Chapter IV - Designing and Drafting with CAD

Your preliminary design drawings will eventually need to be expanded into full working drawings, which are the visual representation of the structure as you envision it but before it actually exists. To build the structure the way you intend requires that your plans contain all pertinent measurements. Showing these measurements (dimensions) from both a vertical and horizontal perspective allows any particular feature in your plans to be easily located with certainty by the builder.

There are two primary ways to develop your working drawings, the old school method of putting pencil to paper and drafting your plans or using one of the dozens of Computer Aided Design program like AutoCAD to accomplish the task. Sometimes even a combination of both techniques can be a suitable solution.

R emember, it’s the mind, and not the tool,s that create a great design. The tools chosen to convey the design to others are simply ones of communication.

Utilizing hand drafting or CAD to produce architectural drawings is a matter of preference and practicality. For each designer each of the methods will have advantages and disadvantages. Analysis of your preference should start with how much time and money you have to invest in your project.


Consider your expectations of what CAD will do for you. CAD is touted as the most efficient method, and we all want to be efficient, but this doesn’t necessarily translate when you are talking about just a single project. Fully functional software like the gold standard AutoCAD costs $3000.00 to $6000.00. An AutoCAD Lite version is available for $900.00. Add a learning curve of weeks to months and you have a major investment in time and money.

Another thing to consider is that few CAD programs have an shipping container model pre-installed. So, in your quest for efficiency, you are handing yourself the substantially complex, and time-consuming task of modeling an accurate shipping container right out of the gate.   While you can probably get someone else’s file of a shipping container , how complete and accurate will it be? CAD also presents a problem if your printer can only print an 8.5”x11” page. Your plans need to be in a much larger format to be legible, usually 24”x36” or 22” x 34”. 

Moving down from the AutoCAD gold standard you will encounter literally dozens of free or free trial CAD programs. The Resource Section offers you a very complete list of various options to select from. To complicate things even further, many programs offer a lite version or various levels of features at various price points, a potpourri of free trail periods, limited features and prices that run the range from thousands down to a few hundred dollars, and even free.

The capability to create and rotate complex forms in space is the one sexy, futuristic CAD feature that makes everyone think all the effort is worthwhile, but in your rush to get a free CAD program you could end up with little more than a simple 3D modeling software with no other plan or isometric view capabilities at all, pretty to look at on the computer but useless at the planning counter.


Ultimately, it will be a personal decision but you could at least consider the pencil and paper approach. I have found that this slower, more tactile approach provides the designer more time to gain an intimacy with, and truly absorb, the design, something that CAD just doesn’t offer. Since your set of drawings develops more slowly, you are allowed the time to appreciate how the complexity grows and how things interact. Being given more time to absorb these things, leads, in my opinion, to a more intimate attachment with the work that is more rewarding some how.

If you think you want to use traditional drafting to produce your plans but are still a little unsure of the skills necessary, or if you lack an understanding of the overall process, and want get more information about drawing plans, a trip to your local library will lead you to several books that will make the process understandable and enjoyable.

I can recommend two books for their simplicity and ease of understanding. The First is "DRAWING HOME PLANS" by June Curran, which is a simplified planning guide that shows in a very simple manner how to create your floor plans and then convert them into working drawings. Includes lots of illustrations. The second book is "HOW TO BE YOUR OWN ARCHITECT" by Murray C. Goddard and Mike and Ruth Wolverton. This book is more detail oriented and has a good supply of information on drafting equipment and setting your self up to make your own working drawings.  Both books are easy to understand without a lot of technical verbiage.

A decent set of tools for drafting can be gathered up for well under $100. If you took a few high school drafting classes or are in a line of work where you read structural plans of any sort and understand them it is possible that have the skill and patience required to drafting your own plans.


It’s also feasible to use a hybrid system of free CAD and drafting with a little Photoshop thrown in to produce effective plans. It works like this, sandbox and produce your preliminary floor plans in basic free CAD. From the CAD printout you can hand transfer the plans to 11x17 graph paper with a 10x10 to the inch grid. Reproduce all the lines from the CAD print in ¼” scale and pencil in all the dimensions, then add co-ordinate measurements as well. This 11”x17” size can quickly and easily be reduced to ½ size on 8 ½” x 11” paper or doubled in size to 22”x34” paper at just about any Kinko’s. Conveniently the scale on the ½ size will be 1/8”=1’ and the scale on the 22”x34” will be ½”=1’. You can do this with several copies, one for interior dimensions and another for exteriors for example. The full size originals are normally 24" x 36" but 22” x 34” will work fine. Your building dept. submissions list will tell you exactly what plans are needed, the size, and how many copies.

There are also companies that offer the service of converting drafted plans into a CAD file.

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