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I’ve never properly used a drafting table but I have fond memories of snooping around the offices when I went to work with my dad and playing with my uncle’s motorized drafting table. I mean, come on, a table that was controlled with pedals was pretty amazing to a young kid!

Since the days of motorized drafting tables have passed, a multitude of software options have come to market. Many packages have aged well over the years, growing with users as computers have grown in power. Others have fallen out of favor. For many woodworkers, SketchUp has been the standby for years and will continue as it is still actively developed and frankly a great program. But there has been a growing interest in Fusion 360 since AutoDesk opened it up for free to hobbyists. I’ve heard rumblings in the YouTube woodworking community about some newer woodworkers switching to Fusion 360, so when an invitation to attend the Fusion 360 Roadshow in Columbus came across my inbox, I decided I’d make the trip. The event is tomorrow night and features guest presenters from Step 2 and Saunders Machine Works. I’ll post my thoughts on the event later in the week.

All this talk got me thinking about my own journey with design software, thinking back, my first taste of drafting was during vocational training in High School on AutoCAD. I spent two years fumbling around, creating various 2D drawings of simple objects. But it was just enough to take on some responsibility at my dad’s shop creating documentation for some of the machinery we built.

Fast forward to my undergraduate years, I had an intro to design class that forced us to do basic 3D modeling with pencil and paper. I excelled because of my foundation established with AutoCAD but it seems the course was just an obligatory right of passage that was quickly overshadowed by four years of creating 3D models on the computer in Solid Edge. Upon graduation, I didn’t take an engineering job and my student license for Solid Edge lapsed. I quickly turned to SketchUp for a free alternative to the steep prices of other modeling software.

However, I’ve recently started to experiment with Fusion 360 because it reminds me of Solid Edge, and feels more full featured out of the box than SketchUp for creating 3D parts. I should note though, as a disclaimer, I do not create project-complete drawings for my furniture. I often sort out anticipated problems sections of the project or use software to create dimensions that elude me on my napkin drawings. I am also sincerely interested that Fusion 360 is more adept at working with CNC and 3D printing software – processes that I hope to experiment with in the near future.

At Popular Woodworking, we have a tremendous library of projects on SketchUp. If you haven’t visited our warehouse before, you need to check it out. We also put out an excellent book that teaches you how to use SketchUp as a woodworker.

So we are curious about our blog readers – what software are you using to design your projects in 2017? Take the poll and leave a comment about your recent thoughts on modeling software!


– David Lyell 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Dokwine

    Was pretty good with sketchup, but switched to fusion 360 for CNC support. Learning a different UI is the worst of it. Frankly, Sketchup is probably better for intuitive casework design, but the integrated CAM in fusion more than makes up for it if you ever use a CNC. Going back and forth between the two would be a nightmare. Completely agree on the 3DConnexion – simplifies life which ever way you go

  • dzehner2

    I’ve been using Fusion 360 for furniture projects for over a year now, and I’m not looking back. I love it! The best part for me is the rendering engine. I can see what my project will really look like with photo realistic (and customizable!) textures. If you’d like to see some of my work, here’s my rendering gallery:

  • WoodEye

    I have tried to use SketchUp in the past and even took a 4 hour intro course, but I have always found it very frustrating to use. Specifically, I found it nearly impossible to undo things once I made a mistake. My son introduced me to Fusion 360 and I found the software much more user friendly and enjoyable to work with. When mated with a 3D mouse (e.g. 3DConnexion) it makes the design process a joy. For those who find SketchUp lacking, I highly recommend giving Fusion 360 a try.

  • JoshCook

    Have you checked out Onshape? It’s completely browser-based (also has an app) and super friendly for users coming over from SolidWorks. I would recommend giving it a try as well. It’s also free if you don’t mind all your files to be public.

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