Principle of Plane Table Surveying Methods | Equipment | Error | Advantage | Limitation

plane table survey

Principle of Plane Table Survey

The law of plane tabling is parallelism, meaning the rays drawn from stations to items on the paper are parallel to the lines in the stations to the objects on the ground.

The relative positions of these objects on the ground are represented with their own plotted positions about the paper and lie on the respective rays.

The table is always placed at each of the successive stations parallel into the position it occupied in the starting station. Plane tabling is a graphical way of surveying.

The fieldwork and plotting are done simultaneously, and this survey doesn’t involve using a field book(measurement book). Plane table survey is mainly acceptable for filling insider details when traversing is done with the theodolite.

Sometimes traversing with a plane table might also be done. However, this survey is recommended for the work where great accuracy isn’t required.

As the fixing and fitting arrangement of this instrument is not perfect, most accurate work cannot be expected. The simplest and the most commonly used plane table is as shown in as per below figure. It is known as a traverse table.

It consists of a board made up of a well-seasoned wood mounted a light tripod with suitable mounting and clamping devices. The board can rotate about a vertical axis and can be clamped in any position. The table is to be leveled by adjusting the tripod.

Plane Table Survey

Plane Table

Johnson’s plane table and coast survey plane tables are the improved versions. In Johnson’s plane table ball and socket joint and a vertical spindle are provided while in coast survey plane table three-foot screws are provided for quick and accurate leveling.

Also, read: What Is Raft Foundation | Type of Footing | Detail of Raft Footing

Plane Table Survey Instruments:

  1. Alidade or Sight Rule
  2. Plumbing Fork with Plumb Bob
  3. Spirit Level
  4. Trough Compass
  5. Drawing Sheet and Miscellaneous Accessories for Drawing.

Alidade or Aight Rule

An alidade is a straight-edge ruler using some form of sighting device.One advantage of this ruler is a beveled edge that’s is also known as the fiducial edge.

This advantage is graduated and used for drawing no line of sights.

Based on the type of line of sight Provided, there are two types of alidade:

  • Plain Alidade
  • Telescopic Alidade

Plain Alidade :

In the case of the plain alidade, a sight vane at each end of the ruler is provided, as shown in as per below figure  (Ref. as per above figure also).

Among that sight, vanes are provided with a narrow slit, and it serves as eye vane. Another sight vane known as thing vane is wider and it carries horsehair or a thin wire in its center.

The two vanes are provided with hinges in their base so they may be folded on the ruler if not in use.

Plain Alidade

Plain Alidade

Telescopic Alidade:

A telescopic alidade is made up of a telescope mounted on a column that’s fixed into the ruler. The size of this ruler is 380 mm long and 65 mm wide (As per below Telescopic Alidade Figure and As per below Plane Alidade Figure ).

Telescopic Alidade

Telescopic Alidade

Telescopic Alidade

Telescopic Alidade

Plane Alidade

Plane Alidade

The line of sight by means of a telescope is kept parallel to the fiducial edge of this ruler. The telescope is supplied with a level tube along with also a vertical graduation arc. When inclined sights have taken a vertical angle of sight could be measured.

The telescope alidade is usually fitted using a stadia diaphragm and therefore may be used as a tachometer to come across horizontal distances and elevations. By providing telescope that the accuracy and the range of sight are increased.

Also, read: IS Code for Civil Engineer [Q&a]

Plumb Bob and Plumbing Fork 

Plumbing fork is a U-shaped metal frame with an upper horizontal arm and a lower inclined arm as shown in as per below figure. The upper arm is provided with a pointer, whereas the lower arm is provided with a hook.

When the plumbing fork is kept on a plane table along with a plumb bob is suspended by the hook, then the plumb line moves through the end of the pointer in the upper arm.

At the start of the plane table survey, plumb bob helps in moving a ground station to the drawing sheet,& later on, it assists in transferring station positions on drawing sheets into the ground.

plum bub

Plumbing Fork and Plumb Bob

Also, read: Core Cutter Method

Spirit Level

A spirit level with a flat base is utilized for leveling plane table. To ensure proper leveling, spirit level needs to be used in two positions at right angles to one other, and leveling of the plane table ought to be ensured.

Spirit LevelSpirit Level

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Trough Compass

Trough Compass A trough compass is made up of an 80 to 150 mm long and 30 mm wide box carrying out a freely suspended magnetic needle in its center. At the top of the box is provided with a glass cover.

In the ends of the needle, graduations are marked out of zero to five degrees on each side of the center. When the needle ends to coincide with zero-zero, the line of needle ends is parallel to the long edge of the box.

Hence, a marking on either side of a long edge indicates the north direction of the survey. Thus, the trough compass is useful for marking the north line on the drawing sheet.

Trough Compass

Trough Compass

Drawing Sheet and Accessories for Drawing

The drawing paper of superior quality ought to be used in a plane table survey. It ought to be well seasoned before use by exposing it alternatively to warm and moist atmosphere.

By seasoning, shrinkage of sheets in the future is reduced considerably. The sheet ought to be in a position to withstand rubbing against alidade.

The drawing sheet shouldn’t be folded. Many times two sheets attached using their grains at right angles to one another and using a  sheet of muslin between them are utilized.

For works of importance, fiberglass sheets or paper backed with thin aluminum sheets are utilized. Clips, clamps and adhesive tapes /Chain might be used for fixing drawing sheet into the table. Sharp hard pencil (4 H), good quality eraser, pencil cutter and sandpaper to keep pencil point sharp are other accessories need for drawing work.

A waterproof cover such as plastic sheet ought to be carried from the surveyor, to protect drawing sheet out of the rain, if required.

Also, read: Consistency Test of Cement

Equipment Setting for Plane Table Survey:

Once fixing the table into the stand and drawing sheet into the following operations are to be carried out :

  • Centering 
  • Leveling 
  • Orientation 

1. Centering

Here is the process of adjusting the position of a point on the plane table exactly over its position on the ground station.

This can be achieved using plumbing fork and moving legs of a tripod.

2. Levelling

Spirit level is used to check the level of the table. The level ought to be ensured in two positions of spirit level that are at right angles to one another.

The legs of the tripod are moved radially or along the circumference to correct the level of the table.

3. Orientation 

Orientation is the process of placing a plane table in a station such that all the lines plotted are parallel to corresponding lines on the ground.

This is a very important process in plane tabling. Accuracy of plane table survey mainly depends on how correctly at each station perfect orientation is achieved. It may be achieved by anyone of the following methods:

Using trough compass

By back sighting

By solving two-point or three-point problems.

The first two methods, which are commonly used, are explained below, and the third method is explained later in this blog.

Orientation Using Trough Compass: 

After the survey work starts from the first station, the table is oriented inappropriate direction, and the north direction is marked near the right-hand top corner utilizing trough compass.

This orientation is to be kept at all subsequent stations.

To acquire exactly the same orientation, trough compass is placed along the north direction marked, and the table is rotated until the compass needle is along with zero-zero readings.

Then it’s clamped. Therefore, the necessary orientation of this table is obtained. This procedure of orientation is considered rough since the local attraction to compass can impact proper orientation.

This way is used as a preliminary orientation, and finer orientation is obtained from other methods. Orientation by Back Sighting:

Orientation by Back Sighting:

It’s a commonly employed way. Before shifting the table, point in Meurment book from station A to station B, line ab is attracted from a plotted position of station A (i.e., a) towards following station B. Distance AB is Plotted and measured position b of station B is located.

Subsequently, plane table is shifted to station B and centered such that point ‘it is exactly over station B keeping the alidade along with ba station A is sighted and clamped.

This offers the required orientation. Checks could be applied by sighting already plotted objects from point `b.’

Also, read: What Is Bulkage of Sand (Fine Aggregate )

Plane Table Surveying Methods

These four methods are available for carrying out a plane table survey as per below Plane Table Surveying Methods:

  • Radiation
  • Intersection
  • Traversing, and
  • Resection

The first two methods are usually employed for locating the details whereas Another two methods are used for testing and locating the positions of plane table stations onto the drawing sheet.

1. Radiation

To fill details of objects near station ‘0′, a plane table is set on station ‘0’ the plotted position ‘0’ approximately over the ground station.

Then using alidade pivoted at ‘0’, the rays are drawn in the direction OA, OB. OC … with soft pencil [As per below Figure] Then the distances OA, OB, OC  is scaled and measured down to get the plotted positions a, b, c … of field positions A, B,…Thus, these items are plotted by first drawing radial lines.


This method is acceptable for small areas, and it is convenient if the distances are small.

This method has a wider scope if the telescopic alidade is used, where distances are measured tacheometrically.

Also, read: Lab Test on Aggregates at Site

2. Intersection

Within this method, two stations are so chosen that all of the other stations to be plotted are observable from these. The line joining both of These stations is called the baseline. The length of the line is measured very accurately.

Also, rays are drawn from these stations to the stations to be plotted.

The intersection of the line from the two stations provides the position of the station to be plotted onto the drawing sheet. From time to time, this way is also termed as graphical triangulation.

3. Procedure

Let A and B be the two accessible stations (as per below figure), such that A and B can be suitably plotted. C is the station to be plotted by intersection.

Place the plane table at A. Set it up. Plot the NS direction. Transfer ground station A as an onto the drawing sheet. With the alidade centered at a. sight station B.

Draw a ray aB and cut ab to a suitable scale. With the alidade at a sight, C also and draw a ray aC. Shift the table to B and set it up. Place the alidade at b and sight C. Draw a ray bC. The intersection of the two-line gives the position of station C as c on the plane table.

Intersection by base line

Intersection by baseline

4. Suitability

This method is very commonly used for plotting details. It is preferred when the distance between the stations is too large, or the station’s arc inaccessible, or the ground is undulating. The most suitable example is of broken boundaries which can be very conveniently plotted by this method.

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5. Traversing.

This method is like a compass or a theodolite traversing. The table is set in each of the stations in succession. A foresight is taken to another station, and the distance is cut into a suitably chosen scale.


Set up the plane table at the initial station A (as per below figure). Transfer ground station A as an on the drawing sheet.

Draw a ray aB along the fudicial edge with the alidade pivoted against a.

Cut the distance ab to the selected scale. Shift and set up the table at B. Orient the plane table.

Place the alidade at b and sight station C. Draw a ray bC along the alidade and cut the distance be to the selected scale. The procedure is carried out till all the stations are traversed.

Traversing with table survey

Traversing with table survey


It’s most suited if a narrow strip of this terrain is will surveyed, e.g., a survey of streets, railways, etc.

This method may be used for traversing the open in addition to close traverses.

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This is an orientation technique that fixes the position of the plane table station in a plan.

When a number of points already fixed by plane table or otherwise are available in plan, it is often convenient to set up the plane table at some arbitrary station and pick up detail from there.

This adds to the flexibility of a plane table survey. Conspicuous points such as temple-tops, church spires, and hilltops already fixed by any method are not convenient points on which a plane table can be set, and from which low-lying detail can be fixed.

If such points are visible from the area of the detail, the plane table can be set up to pick out the detail from an arbitrary location near it.

The position of the plane table in plan is now fixed by the resection procedure. A point determined by resection is called a plane table fix.

Error In-Plane Table Surveying

The possible error in plane table survey may be ground into

  • Instrumental Errors.
  • Personal Errors.

Instrumental Errors.

  1. This type of errors are listed below.
  2. The surface of plane table not absolutely plane.
  3. Fiducial edge of alidade not straight.
  4. Sight vanes of alidade not vertical to the base.
  5. Plane table clamp being loose.
  6. Sluggish magnetic compass.
  7. Sluggish or defective bubble tube.
  8. Drawing sheet being of poor quality.

Personal Errors.

  1. Centering errors
  2. Leveling errors
  3. Orientation errors
  4. Errors due to the instability of tripod
  5. Sighting errors
  6. Plotting errors

To avoid personal errors

  1. Set tripod on firm ground
  2. Do not apply undue pressure on table
  3. Use sharp-edged pencil
  4. Require all of the care to draw rays correctly.

Also, read: First Angle Projection & Third Angle Projection Symbol (Orthographic Projection)

Advantages and Limitations of Plane Table Survey


  1. There is no possibility of omitting measurements.
  2. The surveyor may compare the plotted work in the area itself.
  3. Irregular objects are represented more accurately since they are seen while plotting.
  4. Possibilities of booking errors are eliminated.
  5. Local attractions will not influence the plotting. Hence, suitable for the magnetic area like cities.
  6. No great skill must produce a decent map
  7. Less costly than theodolite survey
  8. A method is fast.


  1. Reproduction of map into a different scale is tough.
  2. A survey cannot be conducted in wet weather and rainy days.
  3. The plane table is heavy, cumbersome, and difficult to carry.
  4. It needs several accessories.
  5. It is less accurate.

Also, read: What is Chain Surveying (Principal, Procedure, Method, Instrument)

Plane table survey PPT

Short Note

Plane Table Survey

Plane table surveying is a graphical method of survey in which the field observations and plotting are done simultaneously. It is simple and cheaper than Theodolite survey but it is mostly suitable for small scale survey.

What Is the Use of Plane Table in Surveying?

plane table (plain table prior to 1830) is a device used in surveying and related disciplines to provide a solid and level surface on which to make field drawings, charts and maps. The early use of the name plain table reflected its simplicity and plainness rather than its flatnes.

What Is the Principle of Plane Table?

Plane table surveying is based on the principle that lines drawn during plotting always lie parallel to the corresponding lines actually present on the ground. For example, let us consider four ground stations A, B, C and D which on joining provides a rectangle ABCD.

How Many Methods of Plane Table Surveying Are There?

There are four ways to perform plane table surveying. They are radiation, inter-section, traversing and resection. First two are employed for locating details and other two for locating plane table stations.

What Is the Basic Principle of Surveying?

Surveying is the process of finding the relative position of various points on the surface of the earth by measuring distance among them and setting up a map to any reasonable scale.

What Is the Aim of Plane Table Survey?

plane table (plain table prior to 1830) is a device used in surveying and related disciplines to provide a solid and level surface on which to make field drawings, charts and maps. The early use of the name plain table reflected its simplicity and plainness rather than its flatness.

Which Method Is Used in Plane Table Survey?

Radiation Method: In the radiation method of plane table surveying, the direction of the objects or points to be located are obtained by drawing radial lines along fiducially edge of alidade after getting the objects or points bisected along the line of sight of the alidade.

Where Are Plane Table Survey Used?

It is best fitted for small-scale surveying i.e. any types of fields. It is also used in surveying industrial areas where compass survey fails to perform. It is often used to fill in details between stations fixed by triangulation method or theodolite traversing method.

What Are the Different Equipment Used for Conducting Plane Table Survey?

There is some general equipment used for the conducting plane table surveying such as; Plane table and alidade for sighting. Plump fork and plumb bob. Compass and spirit level.

Which Method Is Most Widely Used in Plane Tabling?

Among the following, traversing is adopted in the usual manner. It involves a very simple procedure and also gives more accurate values when compared to other processes.

Which Method of Plane Table Surveying Is Most Accurate Method and Why?

In this method the table is orientated by back sighting through the ray which is drawn from the previous station. This is the most accurate and reliable method of orientation of plane table.

How Many Methods of Plane Table Surveying Are There?

There are four ways to perform plane table surveying. They are radiation, inter-section, traversing and resection. First two are employed for locating details and other two for locating plane table stations.

Is Used for Plane Table Levelling?

Leveling of Plane TablePlane table should be leveled using spirit level. For small works, eye estimation can be ok.

What Is the Need of Plane Table Survey?

Plane table surveying is a quick way to scope the layout of a job site. And with this method, you can plot a plan and make field observations at the same time. It can be useful in the following situations: You need to perform small-scale surveying, like mapping out a field.

How Do You Conduct a Plane Table Survey?

In this method of plain table survey, the plane table is set up at only one station, and various points are located by radiating (drawing) a ray from the instrument station to each of the points, and plotting to scale along the ray the distance measured from the station to the point is sighted.

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