

I miss the aroma of hot ammonia wafting through the office from the old Diazo printing machine. Like hell I do.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Robert Perry published on November 21, 2011 8:25 AM.

The Good/Bad Old Days of Hand Drafting was the previous entry in this blog.

YONI, an unusual design project, an unusual client is the next entry in this blog.

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