What is Setting Out?

‘Setting out’ – what does this mean to a builder? What does the job of a Setter out entail?

A Setting Out Drawing for a Bench Seat - General Arrangement (GA)

A Setting Out Drawing for a Bench Seat – General Arrangement (GA)

Here is the definition of ‘Setting Out’ from from Dictionary.com

113. set out,
a. to begin a journey or course: to set out for home.
b. to undertake; attempt: He set out to prove his point.
c. to design; plan: to set out a pattern.
d. to define; describe: to set out one’s arguments.
e. to plant: to set out petunias and pansies.
f. to lay out (the plan of a building) in actual size at the site.
g. to lay out (a building member or the like) in actual size.

Have you been wondering where the technique of drawing components full size came from? Here is an article about the Medieval roots of ‘Setting Out’.

So what does Setting out mean to a builder?

In the Building trade ‘Setting out’ refers to the act of measuring and marking out a full size plan of a building or element of a building on site.

In the joinery shop ‘Setting out’ refers to the act of drawing up the full size shop drawings or ‘Rods’. We create these drawings to aid the machinists and joiners on the shop floor with the cutting, machining and finally fitting of the components of a joinery item.

What are Shop Drawings?

A shop drawing always shows full size sections through machined items and is accompanied by a ‘Cutting ticket’ – a numbered list of the components required to make the joinery item.

The purpose of a shop drawing is to make the manufacturing process even more efficient. The machinist must be able to cut all the components from the cutting ticket without referring to the drawing, until it is time to add mouldings to the dressed timber. The drawings also shows the joiner how the components fit together in a clear and concise manner.

A Setting Out Drawing for a Bench Seat - Exploded diagram and cutting ticket.

A Setting Out Drawing for a Bench Seat – Exploded diagram and cutting ticket.

Setter out or Setting out?

Drafters in a Joinery workshops’ drawing office are known as ‘Setter’s Out’ or another term is  ‘Setting outs’. Occasionally we get accused of being in ‘Design Developmet’.

In addition to providing drawings, Setter Outs are also be required to specify and schedule hardware or ironmongery, bulk order materials and coordinate manufacturing details with subcontractors.

We are often also responsible for document control, making sure that the right people have the right information at the right time.

Setting out & Design development

Setter outs are not ‘Designers’. We are concerned with the efficient manufacture of the item, not the aesthetics of the design. We work closely with the Estimator and our Project Manager and/or QS to make sure that the item being manufactured will come in on time and on budget.

There is a very nice description in ‘Modern Technical drawing’ by George Ellis

What do you think? Have I covered all the bases? It would be great to get your opinion on what a setter out does. You can leave a comment below…


13 Responses to “What is Setting Out?

  • Very good article do you have any suggestions of cad software that’s free for drawing a rod or rod like drawing on when it comes to Joinery. Thanks

    • Hi Josh,

      You can try Sketchup, Draftsight or Fusion360.

      Let me know how you get on.


  • mutatiina andrew
    7 years ago

    wow, thanks alot, let me go pass my course work..

  • Rizalde
    8 years ago

    Tnx for the great info regarding the job..

  • Great descriptions. My experience as a Setter Out also included Production Supervision, and site trouble shooter.

    You mention a description in ‘Modern Technical drawing’ by George Ellis, do you have a page number for this?

    • Hi KC,

      Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment :)

      I’m afraid that I don’t have a page number, but if you click on the previous link and do an in page text search (Press CTRL+F together on your keyboard) for ‘Setter-out’, you will find it pretty easily.

      Take it easy!


  • Toria
    8 years ago

    Good job. Very informative

  • Nicely explained thank you very much!

    I am also a CAD geek and not ashamed of it!

  • This stuff is GREAT! OH MY OH MY! I’ve been looking for this but didn’t know what it would like.

    I just got here and therefore had to rate you on the low side. I’m certain my estimation will go up.

    Again, Thank you for taking the time.