Cool Vintage Drafting Tools (& What They're Worth) 

Discover what tools every architect used to have in their kit, how they worked, & why they aren't super valuable today.

Published December 12, 2022
Drawing desk with architectural drawing accessories

What do the Louvre and your local McDonalds have in common? Both buildings were drafted using drafting tools. Although modern architects aren't breaking out the pen and paper like they used to, those from just a few decades ago wouldn't leave the house without their drafting kits. Vintage drafting tools look just as fancy and unique today as they did 50 years ago. With a little elbow grease, you can even use them to bring a new building to life, just like they did in the good old days.

Vintage Drafting Tools You'd Find in Any Toolkit

Vintage drafting tools infographic

If you've never drafted a complicated drawing before (we certainly haven't), then you probably don't even know that drafting tools differ from any other random plier or screwdriver you've got in your toolkit. Well, these tools serve a very specific purpose for the artisans that use them, even if they all look like they were made to be used in Victor Frankenstein's lab. These are some of the most common tools you'll find in a vintage toolkit.


Variety of compasses

The most recognizable drafting tool is the compass. Think back to your geometry days in school and remember that little tool with two arms that you could draw a perfect circle with. Yeah, architects used to have a bag full of these bad boys to put together the plans for the beautiful buildings you walk among today.

Not every compass was made the same - some were huge and others miniscule - but they all have the same basic parts:

  • Legs - Just like the wishbone you crack at Thanksgiving, a compass has two different legs attached to a fixed point at the top.
  • Needle point - On one end of the compass is a place to affix a needle point. The needle is the part you use to stabilize your compass as you move it across the paper.
  • Pencil lead - The other leg has a place to affix a pencil lead or a small pencil to it. This is the part that actually draws the shapes you've measured onto the paper.
  • Adjustment rod - In the middle of the compass is a rod and screw that you can use to adjust how close or far apart the legs are.


T-square on desk | Getty Editorial Use

The T-square is a long drawing tool that looks almost like the little hammers doctors bang your knees with to check your reflexes - only flat. The vertical piece at the top of the ruler is used to hold the ruler in place so that you can draw a straight horizontal line with no mistakes.


Architect triangle and other tools | Getty Editorial Use

If you've ever tried drawing a straight line or a perfect right angle on your own, you know that suddenly - without fail - you can't hold a pencil still to save your life. Thankfully, hollow and measurable triangles were created out of metal, wood, and later, plastic to help craftspeople draw perfect right angles.

Scale Ruler

Scale ruler and other drafting materials

Measurement tools are a must when it comes to drafting, and scale rulers are an invaluable thing to have in your kit. Before you could use computer programs to help with calculating scale, architects, engineers, and designers would use a three-sided ruler that has measurements along each edge corresponding to different ratios. This lets you build a plan that's proportionally scaled down from the size it'd be in real life. If you look at the bottom of any blueprint or map, you'll find a measurement scale there indicating how many inches on the paper equates to x number of feet. Scale rulers make sure that all the 2-D plans turn into accurate 3-D buildings.

Pencils and Erasers

Pencils and eraser used while drawing interior plans

Instead of lions, tigers, and bears, you'll be screaming "Oh my!" to the sheer number of pencils and erasers that vintage drafters used while working. Not every kit came with one in it since they were such a common tool that were used up and replaced so frequently. But you can find them in people's personal kits or loose packages of them from old manufacturers.

Eraser Shield

Eraser shield and other architectural materials

Not nearly as cool as it sounds, the eraser shield is a little metal square with a bunch of shapes punched out of it. The point of an eraser shield is so that you can erase a really small and precise part of your draft without messing up the other parts. Who hasn't struggled with erasing just a smudge off of a drawing with the cheapest pink erasers, anyway?

Are Vintage Drafting Tools Worth Anything?

The bottom line when it comes to old drafting tools is that, ever since computer-aided design (CAD) became the industry standard for architects and engineers, the tools they once used to draft blueprints on paper aren't that useful anymore. Unfortunately, there are more vintage drafting tool kits than creatives who need them, and with only a few people collecting these niche accessories, that leaves a gaping hole between the supply and demand.

Realistically, that means that your grandpa's drafting set from his college days is probably worth about $30 (give or take) online. Drafting tools aren't something that typically gets sold in big auctions or in secretive private deals, so the people who buy them from online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy are just like you - interested in playing around with cool, old stuff.

And you'd think that complete drafting tool sets with their case and all would be a super rare find, but they make up about half of all online listings. That being said, complete sets in their original cases or boxes do sell for the most money (as opposed to a loose tool here and there).

For example, this lot of about six different drafting tool sets with their packaging sold for $30 on eBay, while this mixed lot of a few random pieces only sold for $16.99 on the same site.

How Fragile Are Vintage Drafting Tools, Anyway?

Unlike the little porcelain animals or decorative vases that your grandmother yelled at you to stop running around, vintage drafting tools aren't something that has to be handled with an extreme level of care. Realistically, so long as all the necessary pieces, like the screws in a compass, are accounted for, then you can break those bad boys out and draft up a luxury, heated mini-home for your cat.

The two biggest problems that you might run into that'll make these tools hard to use are rust and missing parts. Just like how your remotes won't work without their batteries, you've got to have all the pieces for each tool to make it work right.

But rust isn't the drafting tool killer you might think it is. With a deep cleaning using antique-safe methods like these, you can get your tools as shiny as they were the day they were made, just like this antique set that was cleaned with the utmost precision:

Make Drafts on Drafts With These Vintage Tools

You don't have to be a professional architect to find vintage drafting tools cool. Who wasn't obsessed with their spirograph kits from the 1980s? And most drafting tools accomplish basically the same thing, only in a much more useful way. So, while you won't be adding much to your retirement fund from selling a vintage drafting kit, you can use one to draft up the fantasy home reno plans you've been thinking about finishing for years.

Cool Vintage Drafting Tools (& What They're Worth)