Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Architects Scale

By Blueberry Beeton
The Architects Scale is an invaluable tool for anyone involved in design, layout, or construction - large or small. It is somewhat forgotten because of the use of CAD and Sketchup we don't need to hand draw our plans anymore. I teach its use in the Drafting, Cardboard Models and Framing Models workshops and one person in every class complains about having to use paper and pencil. But I find myself digging my architects’ scale out for any number of projects at work and around the house. It is one of those tools that will never actually go out of use because no matter how much we do in the virtual world on the computer, we will always have the tangible world to contend with. I just used my architects scale to make my gingerbread house last weekend.
Building a gingerbread house is much like building a scale model. This gingerbread house is a 10x14 structure using the 3/4-in scale, (i.e. 3/4 of an inch is equal to one foot). This means that I used the face of the architect’s scale that has 3/4-in broken into increments and called out so it is easy to measure out the 10-ft width and 14-ft length of the building. The photo below shows the 3/4-in face of the scale. Begining on the left you see 0, 28, 1, 26, 2, 24, 3 etc. There are actually two scales on this face 3/4-inch coming from the left and 3/8-inch coming from the right. You can ignore the 3/8-in numbers (the higher numbers) and focus on the lower ones that begin on the left. The nice thing about the 3/4-inch scale is that it allows you to show detail of up to 1/2-inch. Those 1/2-inch increments are delineated by the 3/4 in to the left of zero; each line within that space represents a 1/2-inch in the 3/4-inch=1-ft scale.

This is the ideal scale for residential model making because it makes the house small enough to maneuver through my kitchen (and other spaces like doorways and cars if you need to take your model to the bank for loan approval). The 1/4-in scale is ideal for drafting and the 1-in scale is ideal for building residential models showing the framing. I drew each wall and roof panel on heavy-stock paper first and cut out the pattern before rolling out the dough. The big difference between gingerbread and cardboard models is that the dough does change shape a bit in the oven so no matter how perfect your panels are in the raw; you are bound to have a few site corrections when you assemble. The key to accuracy is to mix the dough very thoroughly -- the butter can wreak havoc on the panels if not mixed thoroughly.
Below is my favorite recipe for gingerbread and my fastener is good old reliable royal icing -- which is remarkably like expanding foam insulation. If you are feeling the urge to build a gingerbread house and add the aroma to your home pull out that Architects Scale to help simplify the process. My favorite architects scale is aluminum because it is extremely durable but the less expensive plastic version provides the same accuracy. These make a great housewarming gift, or gift to a budding architect, engineer or designer as well as anyone considering designing or building their own home.

Favorite Gingerbread House Dough Recipe:
1 C (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter
1 C Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
1 C Molasses
5 C Flour (All-Purpose)
2 t Baking Soda
1-1/2 t Ground Cinnamon
1/2 t Ground Cloves
1/2 t Salt
1/3-1/2 C Water

Royal Icing
3 Egg Whites
1-1/2 Pounds Confectioners' Sugar


  1. Nice house, looks well insulated and small, but where are the solar panels????????

  2. They are on order but there was some issue with the Skittle solar cells so there was a slight delay but they are coming soon.

  3. Ah, the endless uses of an architect's scale . . . And I think it's the perfect "green" house because you can eat it when you want to move! (PS -- Hershey chocolate bars make great solar panels.)