by Bill Long
You’ve seen them, I’m sure. A broad, wide tabletop tilted at a comfortable work angle. They’re usually taller than ordinary tables, either stool height or a comfortable height to stand in front of. A good drafting table is an elegant, useful and often very beautiful piece of furniture.
Drafting tables were the original ergonomic worktable. Many a Victorian gentleman had a beautiful brass-trimmed oak-drafting table in his study or library. It was fully adjustable so that he could work either sitting or standing, and he could adjust the table top from vertical to horizontal and any comfortable working angle in between.
During the post World War II years, drafting tables moved from the gentleman’s library to the architect or draftsman’s workroom. Drafting tables were lighter and more portable; many were designed with frames that came apart for easy transport. The oak frames were replaced with steel, and systems of linkages and clutches, counterweights and foot pedals were added to make it easier to adjust them.
Later, drafting tables became motorized. Although this added weight and made them less portable again, it made adjusting the table a breeze. Different people could easily use the same table because it was easier to adjust.
Modern drafting tables are sleek steel framed tables, usually with a cleanable vinyl cover. They have built in parallel rulers, protractors and precalibrated scales. You can find a new drafting table to meet any need—some are constructed for handicap accessibility and some are computer compatible to combine CAD with old-fashioned hand drafting. You can even get drafting tables with built-in light boxes for tracing work.
Even though CAD and other computerized drawing programs have largely replaced drafting, many professionals still like to use a drafting table. Designers, architects and artists often edit computerized copy by hand. This gives them copyright protection, since it is difficult to copy or alter hand drawn edits.
A drafting table is still a great ergonomic choice, too. It allows you to sit comfortably and keep your back straight, preventing aching and tight muscles from working for a long time with incorrect posture.
If you decide to purchase a drafting table, there are a few things to watch for. First of all, it is a big piece of furniture, so make sure you have the room for it.
If your preference is for a beautiful old oak and brass antique drafting table, make sure your floors will hold the weight. Some of these lovely old fellows are very heavy.
If you’re looking for something lighter and more portable, you can find many mid-century and newer models that will fit your needs. One word of caution: if you buy an older drafting table with pulleys and counterweights, make sure it has the original table top. Sometimes the tabletops were replaced with a smaller top because they took up so much space. Unfortunately, the weight of the smaller top doesn’t counterbalance the weights, and the top can flip up suddenly and hurt you.
Modern drafting tables are available made from every material and in every style imaginable. Motorized drafting tables are nearly as heavy as their Victorian counterparts, but are very versatile.
Who uses drafting tables these days? Artistic type professionals like designers; architects and graphic artists still prefer the broad work surface and adjustable top. They are perfect for storyboarding and laying out copy. Cartographers like to use a drafting table when drawing maps. They’re great for sewing, because you can spread your fabric out better than on a regular table. You can even use your drafting table for extra seating at Thanksgiving dinner.
Drafting tables are still elegant and useful. The mechanics and materials have changed through the years, but the basic principles have not. A broad, wide, tilting table top and adjustable table height still make a drafting table a great furniture choice.