mark making H. Kurzke
mark making H. Kurzke using a plastic nip on a compass and different inks

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that in the past weeks I have been having a love affair with drafting tools. In a way it started when I read that blog post about dividers that went kind of viral in the bookbinding community a couple of months ago. After having read about dividers, I went to find my box of drafting tools that I used in school. It is an interesting box with a variety of tool that I never used. In school we used the compass whith the lead tip attached and were told once in Geography how it could be used together with the scale on a map to measure distances – but we never used them, instead we would use our rulers for measuring. The box, however, contains a few additional items:

old school set
My School Drafting Set

Some things are easy to identify: There is the pair of dividers, a compass with a screw in the middle and a lead attached. There is a small round box with a screw top which contains spare leads (it still does), an eraser, a sharpener for the lead – which is really neat. One of the arms of the compass lets you attach different things. For example, the lead could be exchanged for the needle which then gives you two dividers. At least I guess that this is what the needle is for. – Curiously it is different from the other needles already attached and doesn’t have the characteristic slot that goes over the screw in the arm.

If this is what the needle is for, then this leaves only these two black plastic things to identify: The one in the middle in the photo with the screw can also be attached to the compass. It is the tip of a ruling pen, which then allows you to draw circles in ink. I can’t remember when I learned about that. I guess I already asked in school, or maybe I read about it when I first learned a bit calligraphy. Searching the internet for the right word to use for this kind of nip I came across a considerable amount of entries where people guessed it was some kind of tweezers that would allow to hold another lead or something else.

About the remaining plastic thingie: I do remember that it baffled me as a kid. I tried to attach it to the compass which doesn’t work. I also tried to fill the riffles with ink, resulting in a big splash of ink everywhere on my desk. This all, including the smell of the ink soaked wooden desk came back to me in a flash the moment I found the box and felt this frustrated curiosity/fascination for that thing in my box again. Only now it was pretty obvious what it is: It is a handle! It can hold either the ruling nip or the lead which is helpful especially for the nip (instead of a lead it is really just easier to use a pencil) and turns it into a ruling pen. Really useful and neat. I already ordered a selection of more ruling pens, but more about that in a minute, or maybe rather in a new blogpost about ruling pens… Best you let me know in the comment section whether you would like to know more about them (and take a look at my selection) in the comment section. This blogpost is already very long, probably too long to read for most. So congratulations if you read this setence 😉

stage 1
square, octagon, hexadecagon, circle

Playing around with different constructions, I got frustrated with my school set pretty soon: The compass is too worn out, the connection of the arms wonky, the screw too loose, and circles don’t really come out round from the tip of the arm wobbling around. So for a first batch of geometric constructions (one above, a few more on ipernity, most in the bin by now) I used another compass from M.’s set which worked well. But it didn’t allow for an ink nip to be attached.

Nevertheless I was experimenting with the one from my box, and was soon dreaming of a better nip: Considering that it is made from plastic, and has rough bits on the perimeter it works surpisingly well. But I imagined how the joy of using it would be multiplied if I had a decent smooth one. It took me just one day until I decided to buy more drafting tools.

So here are the contents of my new (grown up) drafting box:

new tools
My New Drafting Set

Oh, I love these new tools, I really do, and I feel silly and just a tad crazy for the joy I feel while looking at the photo. But look how steam-punk beautiful those compasses are! I am totally enarmoured with the one on the left in the top row. It makes rather small circles but fit perfectly in my hands, and the attachment to the arm that makes it easy to switch between a lead and a nip looks brilliant and works perfectly.
The next one, in the middle, may look a little weird. It is for to make really, really small circles, the tip of the pen(cil) and the needle can touch each other, and you can still make a perfect circle.
The rest of the box pretty much coincides with my box from back then: The thing on the top right is easily identified as a pair of dividers, and on the bottom another compass with a lead attached and an arm which makes it easy to swap the lead to the ruling pen’s nib also contained (middle top). There is another of those handles to which the nib can be attached, a box with spare leads, and on the very left there is an arm extension.

But there is more:

new pens
New Technical Pens

I also bought a box with technical pens. Now these are really interesting in itself, but I guess I rather spare that for another blog post (if you are interested at all). It just needs to be said that they are not fine liners with a felt tip, and they write with actual ink which comes in cartridges (spare ones can be seen in the picture, apparently providing spare ink and leads is an important selling point). Interesting here is the small clear plastic ring that can be seen on the bottom top of the 0.2mm pen: The pencs can be screwed into it, and the metal end goes into the arm of the compass – and then I can draw circles with ink with these technical pens. Very, very neat and gives beautiful results.

Well, so with all these tools I have been playing around. I uploaded many of my trials to an ipernity album for you to browse if you are interested. I am going to show you here a couple of different things I tried. This first one I made with the new tools and pens: Very simple, just trying different things:

trying out my ruling pen and the nib on the compass

The main question soon became: What do I want to draw, now that I have the tools? And what do I want to do with the resulting images? Two or three general things to draw immediately came to mind: Euklidian constructions (regular polygons), technical constructions, architecture. I started out with architecture. The idea was to begin with a simple structure and then add geometric elements and colours on top. Literally, because by now the tracing paper that I order had also reached me:

Layer 3, H. Kurzke

Layer 1, H. Kurzke

This are two “takes” from one of my experiments from the architectural series: On the left you see the base image, on the right three layers stacked on top. (It has been pointed out to me that the visible tape in the scans is distracting, and I agree. I cannot do much about them in these scans, but I tried to remember for other scans.)

A not very inspired very first trial at technical drawing, showing the box for 346 I am currently working on:

Box Construction for “346”, H. Kurzke

And finally – and this is the idea I currently like best, even thought the images I am going to show you are not yet as clean and perfect as I would like them: Geometric construction. I call this series “Arithmetic for the Visually Inclined”:

24polygon combined
upper left: 6=2*3, upper right: 12=2*6=4*3, lower left: 24=2*12=4*6=…, lower right 4 hexagons coloured in.

I guess I don’t have to say anything about the content of these images, but I am very happy to explain more if needed.

I dislike the specific writing in these images (although I like the square pattern in the corner, I might add it randomly here or there, hihi), and the colouring in the last layer just doesn’t work. It was supposed to better show the four hexagons that make up the hexadecagon. However, the paper warps too much under the moisture, and although I thought I thinned the ink quite a bit, the colours are still too opaque and nothing really is left of the image. But I hope the idea is pleasant. I am going try some more in that direction.

If you are interested in more, you can find it in my ipernity album as mentioned several times now. And I have not forgotten that while writing this blogpost I offered more information on ruling pens and on the technical pens. It would be helpful if you let me know whether you are interested at all. And of course feedback on my trials are more than welcome.

4 replies on “Drafting, New Tools, and Arithmetic for the Visually Inclined”

  1. I would be very interested in information about your pens and tools. I just cleaned three Rapidograph pens that have had ink sitting in them for 3 years and they now work like a charm. Today I spent several hours trying out all of my drawing tools and inks: Rapidograph, nib pens, Sumi brushes, bamboo sticks, my favorite Lamy fountain pen, and some custom made ink pens. I have many of the drafting tools and you’ve inspired me to try them out. I especially like that I could attach a technical pen to a compass. Please, more!
    Michele (from the California Redwoods and a friend of Ellen’s)

    1. Hello Michele,

      thanks for your comment. I think I remember Ellen once mentioned you as a math instructor (or something similar)? Glad to hear this rambling could make a difference for you! Your collection sounds impressive. As I am a complete novice to rapidograph pens, you probably know more about them than I do, having cleaned yours. My knowledge is more theoretical at this point.
      Your list of drawing tools sounds indeed interesting and is giving me some ideas, mhm, combining the formal drafting tools with sumi calligraphy sounds like it could end up in something beautiful and surprising. Unfortunately that is not something I seem to be good at sumi, or at least it is something I never really practised… But it is always good to consider all options. Mhm…

      1. How funny! As I was reading this (before reaching the comments), I was thinking how I must send Michele the link to this post in case she hasn’t seen it yet!

        Even though I’m not a former mathematician, unlike the two of you, I do like to see how different tools are used, and I find geometric constructions interesting. I look forward to seeing more! In terms of tools, I’d especially like to know more about ruling pens… But anything you want to share is good!

  2. Lovely, lovely tools! Back when I was studying my bookbinding degree we used those ruling tips to fill blind tooled lines with glaire before doing the gold tooling. So much quicker than using a fine brush!

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