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What is an Architect Scale?

By B. Turner
Updated May 21, 2024
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An architect scale is a tool used in the design and construction industries, and is similar to a ruler. It may be flat like a traditional ruler, although most have a triangular shape. These scales are often made of wood, aluminum, or brass, and many newer units are made from plastic. Rather than being labeled with simple inches or centimeters, an architect scale often has four to twelve different sets of measuring units that are represented as ratios rather than linear measurements.

Each side of the architect scale has a different set of ratios. On a flat scale, this can mean up to four different sets of measurements along the front and back on both sides. A triangular unit may have two sets of ratios per side, for a total of six. It may even feature a separate scale at either end, which doubles the number of possible combinations.

In the US, a standard architect scale has units represented in terms of inches and feet, while British architectural scales use millimeters and meters. French scales offer a third possibility, with units based on centimeters and meters. The units for a scale are often displayed on one end to avoid confusion.

On a standard set of drawings, the illustrator or engineer will indicate the scale that was used for the project. A scale shown as 1:96 means that every unit of space on the drawings is equal to 96 units of space in real life. Another scale ratio may be shown as 1/8 inch equals 1 foot, or 1/8 meter equals 1 meter. For both of these examples, builders can use the 1/8 portion of an architect scale to help with understanding the true building measurements. An architect scale will often feature a wide variety of scales to accommodate projects of varying sizes.

When using an architect scale, it is important to reference the building plans to determine the scale ratio used by the architect or designer. The title page of the drawings or blueprints should always display the scale of the plans, with a 1:96 ratio being among the most common in the construction industry. This allows builders to find the correct side of the architect scale to use when analyzing the drawings. It is very important not to attempt scaling on reproduced drawings. If the drawings were not copied to the correct size, a scale will not produce accurate measurements.

Many users confuse architectural scales with engineering scales. Though these two units appear identical, an engineers scale usually features much smaller units. This allows users to accurately measure the often minuscule components that are used in engineering design.

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