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Free CAD/CAM Software for the Hobbyist and DIYer

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Review by Dirk Van Essendelft posted 12-29-2014 01:08 AM 10772 views 6 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Free CAD/CAM Software for the Hobbyist and DIYer Free CAD/CAM Software for the Hobbyist and DIYer Free CAD/CAM Software for the Hobbyist and DIYer Click the pictures to enlarge them

I’ve been a woodworker and computer geek since I was a little kid. Now I have a shop of my own and some disposable income to spend on woodworking. As you may have seen if you follow my woodworking, I like to do CNC woodworking. Even before that I would use 3D CAD software to design my projects so that I would know how to cut my materials. It is definitely worth it to model and assemble your projects virtually before you do it in expensive woods.

At any rate, I was looking for affordable software that anybody could use that would be powerful enough to do the kind of work I came accustomed to in my professional career. I believe I found it in Fusion 360 by Autodesk. Not only does it do the kind of 3d Modeling I want, it also has CAM software built in. This is a tremendous value especially when you consider that you can get it for absolutely free if you are using it for non-profit applications. Even if you use it for profit, the commercial licenses are affordable and start at $300/year.

Check out my full review here if you are interested.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com




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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days



17 comments so far

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Mark Shymanski

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#1 posted 12-29-2014 01:22 AM

Very interesting!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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ksSlim

1286 posts in 3036 days


#2 posted 12-29-2014 03:47 AM

Sneaky AD, it gets Better?

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#3 posted 12-29-2014 04:40 AM

This isn’t an AD. I genuinely believe that this is software that woodworkers should know about and start using. I have no affiliation with Autodesk.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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Dutchy

3083 posts in 2315 days


#4 posted 12-29-2014 11:33 AM

Bedankt (Thank you). I have add you to my favorits.

-- https://dutchypatterns.com/

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Tim

3812 posts in 2108 days


#5 posted 12-29-2014 03:48 PM

Dirk, what do you think the chances are a woodworker without any prior experience with CAD/CAM software could learn to use this compared to something less capable such as sketch up which does apparently work pretty well.

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#6 posted 12-29-2014 08:32 PM

I’ve messed with sketch up a little and got frustrated with it. Sketch up is a very user friendly program but it is a really weak modeling software. It is what we would call a direct modeling software. That means that objects in it exist only as they are at the moment. Fusion360/Inventor/Solidworks/FreeCAD are all history tree parametric CAD modelers. Sketchup is much more like Rhino 3D without the NURBS stuff.

Direct modeling can be quicker. HOWEVER, if you want to go back and change something in your part it can be much more time consuming and difficult.

As I said, the biggest draw back of Sketchup is that there are no dimensional constraints. This means that if you want to model something you are much better off sketching it out on paper first to get all the dimensions correct before you go to the modeling software because it is a pain to change things. Inventor/Fusion360 allow you to conceptually model something and then refine dimensions until it fits and works.

Take a mortise/tennon for example. Lets say I am not sure what size I want my rail to be yet but I know I want my tennon shoulder rabbits to be 1/8” deep on the sides and 1/4” deep on the top and bottom. I can define that when I create the tennon geometry and tie it to the sides of my rail. Then lets say later I need to change my rail with. I can do that and my tennon will update with the rail. In fact, if I define things correctly, I can get my mortise pocket to update too.

As a point of fact, if I make the rabbit depths parametric, I can go back and change that easily later too and have all the dependent geometry update automatically (tennon and mortise pockets).

Granted, this is a really really simple example, but say you were working on a complex bench and then decided you wanted it to be 6” longer and there are 200 pieces that need to change. That is going to be hard to do in sketchup, but its as easy as modifying a single parameter if you set it up right in the parametric modelerrs.

It is possible to update geometry with sketchup as well but all those steps would have to be done manually again including re-pocketing the mortise.

Further, the sketchup isn’t really free anymore because what you used to get was pretty much the Pro version that you have to pay for now. Then to add constraints and dimensions cost you more yet in plugins.

So to answer your question you may be able to pick sketchup up a little bit quicker, but you have to ask yourself, how much time am I going to save modeling and redoing things as compared to Fusion360. Further, Fusion 360 isn’t really all that hard to understand how to use. The basics are: create a sketch that is tied to a plane, draw a closed shape, and then revolve/extrude/loft/etc to create a solid. If you want to modify you can define a new sketch and cut or add or you can go back to your original sketch and change dimensions.

When Fusion 360 is free to use, you don’t loose anything but a little time to try it out.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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Richard H

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#7 posted 12-29-2014 08:36 PM

Fusion is only free for startups and students btw after the 30 day trial. I didn’t see anything about free use for personal or non-profit use.

Still I agree about the limitation of Sketchup as a modeling tool. It’s a good easy to use tool but it’s often easier to rebuild a part from scratch than to try and make changes to it.

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#8 posted 12-29-2014 09:35 PM

go to http://fusion360.autodesk.com/pricing

Then click on the ”*Do I qualify for free use?” link right above the big download trial button. You will be able to see the details regarding a “startup” license there.

At the time of this post, this is what their licence details show:

“If you selected the startup entitlement, you will have personal use of Autodesk® Fusion 360™ Ultimate for one (1) year. You will be notified at the end of your entitlement term via email or via a notice to your account. At the end of one (1) year, you will have the option to re-select the startup entitlement of transition to a commercial entitlement”

so it does let us use it personally at no cost.

By default, your trial licence should convert to a “startup” when the 30 day trial is up. Also your “startup” licence will get you the Ulitmate version. The startup license technically lasts for 1 year but you are supposed to be able to continue it from year to year at no cost.

I actually got in on a deal they were offering last November. They were giving out a license to Ulitmate for life for 300/year as long as you continue the subscription. I went ahead and did that because I do plan on using the software to make money. Someday I hope to be able to support myself with woodworking and quit my day job. Maybe that day won’t come until I retire in 20 years, but hey it’s a dream.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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dgage

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#9 posted 12-30-2014 05:31 AM

I did a quick search and I think Fusion 360 exports gcode too. Can you verify that Fusion 360 exports gcode?

And what is the workflow? For instance, I’m testing Sketchup to VCarve Pro where I have to setup the toolpaths after importing the Sketchup. Can you tell us the steps to go from your drawing to parts on the CNC? Basically, I’m wondering how much more efficient the one tool of Fusion 360 might be. Thanks.

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#10 posted 12-30-2014 06:33 AM

The CAM in Fusion 360 is pretty sweet. I’ve used Aspire fire a while now. And I like the CAM in Fusion a lot better for most things. For starters everything in fusion cam is feature based so when you define tool paths your clicking on faces and such. No more grouping curves and closing curve elements and rebuilding your depth profiles from a dxf. The second thing is it’s history and parametric based so when you go back to update your 3d model to make a part change all you have to do is hit the recalculate button in the cam and it will update based on the new geometry. That is freeken sweet and my favorite part of the cam.

Now for a few shortcomings. It’s bases on hsmworks cam which is really geared towards metal fab and tool and die making. The positive here is you get some truly advanced tool path solutions that you won’t get without spending mega bucks elsewhere. You get high speed machining, pensil machining, remachining and all kinds of other goodies. For 3d wood carving you won’t be able to beat this cam without spending 10k or more. I also believe that true independent 4th axis machining (not indexed) is coming. Right now I think it only does 3axis but the inventor version will do up to indexed 5 axis and they have a robotic machining capability as well. Not sure how far they are going to go with fusion though, but I have seen talk of at least 4th axis plans.

The down side to all of this is that features for Cnc routing that we all love like dog bone fillets and even easy part patterning are not present as of yet. I know that they are working on patterning now, but when that will be ready is not known. I haven’t asked about dog bone and t bone fillets yet.

That said, I think I could write a little API script to do the fillets. There is a programming API available as well and it’s in mid development. I’ve been fooling around with it the last week or so. It does a lot.

So is it quicker easier and more powerful than most other Cam packages… Yes actually. Is it perfect fow a Cnc router? Not quite yet. That patterning thing is a big deal when you cut sheet goods. It would also be good to have a nesting feature to make the most out of plywood. That stuff ain’t cheap anymore.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#11 posted 12-30-2014 06:43 AM

One other thing I haven’t figured out how to do yet is v-carving. I haven’t looked into that yet so I don’t know if it does it or is in the works.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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Woodmaster1

1044 posts in 2733 days


#12 posted 12-30-2014 07:55 AM

As a teacher my students and I get autodesk products three years free as long as the school is a licensed user. I like using Inventor and transferring what the students design to the 3D printer. I still like sketching my projects on graph paper. It goes back to when I started teaching pre-CAD days.

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Woodknack

12369 posts in 2526 days


#13 posted 12-31-2014 04:10 AM

Following this discussion with interest. Around 25 years ago I was trained in Autocad 2D & 3D. I’ve lost the knowledge but I’m wondering if this would be better for me than Sketchup, which I’ve tried and didn’t like. I like the idea of 3D but Sketchup frustrated me because it felt so limited.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#14 posted 12-31-2014 07:02 PM

it probably didn’t feel limited, it actually was limited. Give Fusion a shot and let us know what you think. It really is quite easy. You have nothing to loose because it won’t cost you anything as long as you have a computer to run it on already.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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Dirk Van Essendelft

58 posts in 2040 days


#15 posted 12-31-2014 07:06 PM



As a teacher my students and I get autodesk products three years free as long as the school is a licensed user. I like using Inventor and transferring what the students design to the 3D printer. I still like sketching my projects on graph paper. It goes back to when I started teaching pre-CAD days.

- Woodmaster1

If you like to do 3d Printing with students, Fusion 360 may eventually be a better product to use than Inventor. Right now, there is direct interaction capabilities with Meshmixer which is pretty much a one click printing program that is part of the 123D stuff by Autodesk. I am willing to bet that their development plans will call for integrating the meshmixer stuff right into Fusion 360 so it will be as easy as click on the body and hit print. I don’t know if that will ever be built into Inventor, but since Fusion 360 is their product geared towards personal manufacturing, I would bet that it will.

-- Blending Traditional Woodworking with 21st Century Tools http://www.21stCenturyWoodworking.com

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