CAD software for architectural millwork
Choosing the right CAD package for angle calculations and complex displays. January 3, 2001
Is there a CAD package that is focused on architectural millwork? If so, what is its name and what makes it the preferred package?
About five years ago we picked up CAD Lt. We can get a sketch and in two hours we have our template and knives and are setting up on the moulder.
I have been designing and drawing high-end traditional millwork and mouldings for about 7 years.
My best advice is to buy a good 2D package. I have used both a high end product (Draw base) and an inexpensive one (Drafix). I have found the "low end" product to be more than adequate for a millwork shop. If you do a lot of outside work, AutoCAD Lt is probably the best choice for compatibility. The program I use, Drafix CAD, is probably easier to learn, but it was bought out by AutoCAD about 2 years ago, so I've got a feeling that program has been dropped.
If you’re willing to spend a little time in learning, AutoCAD is the most versatile. AutoCAD LT is fully capable of doing anything you need (except 3D.) Cabinetware or Cabinetvision are cabinet specific drawing packages that can be expanded to do much more than draw.
AutoCAD 2000 is in the range of $2000 to $3000. AutoCAD LT 2000 is about $500. I have been doing architectural shop drawing for about 10 years (5 years in business for myself as an outsource drafting service). I use AutoCAD LT 2000 and love it. My wife is starting to help me with the drafting work and she has learned the basics in about 2 1/2 weeks. It has a program included in the box called "AutoCAD Learning Assistant" which has been a lot of help to her.
If you are an architectural woodworker involved in the commercial market, AutoCAD is the only product you should consider. In today's market most architects use AutoCAD. We ask for the architectural drawings on disc or e-mail transfer and then can use them for floor plans or details which we can modify. You can also submit shop drawings via e-mail directly to the architect if you use AutoCAD. We had DesignCAD and DataCAD and stopped using them in favor of AutoCAD.
Maybe you should consider taking a look at Cabinet Vision. Most think that it is a software designed to build kitchens, but with all the advancements, it has become a very powerful tool in the woodworking industry. The advantage of a software like this is the time you save designing and producing. Offering in some cases a seamless link to CNC equipment, the time and staff savings are incredible. I've seen decks, boat interiors, store fixtures, furniture and a lot more done in this type of software.
AutoCAD is the best buy. Lt doesn't allow you to program it, unless you buy the Drcauto add-ons. There are many add-ons, like Drawpower from Pattern Systems.
We have a program called Virtual Systems, which is a third party AutoCAD-based product which is designed for architectural woodworking. We have had it for almost 2 years and are just beginning to use it properly--it is very powerful but takes a huge investment in time to learn how to use. It has 3D solid modeling, parametrics and is able to put downloadable machining information for saw and machining center into each part drawn. It has a module for building reception desk/nurse station type pieces that sort of works for us. It was very expensive and may someday be worth the money.
From the original questioner:
I make complex displays with multiple compound angles. I need help in the angle calculations. Do I need a 3D system?
Also, do you have to get a hotter video card for your computer? I think the one mine came with is a dog--2 meg or something like that.
Assuming you’re using A-CAD (full version), the 3D application will (in the long run) be easier to show compound angles. Also you might want to look at other 3D cabinet packages such as Cabinetware, CabinetVision, Microvellum, ect. These programs are designed for that type of application but are more expensive than A-CAD.
As to your video card, when you're using any of the high-end CAD packages, get the best card you can afford ($100 to $2000). I recommend the Matrox 32mb cards ($150-$225). I like the one that supports 2 monitors, even though you might have to up-grade your operating system software.