Plans, projects and how-to's for home machinists

Review: DeltaCAD

This is a quick review of DeltaCAD, an inexpensive and easy-to-use 2D CAD program with a short learning curve.  I highly recommend it, unless you need to design and draw complex parts or make 3D drawings.  If you’ve been looking for a simple CAD program then invest a few minutes and take a look at this one.  The fully functional demo won’t take long to download or install, and it will work for 45 days with absolutely no restrictions.  And you can buy it for only $40, which I think is a bargain.

DeltaCAD reads and writes industry standard DXF and DWG files, which makes it compatible with almost all other CAD programs.  It loads almost instantaneously, which makes it a great viewer for looking at CAD files you find on the net.  It has so many features that I’m not even going to try and list them all.  And DeltaCad has been around for a long time, since 1995, and it’s always being updated and improved.

The program’s author claims it is the “world’s easiest CAD program,” which may be true.  I looked at many other CAD programs and none of them come close to matching DeltaCAD’s ease of use.  I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that they shared some common problems:

  • The other programs were really powerful, almost designed to do all things for all people.  In other words, they were bloated with features that many users, especially home machinists, would never use.
  • They often didn’t come with a tutorial or some other way to help a new user get started.  They also typically came with documentation that would be great at telling you the obvious, like “Click on the line icon to draw a line,”  but leave out basic details, like how to make it a certain length or at a certain angle.
  • DeltaCAD just seems to have been designed to be easier to use.  It also comes with a simple tutorial that will get most people started making useful drawings in about an hour.

You’ll find DeltaCAD’s tutorial in the help menu.  The tutorial will guide you step-by-step through the process of drawing a calculator, showing all the different methods you can use.  I think most people will probably be able to complete it in about 30 to 60 minutes.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t show you how to add dimensions to a drawing, which is really easy.  So after drawing the calculator you may want to take a quick look at the “dimension” topic, which you’ll find in help under “drawing.”  Afterward, I think you’ll know enough to start making your own drawings.

If you have questions you can ask them on the DeltaCAD User’s Forum, where you will also find a library of drawings, symbols and macros to download.

There are some good reasons to learn how to use a more powerful and complex CAD program.  For example, I’ve been told that many of the 3D CAD programs will help make certain that the parts you design will fit together properly.  If you make a change to one part they can automatically make changes to the others so that critical dimensions and things like bolt holes will continue to match up.

So someday, if I start designing more complex projects and making them on CNC machines, I may need to learn how to use an affordable 3D CAD program like Alibre or Dolphin CAD.  But so far DeltaCAD has been more than capable of meeting my needs and I’m going to continue to use it.

Related Links

ReviewCentre’s user reviews of DeltaCAD

Free Plans: Finger Engine

Ken Gracey built this Christmas gift for his dad from plans for the NAMES finger engine.  The engine was originally intended to be made on a manual lathe and mill but Ken made his version with CNC equipment.

You can download his CAD drawings if you would like to do the same.  You can also get the original NAMES plans from his web site and a video of his engine in motion.

CAD & CAM Software

My new CNC mini-millI unexpectedly bought a CNC mini-mill a couple of weeks ago and since then I’ve been trying to learn about CAD and CAM software.  It came with the very popular Mach 3 controller program and that will be enough to get me started cutting metal.  But my understanding is that sooner or later I’m going to need CAD/CAM software if I want to design a part on my computer and then make it on the mill.

So I’ve been trying to find the best software in my price range.  So far all I know is that there are a lot of similarities between choosing software and finding a compatible girlfriend.  There are lots of choices available, so you have to visit a lot of web sites to find software that catches your attention in a special way.  Then you have to download the demo version and see if you enjoy spending time with it.  You also have to try to find out if the software has the features and capabilities you’ll need to develop a successful long-term relationship.  Unfortunately, serious issues may not become apparent until after you have invested a considerable amount of time, effort and money into your relationship.

I sought suggestions on for software that would meet the following requirements:

  • I’m just a hobbyist, so it has to be affordable.  $200 is probably the most that I might be willing to spend and I would prefer to pay $100 or less.  Free is good, and I know that there is free software available.  However, I don’t want to spend a lot of time learning how to use a free or cheap program just to save a few bucks and then find out it won’t do what I need it to do.
  • It has to run on Windows.  I think Linux is great but I’m not willing to switch yet.
  • Free and easy-to-understand tutorials have to be readily available for it.  This is really important.  I’ve played around with CAD software in the past and they all seem to have a long learning curve.  That doesn’t bother me, but it does bother me when there aren’t any good tutorials for beginners or you have to pay for them.

I was given a lot of good suggestions.  Unfortunately there was no consensus, so it looks like I’ll be trying software demos for a while.

By the way, I don’t need to get CAD/CAM software right away.  But there’s a fairly inexpensive AutoCAD course I can sign up for in a couple of weeks that might be helpful.  However, I know I won’t be able to afford my own copy of AutoCAD when the class ends, and I don’t know if I will be able to transfer the knowledge I’ll learn to another CAD program.  What do you think

Random Quote

Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

— Thomas Jefferson