Introduction: Draw Better Curves With Spouting Whales

About: DIY and Making-Wood, Glass and More!

How many times have you found yourself holding a ruler at just the perfect curve and wishing you could grow a third hand to trace the line? Do you yell for help? What if you work alone? I don't know...maybe you work in the evenings in your garage and the last thing your significant other wants to do is get up from the chair/tub/computer/TV to help you trace a line.

I have made do in the past by getting spring clamps and heavy things and trying to rig up some contraption to hold said ruler in place long enough for me to gently glide my pencil along - without - moving anything thank you very much!

If you have ever experienced this, and you have some scrap lying around that is not going to get used for anything else, and you still have those copper BB's from when you got that sweet air gun MANY years ago (you'll shoot your eye out!) then we've got a solution my friend.

What we are making is a whale- or six. Old timey boat builders/drafters refer to these as "drafting weights," "boat weights," "lofting ducks," "whales" etc... That should give you enough material to search the inter-webs and learn a bit about them...basically we need something to hold that ruler still while we draw our lines. I've combined a few of the best practices I've seen so these will be able to do a few good tricks.

Stay a while...we'll make some. (Oh, if you want to make your own- the PDF has the "nearly exact" templates)


Don't hold your breath while we discuss what's needed to build we go:


2 Turnbuckles

10-24 thread brass machine screws (2 inches long)

4 split key rings

10 foot ceiling fan pull chain (3 MM) + connectors

Weighted shot (I used BB's)


Blue tape

Wood glue and clamps (if your wood scrap is not big enough...)

Vise (optional)

Plumbing torch (not optional if you want to bend your screws into an "L" shape)

10-24 tap

Flexible Ruler


Tape measurer

Wood burner (optional)



Table saw


Belt sander

Palm sander

ALL the sandpaper

Wood finish + paper towels


Drill bits




Step 1: Prepare Wood Blanks

OK then! Let's get to it shall we? You could knock these out in a day, or if you are like me and are afraid of doing multiple steps in one day this could take you a long week...end?

At this point, you could look at the photos and make them how you want, everything I describe moving forward are loose suggestions - it's how I made them, but if you want to make them BIGGER, smaller, cast them in's up to you. You could even buy them for $50 a piece online- ouch! My elbow....

The wood blanks for this design need to be 2" X 2" X 6-1/2". While you are at it, cut some strips of wood into ruler-sized blanks...they'll come in handy later. Oh and make sure they are "straight grained" I guess...if you have that stuff lying around.

Once your blocks are cut to size (I had to glue some extra on a few of mine) it's time to drill the holes. There are 5 holes: 3 on the bottom (to fill with weight), one on the top (to house the screw) and one in the front (to thread the screw in use).

The biggest hole in the bottom on my design is 1-1/8" wide by 1-1/2" deep. The smaller two are 5/8" wide by 1" deep. The hole on the top is 3/16" wide by 7/8" deep, and the hole in the front (nose area) is a #25 drill bit, then tapped (threads cut) to accept the 10-24 machine screws. This makes a lot more sense if you look at the photos and templates in the PDF.

Once the holes are drilled, fill the bottom holes with weighted shot and epoxy. Trace the pattern on the sides and top of the whale- now we are ready to cut!

Step 2: Time to Cut These Out

Before we step over to the bandsaw, take the blank to the table saw and cut the lip in the front where the whale will "grab" onto the ruler. This needs to be done while everything is still square.

OK then! We are going to get a little fancy achieve the whale shape we need to make some cuts on the bandsaw that have to be done IN ORDER!

1) Set the saw at an angle (about 5 degrees) so that when you cut the sides it will taper (skinnier at the bottom, wider at the top) This makes it easier to pick up and looks better (in my opinion). Cut the sides and then tape them back on.

2) You need to tape the sides back on so you have a square surface to reference off the saw table to cut the top. Because it is a severe curve I started by cutting a relief cut, then coming in from both sides.

What you have left is a whale shape, and I couldn't help but see how they were going to work...a little preview.

Step 3: Prepare the Brass Screws

On almost all the weights I saw, they had a little hook at the front. This is to place weight in a very specific location - I think...I'm just guessing I decided to make mine removable. There are times when I don't want the screws in the I decided to use machine screws that can be screwed on or off as needed.

I cut the heads off the screws, then went to the grinder to grind a bit of a knifes edge or point on the end that will be bent. I used a vise to hold it in place while I heated the screw up with a plumbing torch and bent it to the desired shape. If you tried to bend brass cold it would SNAP.

Step 4: Sanding, Wood-burning, and Finishing

This step is totally optional, but in the immortal words of David Picciuto: "Woodworkers are EXTRA!" So naturally I had to sand these through the grits up to 220, raise the grain, sand them some more...and wood burn some "whale marks". After that I sanded them some more and applied a few coats of finish.

The added bonus of the screws that attach to the front- they can hang while the finish dries. No need to apply the finish in stages- dunk them all at once and hang to dry.

Step 5: Prepare the Pull-chain Rulers (aka Secret Sauce)

This is where the magic really happens. To be able to have our hands free to draw the curves, we need a drawing bow or drafting bow. The simplest version of these is a couple holes on the end with string. The problem with that is you can't easily adjust it in tiny increments.

I decided to use pull chain and turnbuckles because you can bend the shape into the ruler, get it close with the pull chain, and then micro-adjust the turn buckle until it is perfect!

The first photo shows how I attached the pull chain to the turnbuckle using a split key chain and modifying the connecters.

The turn buckle has quite a bit of travel, I got the cheapest one I could find and it still has over an inch of travel- that really changes the shape of the bow so you can fine tune the curve.

Step 6: How to Use These Things!

The feature I wanted to build these for was the notch on the front, to grab a ruler and hold it in place while I draw my lines. They work extremely well for this. There have been a few unexpected side benefits as well (aint no one trick's late...):

They work great to hold the fixed end of a large beam compass. I don't have a work bench made of wood to nail something into...

With the hooks on, you can use the brass screw to push or pull the ruler into the alignment you need.

Aaaand you guessed it...they are great paper weights. I work in my garage, where it gets quite HOT. I use a box fan to keep cool and when I'm designing- it's a bit of a pain. I've always used hammers and pliers to hold the edges of my drawings down, now these have taken their place.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Extremely Useful - Glorified Paper Weights

When I sanded the bottom of these, some BB's had floated to the top of the epoxy at different levels and it created a shiny constellation-like pattern. It was unexpected but I really like it. I had planned to cover the bottoms with sandpaper or cork, but I think I'll leave them as is. I will probably use it in the future...on purpose.

If you have some pieces of wood scrap lying around...these are great little tools!!

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