These days it’s hard to be carry the label “maker” or “hacker” without also being proficient in some kind of CAD- even if the C is for Cardboard. But before there was CAD there was Drafting and its associated arts, and one couldn’t just select a shape and see its area in the square unit of your choice. So how could an old school draftsman figure out the area of complex shapes? [Chris Staecker] introduces us to the polar planimeter, a measuring tool created specifically for the purpose and explained in full in the video below the break.

The polar planimeter being discussed is a higher end unit from the 1960’s. Interestingly, the first polar planimeters were invented in the early 19th century even before the math that describes their function was completed. A lever is placed in a fixed position on one end and into the planimeter on the other. The planimeter itself has another arm with a reticle on it. The unit is zero’d out with a button, and the outline of the shape in question is traced in a clockwise fashion with the reticle.

What makes the polar planimeter capable of measuring in multiple dimensions is the fixed arm. The fixed arm pivots around, allowing the planimeter to track angle changes which affects the output. So, the planimeter isn’t just measuring the length of the perimeter, but the size of the perimeter. The final measurement is output in square inches.

Overall it’s a really slick tool we didn’t know existed, and it’s fascinating to see how such problems were solved before everything could be done with a mouse click or two. Be sure to check out this 100+ year old reference set to round out your knowledge of past knowledge. Thanks to [Zane] for the great tip!


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