Antique Drafting Table: Creative Uses in Today’s World

Updated May 19, 2022
Old Drafting Table with Plans and Supplies

Antique drafting tables can be considered a workhorse of historical workplace furniture, and their huge sizes make them a vital tool for all of the artists, designers, and creatives around the world. These large pieces are testament to the beautiful design and painstaking craftsmanship of the 19th and 20th century and can be both a practical and fun way to bring a dash of history into your home.

Drafting Tables and Their Shift in Style

Typically, a fixture in an 18th or 19th century gentleman's office or study, drafting tables featured an adjustable surface to facilitate detailed drawing. Often, this surface could be raised or lowered and could be tipped at a variety of angles. Generally, an architect or artist would use the table while standing, but sometimes, a tall stool could provide more comfortable working conditions. Some tables also featured a mechanism to adjust the height, so they could be used in a seated position.

Materials Used and Design Changes

Early drafting tables were constructed out of oak or other sturdy hardwoods. In addition to fulfilling a practical function for the artist or drafter, they were just as thoughtfully designed to be aesthetic pieces of furniture as the items their owners created. These tables were heavy, but they were finely crafted and somewhat difficult to adjust. Fully wooden tables typically used a series of notches and an A-frame to move their tabletops up and down, while those with cast-iron frames could use a flywheel system to slowly pull and push the tabletops into place.

DRAWING TABLE by Keuffel & Esser Co.

In the early 20th century, drafting tables were redesigned to be lighter and more portable. They were important fixtures in many architecture and engineering firms, and their physical appearance became more utilitarian. Instead of fine woods and metal, the tables were now constructed of plastic, vinyl, and steel. The design of the tables became more complex, and many featured integrated drafting tools.

The End of an Era

As computer-aided drafting became the standard practice in the late 20th century, drafting tables began to disappear from use in many firms. Some artists, architects, and engineers who are more comfortable with traditional pencil design still use drafting tables to do initial sketches or edit and revise computer-created drawings. However, drafting tables are now a much more niche product, as not as many jobs require the adjustments to their desks that drafting tables allow.

Antique Drafting Tables to Inspire Your Creativity

As with most antique and vintage furniture, drafting tables from the 19th and 20th century are really easy to use in a 21st century context. In the same way that a writer might employ an 18th century writing desk, an artist or architect can put an antique drafting table to use in their personal and professional work. Of course, different styles suit different people, and these are some of the most popular drafting table styles found on the market today.

Early 20th Century Drafting Tables

Antique Oak Drafting Table w/Adjustable Cast Iron Base Tripod Base Attributed to K&E

Many of the drafting tables made at the very start of the 20th century were made entirely out of wood and used an interesting notched A-frame adjustment mechanism to shift their table tops back and forth. Yet, as industrial manufacturing and materials became cheaper and design influenced by this sleek, industrial style, drafting tables started having more metal incorporated into their shapes. Their legs and adjustment mechanisms began being cast out of iron and steel, making them both heavier and sturdier than their wooden counterparts.

Post-War Drafting Tables

1940s French Parisian Industrial Unic L. Sautereau Architect Drafting Table

As Art Deco design started shifting away from the sanitized industrial characteristics of the 1930s into a softer, warmer aesthetic in the 1940s, drafting tables were redesigned to reflect an overall warmer, yet functional, style. Drafting tables from these middle decades bear a strong resemblance to the school desks from this period, with their basic light-colored wooden tops and simple metal legs.

Interestingly, as Mid-Century Modernism took over, these drafting tables took a shift back towards a fully (or seemingly fully) wooden design. However, they didn't forgo the advancements in technology and change the more efficient mechanism to rotate the tables with.

Modern Ways to Use an Antique Drafting Table

As most antique collectors know, old items can often be used in new ways. Even if you won't be using an antique architect's table to design your next home addition, you can find some fun ways to give new life to this beautiful piece of furniture. Here are a few ideas:

  • Display artwork on a drafting table - Adjust the table to its vertical position and attach a favorite painting, etching, or poster to the surface. The drafting table will highlight the work of art and will make it an immediate focal point in the room.
  • Use a drafting table as a standing laptop desk - If you adjust the height to its maximum setting and make the tabletop level, you can use a drafting table a place to check your email or catch up on work without sitting down.
  • Use the antique drawing board as an artist's table - Even though the fields of architecture and engineering have embraced the computer design trend, many artists still work with pens and pencils. Drafting tables were designed for just this kind of use.
  • Use a drafting table as a family message center - To do this, place the tabletop in its upright position, and adjust the table to its maximum height. Attach a chalkboard and several clips to the drafting table. You can then leave messages for family members and find important papers on your way out the door.
  • Turn it into a antiquarian display - You can also use a drafting table to display large antique books and other antique collectibles.

Where to Find Antique Drafting Tables

At garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores, you might be able to get away with an antique drafting table for an impressively low price. Yet, with online retailers, you're more so at the mercy of who's selling them. But, if you find yourself looking for these tables online, here are a few places to start:

  • eBay - eBay is a great place for potential buyers to try to find hidden gems; you can find a handful of antique drafting tables in their current inventory for a smattering of different prices. Be careful not to rack up substantial shipping costs as these wooden and metal pieces of furniture were solidly built.
  • Etsy - Another great retailer to check out is Etsy. Etsy is very similar to eBay in its setup and inventory, so if you can't find what you're looking for on eBay, they're a great second choice.
  • 1st Dibs - 1st Dibs is a mid-tier auction website known for the moderately expensive antiques and collectibles it sells; yet, old furniture is one category they specialize in. You can find a small collection of drafting tables for sale in their expansive catalog.

Don't Dodge the Draft-ing Tables

Antique drafting tables are perfect for people constantly running out of space on their work stations; their overly large tabletops are just waiting to be filled with your favorite knickknacks and newest creative endeavors. Let your imagination run wild with these special pieces of historic furniture.

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Antique Drafting Table: Creative Uses in Today’s World