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Computer-aided drafting applications are a mainstay of industry, mainly thanks to the way they streamline and accelerate design work, leaving engineers with a unified set of drawings in beautiful 3D. But in industry you’ll find one critical factor that your average Toolmonger doesn’t have: a nearly unlimited budget. For the home user, the price of most CAD software is sky-high. There are flawed workarounds thanks to retailers like JourneyEd (but it’s only for students) and free programs like Daz3D (which is for artists more than engineers).

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It seems Toolmonger reader Schnaars is a man cut from the same cloth as I am — we both use Photoshop for everything.  In this case he used it to spec a chair that his Other Half saw in a catalog.  We saw his story and had to post it.

I hate to pay for things that I’m pretty certain that I can build. This chair for example. My wife loves it, but it didn’t look too complicated to build. (I’m about 1/2 finished and I’ll post photos shortly)

I was able to get the general dimensions from the catalog, but wanted to get specifics like arm length, arm height and the height of the feet. Photoshop to the rescue.

I just dropped the photo of the chair into PShop, scaled it something easily divisible by the actual size (6″ = 36″) and then leveraged the guides to see where things really go.

If you don’t have PhotoShop, PowerPoint offers a similar feature.

Try it out

Try it out indeed, sir. After seeing it in the pool Bill Schuller, another regular to the site, helpfully suggested doing a similar breakdown with Google’s Sketchup program, which is just about as a good a method as you see here.  We love to see this kind of stuff going down — hats off and beers up to you both.

Toolmonger Photo Pool [Flickr]


Airplane mechanics keep detailed service and maintenance records in the plane’s logbook — it helps ’em prevent that long drop with the short stop at the end. But a logbook can also remind you to do routine maintenance on your car, or it can help you diagnose the reason for loss of gas mileage before a serious problem develops. For tractors, combines, bulldozers, graders, generators — the machines that run and build civilization — logbooks can save jobs and lives. Mechanic Support makes this Mechanic’s Logbook software that you can configure for almost any application.

You can put Mechanic’s Logbook on your computer for $16 — you might pay more than that for a dead-tree logbook.

Mechanic’s Logbook [Mechanic Support]
Mechanic Support [Corporate Site]


When you’re working on a complex project with wood, you can save a lot money by efficiently laying out the pieces, especially if you work with expensive wood. CutList Plus will calculate the most efficient layout for your project, so you have fewer total board feet to purchase, less waste, more useable leftover pieces/bigger chunks, and more money in your pocket. For a Toolmonger, this could also mean more projects — if only they could do this with time!

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When you’re coping a piece of round tubing to make a strong welded joint, you usually need a pretty expensive, dedicated tube-notching rig — or the willingness to eyeball it and hope for the best. Hal at MetalGeek.com offers the world a nice compromise: the Tube Coping Calculator. Just plug in a few details about the tubing that needs to be fitted, and the program generates a handy pdf template that shows you where to cut.

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Woodworkers Estimate Helper

So you’ve decided on a woodworking project, but will it fit your budget? What if you made if from cherry instead of oak? Forget the backs of envelopes, join the 21st century and let your computer do the work with the Woodworkers Estimate Helper (WEH) from Software for Woodworkers. A few simple steps allows you to estimate lumber and hardware costs while limiting how much wood you waste, too.

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Imagine this: how cool would it be if you had a printer-like device that could “print” a picture from your computer onto a piece of marble tile, a slab of wood, or even a sheet of plate glass?  You don’t have to imagine: Epilog makes all kinds of laser etching and engraving equipment, and their smallest and most affordable model — the Mini 18 — would easily fit in your shop.

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Stuey writes: “Sketchup is a basic 3D layout program.  It doesn’t pretend to be CAD; it’s for ‘simple’ 3D sketches and drawings.  It can be used for modeling anything from a dowel to a bookcase to entire buildings.  Best of all, it’s been free ever since Google bought it up.  If you’re reading this, you’ve got a PC of some sort, so what are you waiting for?  If worst comes to worst, try it out and then leave it alone until you need it, or uninstall it after giving it a try.

“Check out some of the examples people have submitted in Google’s ‘3D warehouse.'”

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