• Field Notes 23.12.2009

    It started with mechanical drafting in 7th grade. As Collingdale High School was a combined Jr-Sr high school, seeing the seniors working on house plans suckered me in. My parents bought me a drafting set that Christmas. I wanted nothing else. That’s what I thought architecture was. I learned differently in college, and fell into curtainwall by accident. 

    What was important was the foundation I received about what good drafting is. Mr. Hummel and Mr. Ershaw were great teachers. They taught me the fundamentals:  Correctly laying out the objects, dimensioning them and annotating them for whoever would be using them later –builder, estimator or owner. Creating closed object lines – no openings. Learning to letter cleanly, and being succinct with notes to drawings. All by hand, none of this “click the fillet button, then the dimension icon, then indicate/click the mouse where it needed to be located.”   

    And the drafting foundation carried through after I got out of college and landed my first professional job as a draftsman with a curtainwall subcontractor that did their own design, fabrication and installation. Please don’t tell my wife, but for the first two years in the business, I had personal, intimate relationships (always professional, none of this Tiger Woods business for me) with drafting tools: a parallel bar, triangles (30/60, 45 and adjustable), 2H and 4H lead, drafting powder and brush, a scale, lead holders and pointers, an electric eraser and drafting tape.  And, a calculator to determine what the dimensions really ought to be. Those penciled lines never did have any smart data attached to them, and you couldn’t click on them to put a dimension on a drawing. 

    I developed calluses on my fingers using a lead holder for so long. Not to mention sepias and bluelines. You cannot call yourself a draftsperson until you’ve stood in front of an ammonia powered blueline machine or had to erase the back of a sepia drawing without tearing through the paper, and then go home smelling like that and try to kiss your significant other. And I don’t ever want to go back there ever again. 

    One of the most important lessons I learned was from my first boss, Charlie Morgan. He taught me something I have not forgotten to this day:  That I needed to learn what someone else was trying to teach about how to draw. I had been in the business for all of three months, while he had been doing it for 25 years by that point. I still had some things to learn, and he was interested in teaching me, if I was willing to listen. His question came through loud and clear, although he didn’t put it directly to me. Was I willing to learn? I hope Charlie would say I answered that bell.     

    By definition, shop drawings are used to communicate how the manufacturer will fabricate the material. And, there’s a whole different side to the drawings than just that:  Many other parties will rely on them. Architects will use them to check for compliance with their design intent. Their consultant, when there is one, will check for technical suitability. Purchasing will use them for quantity takeoffs and buying the material. The fabrication department will use them to draw the actual production tickets for the parts for use on the shop floor. Production/manufacturing will review them for reference to assist in figuring out just what exactly it is they are supposed to be machining. General contractors will use them for coordinating the work between the adjacent trades. And, last but not least, the installer will use them to correctly install the work. 

    And we’ve missed some of that coming out of the dark ages, drawing on a board and moving to the electronics of computer-aided drafting. Saying someone is a draftsperson because they know AutoCAD (or equal) is like saying someone is an accountant because they know Excel. Knowledge of the software alone does not make one proficient in the application.

    We’ve forgotten we need to teach drafting. I hope there are drafting courses still out there. The layout, the placements of notes and dimensions and the ability to communicate to all of those parties are what the drawing is all about. My former boss Charlie probably still prefers to this day to draft on a board. He’s an artist when it comes to communicating through paper and pencil. And you can do it in AutoCAD or any other computer drafting system if you have first learned how to communicate what you know through the medium, be it pencil and paper on a board, or a mouse, tablet and computer screen. After all is said and done, they’re just tools. 

    And now the revolution of moving from board to computer screen is taking the next leap – BIM or whatever that may morph into. Having lived through the first revolution, hold on, this is going to be fun! The BIM world will take us to a completely new level. There will be old guys who won’t want to move away from what they have done in the past, and there will always be some young upstart who thinks he can do it better.

    To the old guys:  Pass on what you know. Just remember those guys who taught it to you will haunt you unless you pass it on. To the younger set, find an old guy and see what he can teach you. You might be surprised. Just keep an open mind. 

    When I was in 7th grade, drafting on a computer wasn’t even close to being a reality. I never knew I’d be using a computer to draw, and I would NOT go back to a board for all the money in the world. See, us old folks can still learn some things … I learned that when I was still young, so we will listen when the next wave comes, be it BIM, or whatever takes its place. Some things we don’t forget too easily. And say thanks to all the Charlie Morgans of the world. They are the foundation on which all of us have built.

    One final thought:  Merry Christmas! Hopefully your holidays will be filled with family, friends, great memories, peace and joy. And remember the people out there making sure we can enjoy it – those who are sacrificing their time away from their loved ones. In our home this year, for the first time in two generations, it’s Go Navy!!! Remember the reason for the season!

    Posted by Blogger @ 8:57 am

  • 3 Responses

    • Happy New year Chuck and all readers,
      I agree with all you say, the advancement we have made with computers visual aids etc is amazing. Tell me the truth….do you still have a slide rule hidden away in the bottom of a drawer? and why haven’t you (or me) thrown it away?

      Another question……why can’t we trust the CAD we get??? When it comes to finishing work, entranceways, railings and the cool, cool neat fancy stuff, why do we have to “field measure” to “confirm the accuracy of the drawings”

      25 years ago I would personally supervise the physical QA as glass and metal and various supplies being crated to get a job started out pf paranoia, to make sure a “slipped pen” doesn’t leave a dozen guys playing cards in a foreign country waiting on a “Solution” while costs and time pressures quickly rise.

      One would think that today this would no longer be nescessary. No one is perfect, that is why we build redundancy into our operations (when nescessary) to assure up front a job starts well. Local jobs can be handled with a little more flexibility depending on time constraints and glass availability etc.

      Can you or any of your colleagues give me a little hope that the more knowlege we gain, the better info we get and the “more time we get on a job” that we can get away from physicaly confirming everything before ordering materials actually starting doing work, and all the related pressures brought to us and all our vendors. It seems to work on the repititious stuff, just get a little tired of hearing “site conditions may cause variations”. There were still “site variations” back then and we got it right – most of the time – is there any hope out there?????
      Jim Fairley

    • Answers to your questions:

      1. Yes, I had to take a one-credit slide rule class my first semester at an engineering school before I wised up and transferred to architecture. I still have that slide rule — it’s on my desk, as a matter of fact. I’d like to put it in a glass frame with a label that says, “Break Open In Case of Power Failure.”

      2. Trusting CAD? I don’t think it’s a question about trusting cad; it’s more a question about the adjacent trades building the surrounding conditions to the dimensions shown on the shops. This need to fab from field dimensions seems to go away the second the schedule comes into discussion. Most fabricators like to build from approved shop drawings. If made to wait until the surrounding conditions are up, then take field measurements, then start fabricating, the project’s looking at 6-8-10-12 week lead times for material to arrive on site. That’s just metal, and probably more time for glass, depending on whether or not it’s coated. Not many jobs can wait that long.

      2.a. Gotta believe too many people have been burned by fabricating from approved shops. All it takes to get around that is an up front discussion with GC and a little more diligence insisting that opening dimensions be first communicated to the surrounding trades. Then it has to be done that way, and someone corrects it when it’s not. As the expression goes, “most crap (not the original wording) rolls downhill.” The glazing sub, being the last trade in, has to atone for the sins (and mistakes) for all that have gone before. And that’s when the “fab from field dimension” folks get their experience insisting it be done that way.

      It’s a vicious cycle. As always, a little upfront planning, good job startup with the GC and through the GC with the adjacent trades WILL (not maybe, should, or could, but WILL) go a long way to doing it as close to the paper / CAD model better than any alternative I know. And then, when it doesn’t fit, it’s not the glazing sub’s fault that it went south. Or it shouldn’t be.

    • very reassuring reply, and more to the point…on th emoney.
      The tools are there, better than ever before, as is the education and vendor support. So it would seem to me that the GC’s or one part of their process, decides OK is good enough, followed by another who says not too bd, still good enough….all theway down to the last man standing. It is good to be in agreement on this one. Unfortunately, by accepting OK as a Quality Standard, us poor guys get hurt, or hold off for the pain when the job starts running late (finishing touches) and the finger pointing is at everyone except theguys who started the mess and are long gone.
      No easy answer here, I guess I was spoiled by the stricter view taken of quality in Europe.
      Thanks for reading and replying, that in itself is a good sign.
      Have a happy, happy and accurate upcoming year.
      Jim and his crew….slangevar…..keep up the good work,

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