Woodworking with CAD

Woodworking With CAD Index

Before You Draw

Infinity (but not beyond)
Before we actually start working the software a brief description might be in order regarding some basic CAD operating principles.  This is very basic information, if you already know a bit about CAD then skip this.

Note: The following paragraph is dependant upon the exact software you are using but the principles are the same for all.

When you open up a new drawing you basically are presented with an infinite field to draw upon.  This field is many 2d planes deep (layers).   Contrast this with a traditional drafting table.  It has a single piece of paper with finite borders, if you were to try and draw off-table, you of coarse couldn't.   Nor could you draw objects in an obscure corner of the paper and then later move those objects to the center.

From its inception, CAD software has for the most part blown away the afore mentioned barriers.  The drawing "planes" aren't actually infinite but they might as well be given what the actual limitations are.

In the next articles we will be using the abilities to draw objects wherever we feel like and move them around as we wish without regard for where we start out at.

In order to do this effectively one must be familiar with the layer controls, snaps, grid, and the zoom commands.  If you are not familiar with these, become familiar with them before moving on!

I've discussed what layers are previously.  What you really need to be able to do with layers right now is to:
  1. Make sure you can be ON the layer you WANT to be on.
  2. Make sure you can turn a layer on and off, meaning hide it from view or display it.
  3. It would also be nice to be able to name a layer.

If you cannot do these things, don't move on to the next article!

Snaps are the way to accurately control the cursor, basically that means being able to put lines EXACTLY where you want them; not close enough to, not near, not next to, but RIGHT ON.  This is very important.

While it may not look like it, snaps are the super intelligent equivalents of the drafting tools like the triangles and squares used on a traditional drafting table.  They allow you to very quickly place, move, and modify vectors with incredible accuracy.

Some programs have snaps that can be turned on all the time, this mode is like running around with a loaded weapon with the safety off; the snap is always ready to "fire", all you have to do is pull the trigger.  As you move your cursor around the drawing you'll notice the cursor getting "sticky" around some points and / or giving some visual cue near the cursor.  All the software I'm aware of allows the user to turn this "auto-snap" mode off (if available) and use manual snaps instead (be aware that programs have different names for this feature, "auto-snap" might not be what yours is called).

If you are just beginning, the auto-snap feature will probably cause you some grief so I would suggest turning it off until you come more up to speed with the software, even then you may not like the feature.  This should put you in "manual" snap mode where you must specifically request a specific type of snap before using it.

No matter what snap-mode you will be using, a thorough understanding of the various snap types in your software is required if you are going to be productive, your manual should explain every type of snap in detail.  To the uninitiated "snap" may sound like just a bunch of geek-talk, it isn't, it is how you get things done accurately and quickly.

It is possible to draw without snaps, it's just incredibly inconvenient.   What you really need to know about snaps right now is:

  1. How to turn "snap to grid" on and off.  With this set to "on", the cursor will be constrained to the grid whether it is visible or not.  With it set to "off", the cursor is free to move anywhere.
  2. In detail how every other snap type works on your software.

The snap to grid function will be very useful for a new CAD user.  It helps by keeping the cursor constrained to convenient drawing increments.   For woodworking, a 1/4" or 1/8" grid is pretty convenient because of the material we work with.

If you are productive, you will be using snaps ALL the time.

You actually could draw anything you wanted to without using any grid whatsoever.  The grid does make life a little easier though.  What you really need to be able to do with grids right now is to:
  1. Turn it on and off, this can clean up the view.
  2. Set its interval to whatever you want.
There actually are advantages that a drawing board has over CAD.   One of them is being able to see a large drawing in it's entirety at a useable resolution.  Because using a computer to draw is like looking through a port-hole, you'll need to be able to navigate the drawing through special means.  That means is the series of Zoom commands built into the software.

It is HIGHLY beneficial for a user to be VERY familiar with ALL the zoom commands within the software.  To avoid frustration, the bare minimum you need to be able to do with zooms right now is to:

  1. Zoom Extents (this may be named differently in your software).  What this gives you is the ability to see everything in your drawing.   This command Zooms Out to the minimum XY factor that will contain your drawing vectors on a single screen.
  2. Zoom Window. This allows you to zoom in on an area of interest.   You'll also want to be able to Pan, this may be a Zoom command itself or the scroll bars will do this as well.

These will probably be your second and third most used commands.


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