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I want to build something, I already have a rough idea of how it's going to look and what kind of materials to get from my local hardware store. Let's call this thing I'm trying to build a "box with extra steps".

Before actually buying anything I'd like to finalise my design by building it some 3D modelling software.

I'm looking for some software that allows me to create "knock-offs" for the parts I have in mind and put them all together in a 3D assembly. Specifically I would like to:

  • Create basic parts (for example a square tube with rounded edges 1m×1.6cm×1.6cm, 1mm thick)
  • Duplicate said parts without changing the original or linking the duplicates to it
  • Cut said parts into pieces, and use all those pieces (let's say from one tube I would cut a 70cm and 25cm part and have 5cm leftover)
  • Move all those parts around in a 3D environment to get a better idea of the end product

So far I've tried a few CAD products:

  • FreeCAD (Terrible mouse/kb controls)
  • OpenSCAD (Can't figure it out at all)
  • SolveSpace (Can't seem to find how to put in actual numbers for sizes)
  • DesignSpark Mechanical (Can't figure out how to duplicate and cut parts without messing with the original)

The main thing with all these programs is that the tutorials for them only explain the utmost basics. Teaching you nothing more than how to create basic shapes that can be 3D printed. If you want to do more there seems to be no comprehensive tutorial material available.

From what I've seen of Fusion 360 that might actually do what I want, however that is paid software and I'm not ready to heavily invest in a piece of sofware I'm probably not going to use all that often and only for personal projects. (because of the price I haven't even bothered with the trial)

  • If you are a student or a small business with less than $100,000 in earnings, you can get a free license of Fusion 360. – Eric Shain Jan 20 at 15:56
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It's unfortunate that you found OpenSCAD difficult, as it would be a strong contender in your project.

For SolveSpace, one uses the Dimension option (D) and double click on the resulting figure in the display.

Fusion 360 is free to hobbyists and only has to be re-registered once per year.

Of these three, you have a strong chance of getting things to work, but I know from experience that Fusion 360 is challenging to learn. Being text/code based, OpenSCAD may be daunting, but offers the easiest way to control your design and placement. One of our makerspace members constructed an entire CNC router using the program, but he's a Python-proficient person and very well qualified to understand complex coding.

For your purposes, there need not be complex coding in OpenSCAD. The requirement of virtually chopping a source length to determine suitable placement is not as easily done, so I would reject this program for your objective.

I'm not a heavy user of OnShape or TinkerCad, but those are also free programs with some vestige of parametric control. Not so much in TinkerCad, but very much so in OnShape. I've assisted the local library to learn sufficient OnShape to generate custom keychain fobs to be 3D printed. Those skills were then taught to the summer teen tech camp.

  • I didn't know Fusion 360 was free for personal use, they hid that pretty well. I've been using it for a few hours now and it seems by far the most intuitive of all the applications I tried. Thanks! – Gelunox Jan 20 at 19:04

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