FreeCAD

Several years ago Dassault announced it would be changing the way Draftsight worked (and ending Linux support) When my license was up for renewal I decided it was time to move to open source software for my drafting and CAM needs. The problem wasn’t that I was too cheap – it was that I did want to pay – and own the license on an operating system that I had some control over without the need to be tethered to the internet. As a one man band I don’t have the internet where I’m building and have no intention of getting it. Unable to justify a Solidworks seat, I eventually got around to learning FreeCAD and I’m glad I did. It’s quite a versatile program, allowing for drawing, parametric modelling, FEA simulation and modest but evolving CAM capability.

As a low level user I can’t say how well it will work for others but there are a number of very good Youtube channels some of whom are included below. Most of the issues I’ve encountered were solved by mining the FreeCAD forum when internet access was a thing. For the kind of of tool, model and furniture design I do it works quite well. Formal GD&T is lacking but you can monkey around in the Techdraw workbench labelling the 2D drawing with proper tolerances. Until I learn of better my drawings are manually altered this way. I use A2+ assembly workbench since that is what was best documented when I started but there are others. CAM is another area that is under development but a lot of the toolpaths are there to get milling jobs done. For turning and slotting I do my own thing but the dev group is working on streamlining lathe work.

Cross platform downloads are available at https://www.freecadweb.org/

AH

5 thoughts on “FreeCAD

  1. I did try FreeCAD when I went briefly to Linux a few years ago. Sadly at the time I wasn’t able to find the necessary tutorial to help me figure out parametric drawing. I’m happy to hear it is improving.

    • Not all of my models are as parametric as I would like… I think this is the fourth time I’ve used it but the only time where I’ve understood enough of the most basic operations to enable me to do my work. I don’t think it was any more difficult previously but I never had the motivation to learn while I had access to other programs and an established workflow.

      AH

  2. Neat to read this post. I’ve been using AutoCAD for so long but the PC it resides on and the version I use are both at the end of their life. I bought both when I was still running an architectural drafting studio so the cost was easier to justify. As that work moved into my history and the little drafting I was doing was creating designs for 3D printing it was nice to have such familiar tools to work with. I no longer feel like plugging that box into the internet – one more upgrade or patch and either the software or hardware are toast.

    I’ve been trying alternative tools. So far Blender looked good but lately Fusion 360 seemed viable. While not free the cost didn’t seem prohibitive and being an Autodesk product I was hoping the workflow would be familiar to my AutoCAD ancestry.

    Because of your post I’ve started looking into FreeCAD. I like that it resides on the machine instead of in a cloud.

    Certainly, I’m grateful you shared these thoughts.

    Chris

  3. A number of local machine shops use Fusion for CAM and some CAD. At least for milling it is pretty good and super affordable. For those small shops where the majority of the work IP isn’t locked up the cloud usage isn’t an issue. For the hobbyist it WAS a terrific deal but the recent changes (that were always going to occur) mean that it is too costly for most of the people it had been marketed to in the maker field. I don’t know what impact the most recent license changes have on people 3D printing. For Machining it looked like you had to access the paid content (no bad thing) but again at the whims of the cloud.

    When I was looking at the landscape I took into account my lack of computer knowledge, the amount of time it would take to get up to speed and what I would have when I finally, finally did get there. My nightmare scenario is just getting useful at something and then having it rendered obsolete. I run Linux on all but one box that I own because all of the hardware I run is old (late nineties CNC controllers etc) so FreeCAD makes some sense in my situation. I want something I can hold and touch, possibly even fix. Something where every IT crisis doesn’t feel fatal and the combo I’ve got works so far. I’ve got FC running slowly on my first computer which is almost 14 years old. It doesn’t run well but it doesn’t cost anything to have it as a backup and I still did meaningful work with the machine. My daily driver is a cheap ACER Gaming laptop and FC works pretty well both in WIn10 when I had it and on Mint 19.2.

    I don’t know much about Blender but I’ve seen amazing stuff done on it. It would be very beneficial to learn it for the organic shapes but have never gotten around to it. The learning curve looks much steeper to me than with FC. Maybe some day.

    That Joko Engineering fellow I linked to has some videos where he compares Freecad to Solidworks.

    Joko’s also starting a series on one of the lower tiered ($100-300) Alibre offerings. Model Engineer’s Workshop has a running series on the same program. I know a guy who has used Geomagic/Alibre for many years and had a lot of good things to say about it. Steffan Gotteswinter uses the midlevel version (about $2000USD) in his home shop and it looks very handy for that sort of home based business. It’s all very traditional in the way it is delivered ie you buy it outright and upgrade when you want to. They seem to have a level for most budgets without the license restrictions you see on a lot of competing programs.

    AH

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