Learning To Draft- Custom Millwork


From original questioner:

I would really like to get some opinions on the best way for me to learn to draft. My goal is to transition from a custom woodworker to a freelance drafter. My plan is to cater to small 100% custom shops that don't require an in house draftsman. My first question is, what software should I focus on? my second question is, can anyone recommend an online learning method? I have spent a considerable amount of time searching the internet from community colleges to dvd programs with some sort of mentoring services. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!

From contributor Do

Try these out http://archsupply.com/free-cad-software/

Also Sketchup and Ecabinet Systems.

There are a lot of videos on youtube for sketchup and draftsight. Ecabinet systems has their own video training, charged per month.

There are several other programs that go a lot deeper, but these are the best free options. I'd start here and then move on to more advanced/expensive software if you need to.

From contributor ja

How are your current Drafting skills, I use an Out source regularly, the one I use now has On hands work, drafting and cad experience and in that order,, the last one was a great cad wiz but worthless as a woodworking draftsman. if you can draft a full set of plans by hand look to a local tech school for an acad 101/102 course at night. Here in Columbia SC TPM (acad reseller) has a training program in place as support for sales

From contributor Ji

Greetings Mike,
You might want to check out your competition first, as there are many folks doing what you are considering. Find out who your potential clients might be and what their needs are. Then if possible, line up a few clients for when you get up and running. There are many services in the USA and many outsourcing services that charge less than you may want to make per hour. What you need to do is find a specialty in drafting or provide custom parts to CNC or funiture only or renderings or some other specialty to differentiate you from the other companies currently out there.
All the best,
Jim Falk

From contributor Ru

I agree with Jim and as we all know, times change so fast. 12-15 years ago, custom drafting was a viable thing to get into, but now, with CNC such a integral part of the process. I see more shops trying to keep the work in-house and for those who don't, cheap outsourcing is plentiful - especially for casework and architectural millwork.
Good luck.

From contributor Br

Where I work having CAD preformed outside the company would be an extra step and extra time. We do it all in house. But if you are wanting to go down this road you need to know AutoCad as it is the industry standard. While other applications can get the job done it will eventually come back to needing AutoCad, Many times you will receive files that are from the latest version so you also have to keep current with your version. Overall it is a task that I would not want to take on, lots of competition and you will be up against some very skilled and experienced users. Good luck.

From contributor mi

Thanks to all that took the time to respond to my post.... I guess I need to reconsider the viability of my plan. Thanks again!!

From contributor Le

You might want to check out the following book: So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. http://www.calnewport.com/books/sogood.html As suggested by many of the posts here, you have to possess the skills and offer the value that sets you apart from the crowd. Passion isn't a bad thing, and if you want something badly enough, you'll do what it takes to get there, but in the end, it's ability that sells.

From contributor jo

We have no interest to outsource drawings as we engineer as we draw. Using CV allows us to produce drawings that with the click of a button or two can be cutting on our equipment. We can still use Acad for details and import the drawings to CV for shop drawings.

What I do have an interest in or would outsource is the highly detailed 3d renders for proposals to upper end clients. I have seen renderings that look like photo's but can't do it in CV.

I live in a town that is driven by tech inovation and this is what they are working on(link below to Reality Cave) I was lucky enough to be invited with a renovation company to "walk through" a 3D house - unreal!

From contributor Ga

You can teach yourself if you want. I started with Sketchup and an Autocad clone. This is probably the time-consuming way to do it, but it's free. It's totally possible to become proficient in CAD self-taught, provided the interface isn't too cryptic. I found it was mostly about the patience to actually sit down and follow tutorials and such. Personally I think switching to a true solid modeller after you get the hang of Sketchup is a good idea. Also, don't overlook the importance of rendering - there's free renderers out there (Kerkethea), that work with Sketchup. It's a whole other kettle of fish, and my guess is that it will be increasingly important to be able to produce decent renderings in the future.

I took a fairly exhaustive look at all the CAD/Modelling packages out there, and I came to the conclusion that (besides AutoCad), the program to learn right now is Rhino.

You might consider working as an employee drafter first. I see 'Millwork Draftsperson' jobs with some regularity in the province where I live. Some of them don't even care if you have any formal AutoCad training, as long as you can do the job.

There's also other fields that kind of overlap that you may want to check out, such as the architectural visualization industry, and working as a draftsperson in the naval architecture field. I don't know a lot about the credentials involved, but I have read on a couple forums that the software is evolving fast enough that there's opportunities for self taught 'gurus' in programs such as Rhino.

As an aside to Jody, here's something similar to your post, but not quite as high tech. I think customers would flip-out over this: http://www.getmethod.com/blog/2013/1/15/augmented-reality-put-the-project-in-your-

From contributor Le

If the goal is merely drafting, then perhaps Rhino is a worthwhile platform, but if you're actually going to make what you draw and design, where do you go from Rhino? Outside of 3D printers, which certainly aren't viable in the wood product manufacturing industry, at least not in the foreseeable future, Rhino's website doesn't offer much. A better approach is to find out what design tools are being used for real-world production in the industry of your choice and then pick from these.

From contributor Ri

I am in a similar situation to the original poster in that I intend to establish a business performing drafting services for multiple clients. I have 10 years of experience with CNC programming & operating as well as hands on shop experience & around 7 years drafting experience. All of this has been within the store fixtures, residential & commercial cabinetry field.

It is clear from other posts on this threads that it will be essential for me to offer more than just basic drafting. It is my intention to provide clients with a complete "screen to machine" package if they require. At the moment I have Solidworks 2006, Autocad 2011 & Enroute 4 for the CAM portion. I have downloaded Smartlister with the idea that this will enable me to efficiently extract information from Autocad models in order to process it with Enroute. In some ways I would rather use Solidworks to do my modeling (I am more familiar with it's 3D functions & find it an easier platform to work with) but I am not sure how to go about extracting DXF's & cut-lists in an efficient manner without upgrading my version of Solidworks & investing in another plugin to perform that function.

In addition I would offer consulting services & training to shops looking to expand their knowledge base, or utilise their current equipment more efficiently.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I using the correct tools? Is this a viable plan? Etc. etc....Any positive tips & advice on this would be welcome.

All the best & good luck to the original poster & thanks for your comments in advance.


From contributor Ti

The problem with limiting yourself to Auto Cad because it is the industry standard is that you also limit yourself to Auto Cad's abilities. By all means, solid modeling is the way to go, so find the solid modeler that will give you the most flexibility. Many of the more popular CAD programs are parametric, which can be a huge help, but also a huge problem. When I started looking for a solid modeling program a friend, who had used CadKey for years, suggested that for my purposes a parametric modeler was not the way to go. I am glad I listened to him and went with CadKey ( now KeyCreator ) For my custom furniture and cabinet projects it is invaluable.

From contributor Ja


As you get into this you will find that there is a major difference between learning AutoCAD and learning how to produce shop drawings. You are not going to find all that you need with traditional AutoCAD training... it's all industry generic.

If you are still in need, we are an outsourcing company (trademarkdrafting.com) that also teaches what we do... casework & millwork shop drawings. Our training programs are project based & industry specific. We focus only on commercial woodworking and only take on experienced woodworkers as students. A typical client would be cabinet shop owners who hire us for employee training but individuals are welcomed too.

Because we are an established & experienced outsourcing business, training with us will yield lots of time saving starter files, templates, blocks, cheat sheets, etc... all geared toward production.

Our current offering is a one day, quick but complete course covering all you need to get started. We are putting together an upcoming webinar in which we dive into the first module of this program. The first module is titled "AutoCAD Essentials: Crash Course for Woodworkers."

If you are interested just shoot me an email ( info [at] woodproacademy.com ) and put WEBINAR in the subject line. If you want to dive right in you can follow the link attached to this response.

Beyond the initial course we offer much more specific training such as: wall paneling, curved wall paneling, desks, curved desks, point-of-sale, bars, teller lines, kiosks, windows, doors, standing & running trim, exterior trim, transitioning to production drawings, etc...

I do feel compelled to add... Be careful about taking business advice from strangers. We have been turning work away for years. I have never been able to hire qualified draftsmen fast enough. That's why I created my own training systems. If you have the aptitude for this and can do good work ... there's plenty of room for you in this business.

Jason Rogers

PS ... I invite anyone reading this to send us an email and get in on our upcoming webinars.

From contributor Ru

I too am a SolidWorks user (since 2001). For the longest time I just used it for drawings and creating 5-axis CNC components.
It took years to realize the value of the data inside and it's been a long time since I had the 2006 version (I actually think I skipped it from 2005-2008 releases) and I have to say that the modelling strategies have changed quite a lot since then.
Nowadays, modeling with weldments and multi-body parts have been game changing. In a nutshell, if we model without too much parametric linking AND use multi-body parts, not only are the parts quick to model, but the customizable data within is invaluable (cutting lists, etc). I've been using it for stairs (curved and straight, dome ceilings, eyebrow dormers, cabinets and architectural woodwork & metalwork). It takes time to develop a deeper understanding of the software, but for me it's been the heart of my business for nearly 20 years.
As for DXF output, I'm not sure when they added the feature, but when in a part or assembly, by right-clicking on a face you get a dialogue box option to output that face to DXF/DWG. It's manual, the output is very stripped down and efficient, however it's a manual toggle (still my preference). Otherwise, you have to export from a drawing. If exporting from a drawing, I'd recommend putting the relevant parts on a special layer (like "DXF-Out") and only turning on that layer when exporting.