How Do I Learn to Read Blueprints?

In short, if you want to advance in construction, learn to read drawings well and to make rough sketches. It’s a simple language to learn (I’m the least visual person I know and I learned it), but it does take some studying.

So, how do you learn to read blueprints? It's a little like eating elephants. You might ask me, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer, of course, is "One bite at a time."
Novice blueprint readers look at the entire page of words, lines and weird symbols and get overwhelmed. It's easy at that point for your brain to shut down and you just say, "I can't read blueprints." If you tried to read an entire page of words at the same time, you couldn't do that either. You simply have to calm down, start at one corner and begin figuring out what you can learn from the blueprint. The main difference between a blueprint and a page of text is that you know to start at the top left corner on a page of text, then to left to right till the bottom of the page. Blueprints don't have a place you need to start.

Why Should I Think "Plan, Elevation and Section?

The most basic concept about reading blueprints, and the one to keep in mind no matter how good you get at reading blueprints, is "Plan, Elevation and Section". Your first thought when looking a drawing should be, "Is this a Plan, an Elevation or a Section?" First, some quick definitions:
  1. Plan: a view looking downward on the object, usually the horizontal plane cut at 30" above the floor.
  2. Elevation: a view looking sideways at the object, usually from the north, the west, the south or the east.
  3. Section: a cut-through view of the object, usually an imaginary view that shows how something will be built.
When I'm standing in a job trailer, and we are trying to resolve some problem and someone starts drawing a sketch, my first question almost always is, "Are you drawing a plan view, a side view or a section view?" I know many people don't ask that question and often just looks at lines on the paper, having no idea what the sketcher is trying to  convey. Learn to ask that question first, whether you are looking at a new set of blueprints or a sketch done by a friend.
The rest of the information below will help you understand some other specific aspects of understanding blueprints. The most important thing to remember, though, is just to do one thing at a time. Don't try to understand everything at once, no one can do that, so you won't be able to either. Take some time, relax, look at each symbol and word and try to understand what it's there for. Most everything on a blueprint is there for a purpose, so just slowly go through the symbols and words, getting their purpose into your head.
I often go through a new set of blueprints on a project with a yellow highlighter, reading and highlighting every word, number or symbol. When I've highlighted an entire sheet, I've got a fairly clear idea of what the designer and draftsman were trying to convey.

What is an Architectural Scale?

We use an Architect's Scale when dimensions or measurements are to be expressed in feet and inches. So the gradations on an Architect's Scale are as follows:
  1. 1/8" = 1'
  2. 1/4" = 1'
  3. 1/2" = 1'
  4. 1" = 1'
  5. 3/8" = 1'
  6. 3/4" = 1'
  7. 1 1/2" = 1'
  8. 3" = 1'
  9. 3/32" = 1'
  10. 3/16" = 1'
  11. Regular inch scale with  gradations to the 16th of an inch

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