Press coverage of the Society and its activities

The Nuclear Heritage pre-CAD Collection

Written by
Jim Ungrin
the North Renfrew Times
2019 Jun 12

The Society for the Preservation of Canada’s Nuclear Heritage has received a number of artifacts used to design the intricate spectrometers and tools used in the nuclear industry before the advent of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. Many of these artifacts were used as essential, everyday tools by draftsmen during the pre-1980 era, but are essentially unknown to modern designers and engineers.

The family of the late Bill McAlpin recently donated a set of Bill’s drafting tools to the Society along with some of his original design drawings, notes and reference manuals. Bill, who joined AECL in 1950, designed many of the complex, neutron-scattering spectrometers used at CRNL, including the original spectrometer used by Bert Brockhouse for his Nobel prize-winning work. (Walt Woytowich, another early nuclear pioneer and one who has donated numerous artifacts to the Society, was credited by Brockhouse as the person most responsible for the assembly of that spectrometer.)

Early designers provided much of the necessary materials research in addition to producing hand-drawn blueprints and even the final figures for publications. Essential tools included a large, stable and adjustable, drafting table and a good quality drafting “T”. Drawing tools, many purchased from the famous Kueffel and Esser (K&E) company in Germany, were then used to produce what often were many iterations leading to a final design. The Society has received a drafting T and a set of French Curves from the office of the late Don Charlesworth to complement the several sets of compasses (also known as bow pencils) and drawing pens from the McAlpin collection. All of these early drafting tools are replaced these days by large computer monitors, a computer mouse, a printer/plotter and the appropriate software.
The final drawings and figures produced by the early designers were often completed in India ink using a K&E-produced Leroy lettering set. These sets, like the one donated by the McAlpins, contained a number of engraved stencils in font sizes (measured in thousands of an inch) typically from 60 to 500. A pivoting transfer tool was used to trace from the stencil onto the drawing paper with a set of pen tips, of various tip widths, that were fed by a reservoir of India ink. India ink was very unforgiving and errors often lead to much agony.

The Society would appreciate receiving any additional vintage design/drafting aids that may still be sitting idly in a drawer or basement. Please contact Jim Ungrin 613-584-3055, or any other member of the Society Executive.