7 Must-Have Architect Tools for Under $10

Architect Tools

Architecture Tools

When I was in architecture school: there was a big sign in the woodshop that said…

Use the right tool for the job!
Measure twice. Cut once!
Use shortest piece first!
These machines don’t have a brain, so use your own!

While all that advice is good, I think the most important is the part about using the the right tool for the job. OK fine, maybe the one about using your brain is good advice too.

It feels like I have messed around with all the hand-drafting and model-building Architect tools. The best thing in the world is when I find a simple tool that makes life easier. Here are a couple of very simple tools that I highly recommend for the architecture office or studio:

Glue syringe for building architecture models

1. The Glue Syringe

$5 on Amazon

Each time you need to glue something, you don't need to end up with a year’s worth of glue in your hand. So glue syringes are awesome.

Unless you are building a topographic site model, stop picking up that big bottle of Sobo and get yourself a glue syringe.


2. Clear Plastic Tape Dots

$8 on Amazon

When I was doing a ton of hand drafting, I became addicted to drafting dots. They are nothing more than just pieces of drafting tape that are precut into circular dots. Drafting dots basically save you the time it takes to put down your pencil and tear off pieces of drafting tape from a roll of tape, which usually look sloppy anyways. Drafting dots are awesome if you frequently, very quickly need pieces of tape.

One day, I was sitting around thinking about how awesome drafting dots are, and I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they made clear, plastic tape dots?”  And thanks to the internet, I quickly learned THEY DO!

For basically everything, I have basically been using this as my replacement for scotch tape for everything, including building quick study models. I purchased the 1 1/2″ dots, but they also come in 1/2″3/4″, 1″, and 2″.

Goodbye, scotch tape.

Olfa Knife for building architecture models

3. Olfa Knife

$8 on for knife and $5 for the ultra sharp blades

The Olfa knife is my favorite all-around model-building knife. It is perfect for 90% of model-building tasks. It cuts chipboard, foam core, rigid insulation, and basswood.

The Olfa knife is also significantly safer than many other snap-off knives. The Olfa knife locks the blade into position, so it doesn't slip while you’re trying to cut something.

Since the blade snaps off, there is never a reason not to use a sharp, fresh blade. This knife is perfect for cutting foam core, since you need to always have a very sharp blade at all times; otherwise, your cuts look like crap.

Olfa makes a much larger version of this knife, and I used to own one. But it I felt the size was just way too big for trying to build models.

About a year ago, I learned Olfa now makes a black version of the blades, which are significantly sharper than their regular blades. The black blades are a little more expensive, but in the long run, they last a lot longer—especially with foam core.

Stainless Steel Sharpie

4. Stainless Steel Sharpie

$7 on Amazon

My whole life, I have been obsessed with sharpies. I use sharpies more than I probably should. Around Christmas time, I discovered the stainless steel sharpie when I was writing the 2014 Young Architect Holiday Gift List blogpost. Since that time, I bought another one, so I now own two. I keep one for the office and another at home.  My stainless steel sharpie has definitely become my favorite pen.

Holding the stainless steel sharpie feels a lot more elegant than a regular sharpie. It is slightly heavier (although I haven't weighed it). The holding surface diameter is a little bit thicker, and  touching the stainless steel feels more real than the cheap plastic of a regular ol’ sharpie.

For $6, I think the stainless steel sharpie is a bargain. Refills are only a few bucks, and now sharpie even makes a fine-point version in stainless steel.

x-acto precision edge for building architecture models

5. X-Acto precision edge

$7 on Amazon

This tool is a 4″ x 3″ carpenters square. I use this for model building and even quick drafting sometimes. The precision edge makes cutting 90 degree angles and building straight and plumb models soooo much easier.



6. All-in-One screw driver

$4 on Amazon

This is the official tool for anyone who’s a jack of all trades, master at none.

My mom gave me the all-in-one screwdriver one year as a Christmas gift. I laughed and thought it was silly, but I actually use it all the time. It's perfect for the office, and in architecture school, in was awesome for installing a Mayline onto a drafting board.

Magnifying dome

7. Magnifying Dome

$10 on Amazon

“What does that say?? I can’t read it.”  -Something I’ve said a millions of times

One of the harsh realities of being an Architect is that the rest of the world runs on letter-sized paper (or sometimes 11 x 17 if you’re lucky).

I don’t know about other Architects, but I am always looking for information about my projects from old, archived drawings. Often, I find I can only get 8.5 x 11 copies of drawings (especially from the building department).

I used to use a magnifying glass to read these drawings, but a few months ago, a guy in my office introduced me to the magnifying dome.

I have a 2.5″ dome, but you can get larger one. However, it doesn't fall within the $10 budget of this blogpost.


What other cheap, life-saving tools do you in use your architecture studio????

Leave me a comment below. I’m always looking for new gadgets.

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Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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