Help me make great big plywood models!
May 23, 2007 2:13 AM   Subscribe

CAD on a budget. I want to design some plywood models that are cut/milled from a sheet of plywood, and then slot together to form a 3D model...

Whilst the design work is essentially in 2D (to design the shapes that will be cut from each plywood sheet) it would be helpful for me to be able to visualise the completed model on screen. The full version of AutoCAD is way too expensive and their reseller's suggestion is to get the LT version and then also purchase a 3D visualiser programme, but this will still top out at over £1600. SInce this is just for a hobby, that's too much.

So are there any cheaper options? If the 3D facility is the expensive bit I'm happy to just use 2D software and then print onto card for prototyping.

Never touched CAD software before in my life, so ease of use is helpful. Bonus points for software that can export in a file type that a commercial cnc fabricator can use!
posted by dowcrag to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
ProgeCAD has a 30 day free trial, and it's inexpensive to boot.
posted by bigmusic at 2:35 AM on May 23, 2007

I'm an architecture student, and I find that Google Sketchup is a great design tool. It's a good starting point, but it's completely inadequate for anything beyond the first steps of a project.

It may fit your needs. Give it a try. It's free and very easy to learn.
posted by BeaverTerror at 4:01 AM on May 23, 2007

Best answer: If you're willing to stick with 2D, (or unwilling to simply pirate AutoCAD) Solid Edge 2D Drafting v19 is free and exports to DXF.

Alternatively, eMachineshop has a freebie CAD program. Obviously, it will try to steer you to them for fab work, but that's understandable.
posted by aramaic at 6:08 AM on May 23, 2007

Why use CAD? You mentioned that you just need to visualize the finished product which doesn't require precision to the nearest 1/1000". All you really need is a free, simple 3d program like SketchUp.
posted by JJ86 at 6:24 AM on May 23, 2007

I'd like to piggy back onto this question. Are these programs easy to use? I've tried autocad and it is bewildering, to say the least. Solid Edge looks interesting, but will it take me two hours to draw a cube with a hole in it?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2007

I use CAD/CAM of various flavors every day, and I hate Autocad with a passion.
I think Sketchup is excellent, and it's very easy for a novice to pick up. It's only disadvantage is the difficulty of exporting to other formats. As JJ86 said, you don't want or need CAD, you want 3D modeling and visualization.
posted by wzcx at 10:09 AM on May 23, 2007

Sorry forgot a few things: Aramaic's suggestion, while helpful, is NOT what you're asking for. If you would just care to share your drawings or concepts, maybe you could email me? I've been designing some easy-to-assemble furniture recently and would love to see some other peoples' ideas.
posted by wzcx at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2007

Best answer: IMHO, if you intend to export to a CNC cutting machine you need CAD. Well, actually, if you intend to export to CNC you will be using CAD -- it's just a question of whether you supply the CAD file, or whether you pay the machine op to do it for you (often without him telling you; it just gets tacked on to the bill quietly). One is cheaper than the other; guess which.

If you don't plan to export to CNC, then just freehand it on paper. It's faster. I'm serious. Never underestimate cardstock and scissors.

...and pay attention to tolerances. I cannot tell you how many people aim to have 0.000" clearances, and then act all amazed when things don't work because the machine used is +/- 0.05" on a good day.
posted by aramaic at 10:42 AM on May 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OP here. Thanks for the advice about tolerances, aramaic! I was just thinking about this last night. I think I'll want to have a good chat with whoever's going to mill the sheets for me so we can get the details right.

And thanks to the rest of you too. Sketup's fun but won't allow me to export a file to a manufactuer.
posted by dowcrag at 1:09 AM on May 24, 2007

dowcrag, I think if you want to definitely export a drawing file to a CNC operator you really need to know how to create an accurate cad file. While I've worked with several CAD programs like Autocad and Microstation for almost 10 years and consider myself a power user. It takes quite awhile to become proficient with the complexity of a good CAD program.

I don't know anything about CAM but I do know it is easy to make errors in 3d drawings which can translate into costly mistakes. If you don't know what you are doing, leave it to a pro.
posted by JJ86 at 6:15 AM on May 24, 2007

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