Biting the various bullets

It has been a source of some frustration, trying to keep all of the balls in the air that one needs to when first starting out with CNC. Having got the machine set up, fettled and working and successfully creating a couple of small projects, the subject of design must crop up. I am reasonable happy that I can download and follow designs produced by other people and there is no great satisfaction in that process for me. So I thought that I would look at software and learning one of the many packages that will give me 3D parts and assemblies.

Having gone mad and downloaded several packages including Blender, Inkscape, Meshmixer, Wings 3D and Cheetah 3D, I finally think I can commit to FreeCAD. I have found a set of tutorial presentations that make sense to me and I am happy to refer people to the FreeCAD video presentations by JOKO Engineering. In all there are 107 tutorials and many of them include downloadable files from the web pages of GrabCAD.

With no great understanding of what I did not know and what I needed to know I have made a list of what appear to me to be the files required for a good start and a grounding in FreeCAD. I have set myself a 3 month target for becoming au fait, 6 months for becoming proficient and 12 months for becoming comfortable with the software. It may be helpful to document my progress in the forum pages for others considering a similar pathway.

The provided PDF download contains hyperlinks to the various tutorial video presentations in a roughly sensible order. You are welcome to look and try them out. :grin:

FreeCAD initial tutorials - JOKO ENGINEERING.pdf (51.9 KB)


I have done woodworking for 40+ years. I have never considered myself as creative. I also use others plans but almost always modify them. The reason I got the Shapeoko was to supplement my traditional woodworking. So far that has worked very well. I think I have discounted my own creativity and since getting the Shapeoko my creativity has flourished. Now the things I make have been made by countless others but none exactly like mine. There are a few things that have not yet been invented but a lot of what we do as woodworkers has been done by many others before us. The challenge of learning new things helps my aging mind to be more elastic. I am proof that you can teach old dogs new tricks. While I have not mastered the Shapeoko I am reasonable competent and it certainly enjoy making new things and embellishing my traditional wood working.

Just as a Shark if you stop moving forward you drown. So keep moving forward and learn new things.

Someone one on the forum had mentioned the 70 Maxims for Mercenaries and I though #70 was very appropriate for CNCing.

Failure is not an option - it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

I think a lot of societal norms now teach us to stay in line and dont color outside the lines. Conformity is required if you want to fit in. Maybe this is why I like the CNC machine so much because I never fully conform and I always want to color outside the lines.


Hello Guy. This old dog is having to teach himself each of the new tricks. The forum here is a fantastic resource (a living textbook that keeps itself up to date, if you will) and the hive knowledge is wide and really phenomenal if you are open to it. There are numerous helpful individuals here who will happily open your eyes, while others will helpfully prop them open with wooden sticks. It is an environment where you cannot fail to learn from the collected and curated knowledge which resides here.

I guess it depends on what the failure was. :wink: e.g. High tension electricity is not a thing I would want to fail at because it is likely to be the very last thing you would do. The aphorism that was commonly heard here years ago was; “the person who never made a mistake never made anything.” It’s the omelettes and eggs riddle. You have to break the eggs to make an omelette.

Yes, this is precisely the problem with education systems which only have sufficient curriculum time to teach subjects and exam technique rather than teaching the young people a love of learning. I like the notion of wanting to colour outside of the lines. You must have been a troublesome kid when at school. :wink: When employing people in later life, I always wanted to interview the people whose applications produced awful references. Why did the referees want to punish them? The applicants often turned out to be really smart and good to work with.

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This obituary of Sydney Alford in The Times, Saturday 20th, is a prime example:

“Too old at 41 for original thought”

An interesting read.


Thanks for the informative and very touching obit, Graham. I don’t bother with mainstream news these days so I would have missed that article entirely. It was a great read and shows not only that genius is a very real commodity but that we used to permit the development of such people in the UK.

I am sure Sidney will be very much missed by his family and friends and each of the various security services around the world which had employed him and his techniques.

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I have dabbled with Freecad and can see some potential for some things, but have not persevered - I look forward to being inspired by what you do with it!

I have found for “near-cad”, OpenSCAD is a good fit… but I’m a computer scientist/software engineer by trade so programming a model seems fairly natural. FreeCAD can utilize some of OpenSCAD’s modelling language, so I might investigate that further.

You probably know that for anything that isn’t “sculptured” you can get a great deal of 3D (well, 2.5D) work done with just 2D designs Affinity Designer or Inkscape, using layers as the third dimension. So perhaps also keep your eyes on those sorts of tool for the simpler tasks of shapes and paths, and use the most appropriate bit of software for the design you have in mind. Eggs and baskets and all that.


Hi Gerry; the interoperability of FreeCAD is something that is appealing. The 3D element of design is one area of interest for me at the moment. I use Affinity Designer for all of my SVG file work and to read and convert .ai and .eps files.

The attraction of FreeCAD is that it benefits from providing a standard CAD environment, which has a workbench dedicated to OpenSCAD. It can create toolpaths and GCode and has a workbench for sheet metal fabrication. Surfacing, Tracing, Ray tracing, Parts and assemblies adds more functionality. That plus sketching and dimensioning along with parts libraries, curves, NURBS and FEM are further attractions. The tutorials I have viewed show how Solidworks, and Fusion 360 fit with the software.

My intention is to just get on with learning what I can about designing in CAD and then 3D so that I can produce my own height information for the SO3 to follow. It will save the step of producing STL files and then running them through @fenrus’s software to generate height maps. I want to achieve the certainty of being able to control the depth information of the generated toolpaths. It will stop me from complaining that I have nothing to do. :grin:

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