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JOEL Joel's Blog

Upside Down But Not Wrong


Upside Down But Not Wrong 1

We just got an email from a customer who had purchased one of our Gramercy Tools drafting rules. He loved the rule but he noticed that the numbers and letters were upside down. We checked. He was right. As you can see in the picture above, the old Starrett 400 (the inspiration for our drafting rule) also has the letters right side too with the bevel up. Ours has the letters right side too with the cove down. How is it, we asked ourselves, that no one - especially us, who use the rule all the time - noticed this before? And why did our testers like the rule as developed? Was it a non-issue? Did we miss something important? Or was it a very clever accident?

Back to basics.

Drawing when using a drafting table
Drawing when using a drafting table

In the old days, people had drafting tables with tilted tops, so that when a person measured something they looked down upon it. More precisely, they looked down at the top edge of the ruler that was below whatever they were drawing or measuring. So having the beveled edge of a tradition drafting rule up, and the letters and numbers right side to, in that direction made sense.

When we prototyped the rules, and spent months using them - and liked them better than our other rules - and nobody muttered a peep about this. I think - and this is twenty-twenty hindsight - that the reason why no one mentioned the direction issue is because we do a lot of drafting and measuring but we don't do it in the traditional manner. Let me explain. Most of our new designs and serious plans are done electronically using Fusion360, a modern 3D drafting tool that has excellent built-in manufacturing aids. We still need to do a lot of drawing, measuring of parts, marking up blueprints, and thinking graphically. When we draw by hand, we are doing it on flat desks, not the traditional tilted drafting table. Kris, the principal designer on this project, has his computers on one desk and the only traditional drafting table behind him. But he doesn't really use it. He draws and measures on his regular desktop because it is where his monitors are. And this is where modern drafting technique takes place.

In the first drawing, the drafts-person with a tilted drafting table is looking down at the rule from the top. But if they were sitting at a flat desk, the top edge of the rule is pointed away from them where they would not be able to easily see where they were drawing. Sure, you could bend forward and look, but it is far easier and usual to use the bottom edge of the ruler because that edge is towards you and not in shadow. So that's what we do. Not intentionally, but naturally, by accident. Even with the thinner edge of a cove you would need to see where the rule actually meets the paper so that you could measure accurately and draw your lines in exactly the right place.

Drawing on a level table
Drawing on a level table

So having the ruler with the cove edge on the bottom is actually easier to use and see if you are not using a traditional drafting setup. And this is one reason why we liked the ruler so much. The feel in hand, the double cove for picking the rule up, the easy-to-read letters are of course important factors in our enjoyment of the rule. Orienting the rule for drawing on the bottom edge seems natural in a way we didn't even realize until we were told we were doing it all wrong. We are of course doing it all wrong, but it works better this way in the post tilted drafting table world.

You can learn more about the Gramercy Tools drafting rules here

Join the conversation
03/29/2022 Jim Galvin
My Starrett No. 400 rule has a different layout the numbers go from left to right but the bevel is on the bottom not the top.
03/29/2022 John Gunn
The current drawing/design techniques that you and your team are using leave out one additional "traditional" drafting tool that is a workhorse on the tilting draft table: the T-square. The reason why the cove of a traditional drafting ruler is on the opposite side of the observer is because the near side would be resting against the "top" edge of the T-square. But this assumes that one is drafting in the traditional manner on a tilting table with a T-square. Those days are pretty well gone thanks to the availability of Fusion 360 and/or SketchUp.
Of course you are right - I forgot about the t-square or drafting machine. But my point is still the same - these days we don't have any of that gadgetry but we measure and annotate all the time. On a flat surface and the upside down rule makes more sense.

I didn't look into all the permutations of the 400. So obviously our need today for an upside down rule isn't as new and shocking as I thought. I feel strangly mainstream right now.
03/29/2022 Michael W.O’Brien
Since I had not seen a vintage Starrett rule before this recent blog, your new version with the cove toward me, made perfect sense in use as that configuration best visualizes the measuring increments facing the user on a flat Benchtop. And it made aligning a pencil or marking knife precisely quite easy. I do appreciate your explanation of the old and the new rules.
03/29/2022 Robert Groh
Ignoring all the questions about manual drafting(although the comments are dead on - on a table you typically put your ruler ON TOP of the T-square etc and you absolutely want the bevel up and the markings also up), I find that when I am using a ruler to measure on a piece of wood, etc that I want the 'bevel up' and the dimensions on the high side of the ruler. And I would also like the 'zero' to be on the left. Why? Visibility! I am usually above my work and #1) I don't want the marks hidden by the ruler.
03/29/2022 Jeremy Wright
Great analysis. It is amazing how seamless life is when you have a tool that "just works" yet as you point out so often we instead find frustration with tools because the designer was not a user, didn't expect a potential chain reaction, wanted to put a unique spin, using it beyond it's scope, was making something "like" another, or account for LH/RH use. It can be so annoying in a subconscious way that is often hard to put your finger on what's wrong. This post reminds us of things good designers take into consideration.
03/29/2022 Brad White
YES! Finally. I started my career on the tilted drafting tables in the late 1970's and even then, tilted, it always made sense to have the scale on the bottom, closer to me, then up and over the top. I asked Oregon Rule to consider this and they ignored it. I thought it was just me being picky. Thanks for the validation (and vindication), Joel.
03/29/2022 BRad
Curious, what is that book in the background? It looks like something electrical?
03/29/2022 Richard Prima
You got it right! As an engineer who grew up with drafting tables, etc. (and really don't do CAD), and a lefty, I like your rules just fine.
03/29/2022 joel moskowitz
The book in the background is "Engineering Drawing" by French - the greatest book on drafting ever written (your edition might vary but they are all great)
03/29/2022 Geir Jonsson
For me it works best bevel up because it is easier to draw a line with my right hand without my left hand getting in the way. Without thinking about it I was doing that, putting the zero on my right, instead of the left.
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.