Technical Graphics - The Basics - Equipment

Here we will look at some of the Equipment you may be using in Technical Graphics. Some of this Equipment will be provided by the school you are in and some you might have to buy yourself. Not all of it is necessary to become a good draughtsperson but you will find a lot of it helps with efficiency or with how you solve more complicated problems. Every possible piece of, or type of, equipment is not included but you should get the idea of what is required. Money is mentioned quite a bit and from my experience spending an extra few Euro to get a bit better equipment works out as a saving in the long run.

The Drawing Board

A vital part of your kit will be a good surface to do your drawings on. In school you will most likely have the use of a Drawing Table similar to the one you can see to the left. The surface should be smooth and clean.

This table has an angle of approximately 10° which makes drawing more comfortable and is better than trying to draw on something that is flat. The downside to this is that your pencil will roll off if you don't orient it correctly. You can get tables with a bottom lip or groove at the top to help prevent this.

The half-table underneath is ideal for storing equipment, paper or books you might need. The front section is missing so that you can get your knees under the table and yourself closer to the drawing.

The standard school drawing table is about 600mm deep and 650mm wide to accommodate A2 size paper. (More about paper later).

You are unlikely to have a table like this at home but you can fashion something similar with a bit of imagination. A simple board of about 350mm by 500mm will suffice for anything you need at Junior Cycle level. It should have a relatively hard upper surface. An MDF board would do but MDF is a little soft. A board with a Melamine or plastic veneer would be better. Screw or glue a couple of wedges under the far side of the board to tilt it to an angle that suits you and you are ready to go.

Alternatively you could buy a drawing table, but this is unnecessary. A simple Google search will show you what is available and how much you could pay. (Some Drawing Tables look like they could do the drawings themselves !)

Paper & Folders

So now that we have a board or table to draw on, we need paper. No bother I hear you say, 'paper is easy to find'. Well paper is easy to find but you need the right type and size to do high quality drawings.

Your school will provide this paper but you can buy some at most office supply or art and crafts shops.

Firstly let's deal with the size of paper you need. For Junior Cycle you will need A3 sized paper, at least, and for Senior Cycle you'll need A2. What's this A3 and A2 you ask. Well ISO 216, (International Standards Organisation), designates specific sizes that paper should be manufactured in. The table below shows the sizes from A0 to A4. You should be familiar with the A4 size as it is the standard hard back notebook size. An A3 page is the same size as 2 A4 pages stuck together along their long edge. An A2 page is twice the size of an A3 page and this continues up to A0, the largest standard size.

The paper should have a weight of about 100gsm, (grams per meter). Photocopy paper, at about 70gsm if fine for drawing on but a little light weight. It will tear or fold a bit too easily, so paper that is a bit thicker is more desirable. The paper should have a smooth texture but not glossy and it should be white.

You will also want somewhere to store your drawings and to help transport them and keep them flat. For that you will need a Document Folder or Wallet. A cardboard one is fine but if it gets wet it won't keep the water out. Plastic ones are pretty cheap nowadays and so might be a better solution. You will probably have to buy one of these yourself but they don't cost a lot and will keep your drawings in good condition.

ISO 216 Standard Paper Sizes (mm)
A0 841 x 1189
A1 594 x 841
A2 420 x 594
A3 297 x 420
A4 210 x 297

Clips or Tape

So now that we have a board and paper to put on it, we need a way of attaching the paper to the board so that it doesn't move while we draw, which leads to the great debate raging throughout Technical Graphics classrooms across the country .... Whether to use Clips or Tape.

You will often be provided with one of these two options in schools but not always and you might prefer what is not on offer to what is. Neither are expensive and they are handy to have for work you might have to do at home.

My personal favourite are the Clips as they are very quick to put on and hold the page firmly to the board. They do have one big disadvantage though ... they will, when you least expect it, try to murder your fingers. It is a painful experience when a clip snaps on your finger but all in all I think it's worth the risk.

Tape is also very effective, to be honest and is used by a lot of people. If you choose the tape option be careful to select tape that will stick to the table and paper properly but also allow you to peel it off the paper without ripping it. It is not fun when you spend hours on a drawing and when removing the tape you tear a corner or two off the page.


From when I started drawing in first year until now, I have spent more money on my Pencils than any other piece of equipment, by far. They are an extension of your hand and the importance of finding the right pencil for you cannot be overstated. Your school may or may not provide pencils for you to use but if you are going to take Technical Graphics seriously and if you enjoy it you will want your own.

The two important factors for the style of pencil you choose are it's feel or comfort when you are using it and it's weight in your hand. As you spend more time drawing and develop your skill levels you will understand better the importance of these factors and what they mean to you personally. Starting out, as you probably are now, you don't need to worry so much about this but you will start to understand as you progress.

You are going to need two pencils at least. One for doing light layout and construction lines and a second to produce darker and thicker outlines.

Firstly we will look at the main type of pencils available and then we will look at the type of pencil lead you need. Finally we will talk about Colouring Pencils.

Types of Pencil

Wooden Pencil

The traditional wooden pencil will most likely be the first type of pencil that you use. It is made of wood with an inner lead core. You use a pencil sharpener or blade to sharpen the tip to the desired shape.

The cheap generic pencils you can buy in your local shop will do in an emergency but you should get a good quality pencil. The wood will pare better when you are sharpening it and the lead is not likely to be broken. So a quality pencil may cost twice as much but it will last a lot longer and be less frustrating to sharpen.

The outer wood is usually hexagonal or round in shape. Use whichever you find most comfortable. You can also buy silicon or rubber Grip Holders to increase comfort levels.

If the pencil becomes too short, stop using it and move on to a fresh one. The older short pencils can be used for other purposes such as shading or even in other subjects.



Mechanical Pencil

As your skill levels improve and you know more about what you like, you may wish to move to a more precise and configurable type of pencil. This is where the Mechanical Pencil comes in. Again money counts here and the more expensive Mechanical Pencils tend to be a fair bit better.

The Mechanical Pencil is a bit like a pen in form. It has a button top which is used to extend the lead a fixed amount every time you press on it. The button is removed to insert fresh or spare leads into the body of the pencil. The body is made from metal or plastic or a combination of both.

At the writing end you have a tip out of which the lead extends. Be careful not to damage this tip or the pencil becomes useless. Also losing the button cover can be problematic.

Mechanical Pencils come in a variety of tip sizes from 0.2mm up to 0.9mm. As stated earlier you will need two pencils. For light construction lines you should go for around a 0.5mm tip and for outlining you should get a 0.9mm tip. Those sizes will see you through your schooling and even to third level if you choose to go there. You can buy lead refill packs and they are not expensive.

The great advantage of the Mechanical Pencil is there is no paring away of wood and the tip of the lead is always sharp.

Clutch Pencil

Clutch Pencils are a bit of a cross between a Wooden Pencil and a Mechanical Pencil. They tend to be of heavier construction than a Mechanical Pencil and have a 'normal' lead diameter like a Wooden Pencil.

People who do Technical Drawing do not tend to use them as much as Mechanical Pencils but they still have their uses.

Lead refill packs can be bought and they last a long time. Some Clutch Pencils have a sharpener built into the button top to sharpen the lead and others supply a specialty sharpener as you can see to the right.

A Clutch Pencil differs from a Mechanical Pencil in that when you press the button on top the lead is totally released allowing you to extend the lead as far as you want. On releasing the button the lead is gripped again at the length you desire.



Pencil Lead

Pencil Lead is not actually made from the metal Lead, but from a mix of graphite, (a form of Carbon), and clay. The reason we call it 'lead' is historical and dates back to the 16th Century. Back then a pure graphite mine was discovered in England and at the time the people thought it was black lead and so they called it plumbago, the Latin for Lead Ore. And the name has stuck ever since. In Irish we call a pencil a 'peann luadhie', (pronounced 'peown louis'), which literally translates to 'lead pen'.

Lead, (I'm still going to call it lead), comes in a variety of hardness grades from 9H, the hardest, to 9B, the softest. HB in the middle and the very similar F are the grades that normal everyday pencils come in. As you start Technical Graphics you will need a 2H pencil for construction and layout lines and a HB for heavier outlines. As your skill levels increase you will probably move to slightly harder pencil leads, maybe to a 4H for construction and an F for outlining.

The darker or softer leads are usually used by artists for sketching and shading but you may also use them for shading which you will learn more about when you get to freehand sketching.

The refills for Mechanical Pencils come in different diameters as stated previously. Make sure to buy the right size refill for your pencil tip size in whatever hardness you want. So you want something like a 0.5mm 2H and a 0.9mm HB.



Colouring Pencils


Colouring pencils are not an essential at this stage but you will probably want to get some later, most likely when you get to freehand sketching.

Again spending a bit more money to get high quality colouring pencils is very worth it for the same reasons as before.

FInally, you will need a pencil case to hold your pencils in along with other similarly sized tools, such as a Compass, Eraser and Sharpener. Get a hard case as opposed to a soft one as it will protect your equipment from accidental falls. They are also easier to clean out.


If you are using Wooden Pencils then a Sharpener or Pencil Parer is an essential piece of your equipment. Again a good one, which may cost a little more, (I know, I hate going on about money as well, believe me), is well worth it in the long run. The more expensive types tend to have harder steel for the blade resulting in the blade staying good and sharp for a lot longer. The blade also stays in it's correct position better.

If you are suing a Mechanical Pencil then you won't need a Sharpener. For a Clutch Pencil it usually comes with it's own little lead parer.

When using a Sharpener keep it well away from your page as you don't want graphite flakes getting on your drawing and smudging. Sometimes after sharpening the tip of your pencil it might be a little jagged and tend to tear the paper. Get a scrap piece of paper and scribble on it a little to take the jagged point off the tip of your pencil.



We all make mistakes when we are drawing and we can't just scribble over them, we need to make them go away, both for the appearance of the drawing and so that we can claim that we actually don't make mistakes. For this we need an Eraser or as it is often called a 'Rubber'.

There are so many different types of Eraser out there that we couldn't cover them all. The Eraser that you find on the end of generic pencils isn't really good enough and it won't last long either. It tends to be too rough and will scrub the paper as well as erase pencil marks.

You will want to find an Eraser that you like using, rubs out your pencil marks without damaging the paper and is easy to keep clean. A lot of people don't consider keeping their Eraser clean but doing so will help reduce smudging and result in cleaner nicer drawings. Keep your eraser clean by rubbing any graphite on it off on another piece of scrap paper.

Also remember to brush or blow off the rubber remains from your page before you continue. Eraser dust getting caught under Set Squares or your T-Square or even your page will reduce the quality of your workmanship.

The T-Square

Your school will provide you with a T-Square but you normally wouldn't be allowed to take it home. T-Squares generally come manufactured from wood, plastic or metal. Some come with graduations marked on them so be careful to get one with the right measuring system, (Metric here in Ireland). Your T-Square doesn't need to have markings so don't worry about that feature. It is of limited use anyway.

The Wooden T-Square you can see to the right can only be placed on the left hand side of your Drawing Board. You draw on the top edge of the Blade and the bottom edge has a slight angle. This can be a little off putting for left handed writers at the start but you very quickly become used to it. Always make sure that the Head of the T-Square is flush against the edge of your Drawing Board before you use it.

You will use your T-Square for 3 main purposes. To align your page before you start drawing, To draw horizontal lines and to support your Set Squares when you are using them.

Take care of your T-Square. You will want to clean the underside regularly so that no dirt or debris gets caught under it and rubbed into your page. You also want to prevent the top of the Blade from getting damaged with knicks or dents as this will prevent you from drawing clean lines. Finally the Head and the Blade need to be at 90° to each other for the T-Square to work effectively. Dropping it on the floor or banging it off other people can change the angle.


Set Squares

We will look at Set Squares in more detail on another page, but for now, know that you will need two. They are the 45° and 60/30° Set Squares. As always spending a bit more money to get a good quality Set Square is worth it in the long run. It is quite likely that your school will provide these for you for use in school but you won't be allowed to bring them home. I always preferred to have my own because I couldn't rely on the school ones to be clean or knick free.

The Set Squares that you get in a mathematical set are not big enough most of the time but there would be no harm in having them handy anyway. You will need a set where the measuring edge is at least 20cm long, and I have always found that longer is better.

Take care of your Set Squares, keep them clean and don't let the edges get knicked or damaged. You will end up using all edges, even the ones that do not have measurements on them. Letting them fall to the ground is a good way to break the corners. Transparent or translucent Set Squares are better than opaque ones as you will want to see what is under your Set Square a lot of the time.

Finally make sure that, if you buy your own set, they have Metric markings on them. Some come with both Metric and Imperial markings and that is fine too.

The Protractor

While the Set Squares will allow you to draw lines at a variety of angles they don't provide the range you are going to need. In order to draw any angle you are going to need a Protractor. A Protractor is used to both create angles and to measure angles. We will look at how you use it on it's own dedicated page later.

The Half-Circle Protractor you can get in a mathematical set is fine and will serve you well for Junior Cycle. It is usually made of cheap plastic so you will want to take good care of it as it will break easily. Getting a larger or more robust Protractor is no harm though and you won't regret it. You can also get Full-Circle Protractors and they are handy but you won't need one.

Again, make sure to keep it clean and free from damage. Also, if you do buy one, make sure it is graduated in degrees, not radians or you will have a lot of maths in your future.

The Compass

The last piece of Equipment that you will definably need is a Compass. You are probably familiar with the type of Compass you get in your mathematical set, where you lock your pencil in one side to draw a circle, but you are going to want a much better one for Technical Graphics.

The type of Compass you want is called a Bow Compass, like the one you see to the left. It should be made of metal and it has a screw in the middle to allow you to finely adjust the distance between the point and the lead end.

You can spend a lot of money on a very good Compass set, (which might include a Bow Compass, a smaller Bow Compass, extension arms, a Dividers, lead sharpeners, spare points and more), but I would wait until Senior Cycle to do that as at least then you will be more likely to know if you would like to have the set for life. For now a good quality Bow compass will do.

When using a Compass always ensure that the tip of the lead and the tip of the point match up together or are at the same level. Also keep the point of your lead sharp and avoid damaging the tip of the Compass. Keep it in a safe place when not in use and don't drop it.

So that's the list for now. I know there's quite a bit there but all of it is necessary to get to grips with the subject. There is a lot more equipment out there that you may eventually end up using so go and have a look on the interwebs to find out more information.