Full Chisel Blog

July 25, 2013

Philosophical Instruments: Drawing Machine

This one has been on the list for a long time, so it was nice to finally build this ancient, archaic and obscure ‘Drawing Machine’ as Leonardo named his drawing.  There are several woodcuts by Durer showing a similar device and this particular design comes from a British movie ‘The Draughtman’s Contract’, which I saw years ago and inspired me to build this one.  I can’t remember much of the movie but I do remember the instrument.

drawing machine

It is constructed of pine with waxed linen cordage, it is portable and comes apart for transportation.  It also has a threaded insert for attaching to a tripod.  I appologize for the modern tripod, a wooden one is also on my list, which doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter.

The framework is joined with open mortice and tenons at the corners, glued together with Fish Glue.  I carefully laid out where the cords whould be in 1″ grid based on an 8 1/2″ by 11″ piece of paper.  I drilled the holes from both sides to insure proper placement and knowing the small drill bit may wander.

The base holds the large frame and a holder for the small cross hair frame aperature, which is adjustable up and down depending on whether the large frame is ‘portrait’ or ‘landscape’.

drawing machine1

I also made a stencil using a ponce wheel, that matches the grid on the large frame.  A linen bag with some powdered charcoal leaves a grid on the paper when the bag is rubbed over the stencil, which can be used again and again.

My first attempt at using the drawing machine, it takes a little getting use to, but it gets easier.

drawing machine2

Fun project, I still have a bit more refining to do and a bit of embellishment, not sure when I will make the tripod.

Durer woodcut:




  1. Cool idea. But for those of us who’ve never heard of a drawing machine, how exactly does it work?

    Comment by Joe Cottonwood — July 28, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  2. Joe,
    Sorry for the confusion, the term drawing machine is a little odd but that is what Leonardo called the contraption. I added the Durer woodcut to show it in use.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 29, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  3. Fascinating. Perhaps once you’ve ironed out the kinks of construction and use, you could sell plans and instructions.

    It’s not immediately clear to me what the small crosshairs add in this situation. Is it just the center the observer? It seems the crosshairs would introduce parallax issues.

    Comment by Chuck Nickerson — July 30, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  4. Chuck,
    I have worked out the construction details and the plans are in the works. Do you want to order the first set when they are done?
    As for the crosshairs in the small frame, merely a focal point to line up with the front grid. They can be adjusted to make both parallel and square to each other. I don’t think parallax is an issue as it is with a camera obscura, camera lucida or photographic camera. I will even include in the plans a pivot that allows the draughtsman to skew the image, like the skull trick in a Rembrandt{?} painting.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — August 5, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  5. Thats the Holbein painting

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — August 5, 2013 @ 9:51 am

  6. That would be a big YES to ordering the first set.
    (I’ve been on vacation learning to carve.)

    Comment by Chuck Nickerson — August 16, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

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