Learning CAD: Is It Worth It?

Craftsmen discuss the value of learning CAD design, and provide tips on tackling the learning curve. June 24, 2006

We are a small workshop designing and making handmade kitchens. We currently do all our drawings by hand but have AutoCAD 2002 which I am about to try and learn. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been through the same thing - moving from hand drawings to AutoCAD and any tips you have in learning how to use it. What have been the benefits and how much time has it saved once you got to grips with it? This may help motivate me to the hard task ahead!

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor C:
I learned AutoCAD and try not to use if I donít have to. There is a big learning curve ahead. If you need to send or receive drawings from an architect then AutoCAD is the way to go if not then Cabinet vision solid is what I use now for high end Kitchens its so much easier to learn and work on everyday. 20/20 is easy as well, but I didnít care for it. I havenít worked on it in a number of years but I donít think itís ever going to get even close to Cabinet Vision

From contributor X:
Of course, with the right help, that learning curve flattens out pretty quick. Thatís been my experience.

From contributor U:
Iím going to have to disagree with Contributor C, especially in reply to Cabinet Vision. There are many areas that you run into that are difficult to draw requiring trickery or a backdoor approach. The drawings are mediocre at best. You have little or no control over such simple things as line weights, text styles. ACAD does involve learning time, but almost every Community College offers a course. Then there is the cost. ACAD lite (non 3d ) is $700. If you were thinking of adding a CNC machining center then I might consider CV.

From the original questioner:
We don't need to link to any CNC machines now or in the future and we don't really have a need for 3D or rendered images. We just really want to be able to set up our own library of doors, mouldings, handles, appliances, etc and use these to design each individual kitchen. We recently had one customer who changed his mind 5 times so we had to produce 5 sets of hand drawings. With CAD we should be able to easier edit each design in this case. For our application and bearing in mind that we already have AutoCAD 2002, do you think this is the right way to go?

From contributor M:
I have been doing drawings for the architectural woodwork industry for over 30 years now. When I first started using AutoCAD, about 15 years ago, I truly believed that I could still draw an initial drawing by hand faster. That attitude changed drastically once I learned to harness the power of CAD.

The most time saving aspect of CAD I found is in doing revisions to drawings. I don't wear out any erasers changing drawings as the customer changes their minds. Also, as you start using CAD you will find it handy to build a library of certain details and conditions that can be used over and over in different projects. In the paper and pencil days we used sepia copies to cut and paste similar details through out a set of drawings (which was an art form in itself).

The learning curve is steep, but if you or the person in you company that does the drafting has a good understanding of basic drafting skills then you can pick it up pretty quickly. Most people, myself included, probably only use about 15% of AutoCAD's power. But the opportunity to use that power is always there should you decide that is what you need.

From contributor W:
Take the time and learn AutoCAD, it's well worth it. I would suggest getting Mastering AutoCAD 2002 by George Omura. It has plenty of lessons and is easy to follow, and will cut down on the leaning curve.

From contributor E:
Look at it this way. Where do you want to be say, 10 years from now? Do you still want to be drafting? If so, then learn ACAD. It looks good on your resume and you can always move on from there. For your future you are going to need cad or get left behind.

From contributor C:
If I need AutoCAD I use something called CADKIT as well. Itís an AutoCAD engine and they have set up like a shell in AutoCAD so itís streamlined to make it much faster, with a much less learning curve. Check out there web site - they have manufacture catalogs and pricing programs as well

Please understand that if you have never worked with cad software before and youíre going to try to teach yourself AutoCAD with a book itís no joke. AutoCAD is a bear of a program and it would take unique person to just pick it up that way

From contributor B:
I say go ahead and start learning. Take your time. Learn one thing at a time and don't expect to be putting out drawings your first week. But they will come. After you have taught yourself from a book, and have a little understanding of ACAD, you may want to go to school to learn some shortcuts and commands that are not in the books.

Always remember two things.
1.) Its never to late to learn something.
2.) There is only one dumb question, the one you don't ask.

From contributor L:
I have guided many people through this transition and have seen great successes and solutions.
I provide a freelance AutoCAD consultancy service and I am able to train personnel on basic, intermediate and advanced AutoCAD.

From contributor Y:
I think you'll learn to love AutoCAD. I've used many (about a dozen) CAD systems since the 70s and still think that AutoCAD gives the most bang for the buck. You can do the simple things right away and "the sky's the limit" if you're willing to dig. Try to find a mentor or users group. They're worth their weight in gold. Everyone brings different experience to the table and it's all valuable.

From contributor G:
Speaking as a kid that learned AutoCAD in school I have to let you know that you need to love AutoCAD. I mean that as you learn don't initially try to do what you need to do for work. Draw fun stuff, have fun using commands to make neat designs or outlandish stuff. Take commands to an extreme (like thousands of inches) just to see what happens. You will stretch your understanding of the program.

Learn the zoom commands well early on. Make sure you have a mouse with a scroll wheel so you can have fun with zooming and panning the picture around while you are still in another command.

Above all else don't be frustrated by not being able to do exactly what you want. Sometimes, even with AutoCAD you just have to make do. My workmate is 10 years older than me and learned AutoCAD about the time I graduated Technical school and he spent a long time blending hand and AutoCAD drawing. It's okay to just add a hand note and fax it, or show it to someone.

From contributor S:
I would suggest printing out the acad.pgp file. It has most of the AutoCAD short cut keys in it. You also can add/or change to your own abbreviations. For instance, I use Copy more than Circle. So I change C to Copy and Circle to CR.

From contributor K:
I've been in the cabinetmaking industry for 17 years and 6 years of it have been self-employed. Two years ago I implemented Cabinet Vision's Solid Manufacturing, and after tireless hours of being in this business, I've decided to weed myself out of the business, at least the building aspect and go back to college.

I'm currently enrolled at the community college taking 2-D Auto Cad 2004 harnessing 2005. I only have two more classes and I'll be done. Next I will be taking 3-D Auto Cad and am looking forward to it. The class is costing me $340.00 per class/semester for each and it meets once a week from 4-10 pm.

If you take the class, make sure you donít miss any classes or you will fall behind. At this point, I don't know if I even want to do a drafting job for a living, but as mentioned, it will look good on a resume.

From contributor H:
I ditto all the positive responses to your post. One thing I would add is that if you possibly can, start with the most recent version of AutoCAD. 2006 has some dramatic new features, and if you are going to learn from scratch, you are at a greater advantage learning from the newest version.

I think that some of the new features throughout the years are harder for us long time users to learn, than newer users, because of old habits. There have been major improvements since 2002. Overall, once you get good at drawing with CAD, you will not go ďback to the drawing boardĒ.

The benefits are limited only to your imagination. If there is someone you know that already knows CAD, it is worth it to get him or her to help you in whatever way you can. It is amazing how much you can learn in a casual environment where you can ask what you may think are stupid or elementary question. That question may be the one thing that is holding you up from moving on.

From contributor P:
I am in the same boat as you and at this very time I am in the process of teaching myself AutoCAD. I have a borrowed version of 2002 from my shop and as others have said it is a bear of a program. I tinkered with it for some time with little understanding and much frustration. I was about to give it up and try another program but I really want to learn AutoCAD because it is the industry's go to program.

I was in Barnes and Noble and thought I would look for some kind of self help book on it and found AutoCAD for dummies. Being skeptical I looked through it for quite some time in the store and eventually bought it. I have to say that I just recently completed the drawing of a cherry built-in desk unit in very elaborate detail and it is more importantly scaled and dimensioned properly.

That is one thing the book goes into great detail about is the scaling of things because let's face it, the prettiest picture in the world is nothing if it is not accurately dimensioned and especially if you want to do any CNC machining with the results. The book has somehow explained the basics of setting the system up to draw properly to scale whatever I need to draw as well as teach me the basic drawing tools and their functions. I learned some just piddling around with it but there is so much more you need to understand to produce a proper drawing. I still have much to learn and there are still many features I do not use yet but I am very happy to be able to draw anything in it. I recommend you try to find a book like that and read it while experimenting with the program at the same time.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I just started using CAD a little over 3 months ago. I have taught myself a lot, and I've found two major tools to help me. The first was a CAD tutorial book from Barnes and Noble, which taught me the basic and most often used commands, and how to take advantage of OSNAPS and Polar Tracking.

The second was cadtutor.net, which provides tutorials and training. Whether this is the best solution for your business is debatable, but CAD is a worthwhile tool to know if you have the opportunity.