Why I loathe 8-hour-a-day CAD training

When I learn something new, there are a lot of things I take for granted. The three that stick out the most are:


  • I learn best by seeing, hearing, and asking questions - and I know it!
  • I will remember what you just told me because I pay explicit attention and record (type or write) the bits that resonate with me the most.
  • I have an intense understanding of computers because my father received his Computer Science degree in the late 60s, and long ago I helped him load punch cards.

These three things I take for granted and are the very thing that make me an excellent CAD designer. I’m able to model in any CAD platform with very little “training,” while intuitively comprehending how every mouse click is used in the computer.

I am guessing some GrabCAD readers have similar skills, but “CAD super users” are rare. Learning CAD is hard. Count yourself lucky if you are one which the software is obviously easy.

Most CAD users use a single CAD software, model one type of product (CNC part or sheet metal, but not both), yet they still create product definition day-in and day-out.

So, what do you do?

You train!

The first step of CAD training is to define what your user training needs are, and if you don't already know or understand your CAD environment, then get a CAD subject matter expert (ahem) to help.

When those goals are clear, execute your training program with efficiency and maximum bang for the buck. Meaning, spend as little time “training” as possible and more time gaining experience with practical, real world applications of that “training”.

Today’s 3 favorite CAD training methods, not necessarily listed in order of preference order:


  1. Online eLearning:
    • SolidProfessor: Course organization is brilliant for learning SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk products, OnShape, and Sketchup. Their extensive database lets you search for the specific snippet you need to see, watch it, and be over it in 3 minutes. Or if you need to learn the complete breadth of the topic, cozy up to the screen with a cup of coffee for a longer haul of 45 - 90 minute sessions. I like this flexibility of online learning as it covers the professional who needs to get it done fast, and the first-time learner or certification seeker


    • Resilient Modeling: Get CAD modeling best practice advice for free. My friend Dick Gebhard has created easy, straightforward quality videos that are freely accessible. Voiceover instructional videos present three main elements.
      1. A strategy to manage the feature tree
      2. A resilient modeling methods library
      3. A personal “My Best Practices” document


It dovetails nicely with the recommendations for 3D modeling best practice in support of Model-Based Definition (MBD) in Re-Use Your CAD: The CAD Model-Based Handbook, while providing specific native CAD software implementation. Did I mention that it is FREE? Donations are accepted.

  1. Customized Training:
    1. Create or hire out the creation of training that is uniquely structured for your users. Might be live, might be recorded, but it should be defined, measurable and repeatable. Asynchronous learning can be employed to train not only “old-dogs,” but also used to orient new folks to the way you do CAD business.
    2. If you are instantiating MBD per up-and-coming standards alongside your CAD modeling practices, then you must define, measure, and repeat quality CAD modeling techniques. Typically, you will need an expert to assist with generating this training material because the breadth of the topic is large.
  2. Play Around:
    1. Then there is the play around with it style of learning. Probably best suited to those CAD super users I mentioned before because this is how this haphazard style generally runs:
  • Get a quick 30 min to 2-hour introduction on where the basic commands are in the CAD software and let loose.
  • Model a block and add a hole.
  • Pretty easy… NEXT!
  • Try making something you want/need.
  • Fail
  • Start asking questions everywhere! Questions that people generate from your own head, are much more meaningful.
  • Ask the “interwebs”.
  • Result – Yay! Or Eh! – that wasn’t quite it, or “THERE IS NO INFO ON THIS CAD SOFTWARE FREELY AVAILABLE!!!”
  • Phone a friend – great if you have a local guru, bad if you are the local guru
  • Ask your reseller and online CAD platform help
  • Maybe get an answer, or SR (Service Request) and ER (Enhancement Request) is required
  • Try again
  • Get one feature built
  • Go to bed
  • Let it sit for a few days, sometime weeks or even years
  • Do it better the next time

Ideally, CAD training is a mixture of all three learning methods, and best absorbed by the user if they are tailored to the individual CAD learner and based on their day-to-day job function.

At your company, just as at a big ski resort, there will be major rookies and serious experts. Holds true for any company, large or small. There will be a CAD guru, then there will be the person who just needs to read the info from the CAD model to get the part ordered (baby CAD user).

Listen to your company CAD experts. Nobody knows the systems better than those who have grown up with the software, lived through the pain, and seen the light on the other side.

As with anything in life, practice makes you well, better, but still try to achieve perfection. It will keep you in the game.


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  • Ryan

    Great article and you hit on some great points: User learn differently.

    Although, I’m not sure you are actually learning new CAD or just adapting to a CAD system. Most systems these days are primarily built on the same precept of history-based modeling. Once you have that process down adapting to new icons and menu mapping is not that bad.

    It’s when you attempt a different CAD system that doesn’t use history-based modeling that you truly have to learn something new.
    I’d challenge you to learn Solid Edge using synchronous technology- A history-free modeling system.

    • “learning new CAD or just adapting to a CAD system” – very good point Ryan. You stated what I think. Yeah, synchronous or direct modeling (or push pull surfaces to really get to the crux of it) posed a bit more of a challenge, but all CAD systems now have that basic concept as well. Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook makes suggestions for that scenario as well.

  • Austin Garrett

    One of the things that has really helped me throughout the years is trying to redesign or build something that I enjoy, during a time which my company is not paying for. Lunch breaks, break times, and even staying late to design something that I enjoy, while testing new methods of doing something.It’s amazing how much more enjoyable work becomes when you give yourself time to dink around.

    • Gilles

      Austin, I 100 % agree what you told us. Trying, testing new ways is, accordingto me, the only chance to be more efficiant in CAD.

  • Ray Black

    CAD is easy. There are only about 5 or so things you can draw in a CAD drawing. Straight line, curved line, arc, circle, dotted line, filleted corners, etc. They are mostly straight lines, and in one plane, that of the drawing space. But 3D Modeling, that is rather more difficult.

  • Gaylen Healzer

    Before you fly Solidworks
    1.) Chose World Zero or Origin carefully
    Based on natural zero of part
    Based on use of zero in next operation i.e. water jetting
    2.) Chose Orientation of part carefully
    Based on next step in producing part
    3.) Knowing how to orient and move part to needed zero downstream is VITAL
    Nobody thinks of items 1 & 2 above !
    4.) What is the part’s primary feature?
    What is the first thing to draw?
    Initial sketch should produce your initial feature
    Does part display symmetry?
    Bilateral symmetry – mirror x OR y ?
    Quadrilateral symmetry – mirror x & y ?
    Use as little of the database as necessary. It counts when you array 3500 of these parts!
    5.) Secondary features are all in order of importance. We are building a stack !
    First feature – primary – is ALWAYS additive. Something from nothing
    Model raw material first then subtract each machining move ?
    Model part, then fillets & radii, from largest to smallest.
    If draft is required, model it as you go, not at the end.

    In engineering, draft is the amount of taper for molded or cast parts
    perpendicular to the parting line. It can be measured in degrees or mm/mm
    (in/in). Consider the fabrication of a hollow plastic box, without lid. Once the
    plastic has hardened around the mold, the mold must be removed. As the
    plastic hardens, it may contract slightly. By tapering the sides of the mold by an
    appropriate “draft angle”, the mold will be easier to remove. If the mold is to be
    removed from the top, the box should taper in towards the bottom, such that
    measuring the bottom internal dimension will yield a smaller length and width
    than measuring the top from which the mold is extracted. By specifying the
    opening length and width, a draft angle, and a depth, it is not necessary to
    specify the dimensions for the internal surface, as these may be calculated from
    the above. The manufacture of a part that incorporates zero or negative angles
    may require a mold that can be separated into two or more parts, in order to
    release the casting.