How to Learn CAD

Old hands describe pathways to CAD proficiency. February 13, 2006

Any suggestions on how to gain experience in CAD? I'm an experienced cabinetmaker trying to expand my qualifications in the job market. Local schools only offer general AutoCAD courses. I purchased Autosketch, which is a pretty informal drawing program, and am learning the basics. I would like to gain experience in designing and producing detailed drawings with programs such as Cabinetvision, etc. No room for draftsmen at my place of employment.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor A:
Take advantage of local schools, if they're any good. Get your employer to pay for it. If they're worth anything, they'll cover the costs.

The biggest thing I look for in hiring someone is cabinetmaking experience. Learning the software is easy (read: teachable). Learn how to develop fully engineered shop drawings. I started by gathering up copies of architecturals and noting what is good drafting and what is bad drafting.

I'd definitely stress you learn AutoCAD over any other program. It is the industry standard. If you ever need a new job, there are many more opportunities with acad. Then add other programs to your arsenal.

Finally, if there isn't room for advancement in your company, find one where there is.

From contributor T:
In order for you to be successful in CAD, you have to score high in all three of the following areas:
Your work has to be accurate.

The information has to be there when it is needed.
It has to be produced at a reasonable cost.

In order to be good in all three of these areas, you have to commit to the concept on a personal level. (It sounds like you do!) This means learning it on your own time and not expecting your employer to completely subsidize the learning curve.

Contributor A does make a good point about learning the industry standard. Something to keep in mind, however, is that there are a lot of people who have studied AutoCAD. The universities produce a new batch of them every ninety days. You need to distinguish yourself. There are lots of people who know how to build casework and there are lots of people who know how to run software. There are not so many people who know how to do both. There are a lot of people in the CAD industry who are good at the easy stuff but very few who can do the useful stuff. Most CAD programs have a database engine that allows you to turn the pretty drawings into math that someone can use. This is the part that will make you and your employer some money. Good luck with this and don't wait for your employer to pay for it.

From contributor M:
Get the AutoCAD (start from 30 day free trial) and get the book (George Omura is good). Read it and do it. School will not teach you anything that you will not find in the book. Just be patient - spend hours and hours, every single day, put in a lot of effort, and you will see the results. If you do not understand something, ask the forum - people always help you.

From contributor J:
I started learning CAD 26 years ago at the local college. Then I spent 4 years doing mechanical and printed wiring board CAD drafting. Next came a few years doing integrated circuit design (chips). I then spent 12 years doing software support for several IC design software development companies (it can be a real gift to work with the folks who write the code - they know some stuff, I'm gonna tell you what). Then I went back to IC design, and now I have moved on to architectural drafting and site planning using AutoCAD, with some mechanical design thrown in for good measure.

My experience, in all these years of formal and informal training on literally dozens of software packages, is this… Books and school are great - they give you the grounding in the concepts needed to be successful with any software package. But for my money, the absolute best training comes from working with bright, experienced people - it is from them that I have learned the most in the least time.

It is easy to get comfortable in one way of doing things, but seeing someone work more efficiently can be a real eye opener. Currently I teach at the local college, and sometimes students (the good ones) can teach me tricks and techniques that one won't find in the average text book. My best advice would be - keep drafting (I spend hours every day using AutoCAD), branch out into new fields (I think I am in my 4th or 5th) and pay attention to people who use the tools - they've learned things along the way that we can benefit from.

From contributor G:
I am a cabinetmaker who went to an 18 month, 3-nights-a-week, 6:30 - 10:40 pm, architectural engineering AutoCAD course. Now I'm not only a cabinetmaker, but also can do all the CAD shop drawings, CNC programming and setup, and I also have done some designing. I recommend buying the $80 AutoCAD book (looks like a phone book). You'd be surprised at what you can learn by reading. I also have to say that AutoCAD is the base program that every other company (I believe) generated their programs from, and is also the most universal.

From contributor W:
Learn AutoCAD. Learn how to properly present your drawings, and how to lay out a set of detailed drawings. Communication is different in a printed media. Many great cabinetmakers fail at the transition because they can't do just that. Study good drawings and look at why you think they are good. Most are good at communicating the details in a well organized manner. Cabinetmakers aren't always the best engineers, but certainly those who can translate their experience into well engineered details are the best.

I also suggest you buy a book, with a tutorial CD, and learn at your own pace. In my opinion, a class work environment is way too slow, and too basic. If you can quickly learn concepts like X, Y, Z and are decent at math/geometry, it should be a breeze to learn the basics. Also, learn how to type the right way. Hunting and pecking will really slow you down.

From contributor Y:
Get AutoCAD LT (cheaper than full version), then buy the book published by AutoCAD (comes with a tutorial CD). Spend a lot of time, go through the tutorials and the book step by step. Practice! If you put your hours into this, you will learn fast. Then move into the full version of AutoCAD to learn 3D.

From contributor O:
The carpenter's training center offers these classes for almost free if you're a union cabinetmaker in the Chicago area.

From contributor B:
There is no substitute for aptitude. Not all good cabinetmakers will make good CAD operators. It requires you to be somewhat of a computer geek, and if that's not your thing, you're going to hate it. If you're not working with an experienced CAD person, you may struggle. The next best thing is a users group, and forums such as this. Remember, everyone's experience is different and we're all learning things by accident that aren't in the manuals. Draw and study as much as you can - it will pay off.