As with so many aspects of SOLIDWORKS, there is no one way to go from a blank screen to having a designed solid in it. There are those who will sculpt a part and others who will build it up like a Lego® model. I tend to straddle the fence, utilizing whichever method suits my needs at the time. One thing, though, that I don’t deviate from is how I start the model.

I picture the model as I think it would look sitting on my desk. By doing this, I’m able to easily define the front, top and side of the part. Once those determinations have been made, I can begin creating the part. I always try to keep my part centered about the origin, but that’s not always possible to do. 99.9% of the time I use fully defined sketches. I’ll have the occasional construction line that’s not fully defined, but my actual geometry is always fully defined. Yours should be too, trust me.

I also don’t create the part oriented to how it will be in an assembly. This just makes no sense to me whatsoever. Unless the part can’t exist without the assembly, which would then change its definition, at some point it’s going to be lying on someone’s desk/workbench/floor so picture it lying there. One of the most jaw-dropping things I ever saw was when someone created all their models offset by the distance from which they would be located from the parent assembly’s center. Don’t do this. Ever. Seriously.

In the beginning, you’re not going to always know the sleek tricks to simplify your model creation and that’s no big deal. It’s just part of the learning process. There’s a lot of tools that are available, but not overly visible, that will make themselves known over time. Save some of your first models and go back and look at them in 6 months or a year. It’ll be a great way to gauge how far you’ve progressed.

One thing you should get in the habit of doing is naming your features. It’ll make life so much easier when you, or someone else, goes back in to edit the model.

During the conceptual phase of your design, you may end up with a lot of needless features that were created as the part morphed into its final iteration. Try to find the time to fix that. Those that come after you will thank you instead of curse you.

Keep in mind that while there is no right or wrong way to create a model, there are best practices. Hopefully, you have a mentor that can share said best practices with you.


April 18, 2014 · Posted in Instructional, SolidWorks Community  

Every craftsman has his favorite tools and, aside from the fact that I’m no craftsman, I have mine.

First up is my SpacePilot Pro from 3DConnexion. I absolutely love how little I have to use my mouse and the amount of control I have when moving my model around. The there’s the ability to map commands to the buttons at my fingertips, the view buttons that provide me with all 8 standard view quickly and just how cool it looks next to my keyboard. If you have one, you know what I mean. If you don’t, you should look into getting one. If you don’t know what one is, click on the link. 

Next is the ‘Width’ mate. Located under the Advanced Mates drop down, the width mate is my favorite one.  There’s just something so simple about it. What some don’t know: without activating the mate tool, ctrl+select the four faces you need then select mate from the heads up display. The width mate is automatically applied.

The hole wizard is next on my list. I like that I don’t have to figure out drill sizes for tapped holes. I like that I can create multiple holes with just sketch points. I like that I can then use the hole callout tool in drawings and all the info needed pops right in.

Next comes the newest tool in my tool kit, the heads up mate tool. It just makes mating easier (insert childish giggle here).

These are my favorites, what are yours?


April 8, 2014 · Posted in Software Review, SolidWorks Community  

Templates are the foundation of your SOLIDWORKS design. By having your templates setup correctly, you’ll be able to automate data downstream. It’s amazing how many people, even companies, don’t realize this and fail to leverage the power of templates. Thankfully, you’ve found this post and will be able to rectify a situation you may not have even known that you had.

Set up your part template so that information can be mined from it for your drawings. I recommend using the ‘Custom Properties’ tab located on your Task Pane (that’s the pop out on the right side of your graphics area). If there’s no template available, they’re easy to create. The nice thing about using the ‘Custom Properties’ tab is it’s right there, making it easily accessible. You can have the custom properties pull data directly from your model (mass, name, material), as well as quickly fill in data like supplier & supplier number, creator, date created, part number. This is all information that can then be automatically pulled into the drawing for the part.

The same holds true for your assembly templates. Again, use the Custom Properties tab to input the necessary info. Bear in mind that you’ll need a different property template but it’s easy to create as well. As with the part template, you can automate some of the data and it can all be pulled into your drawing template.

Drawing templates come in all shapes and sizes (pun intended). The great thing about them is how easy it is to pull the information in from its corresponding part or assembly files to propagate the title block. It seems that this actually gets easier each year too. One thing that you have to remember is that you not only need to save the drawing template, but the sheet format as well. Not doing so will illicit screams of frustration and accusations of SOLIDWORKS not working. 

If you work in a multi-user environment, please do yourselves a favor and have templates available in a network location. This will help to ensure that everybody’s drawings have the same general look and feel. Consistency is a good thing, no?

April 5, 2014 · Posted in Instructional, SolidWorks Community  

On an almost weekly basis, I see someone asking what the best way to learn SolidWorks is. The thing is, there’s no blanket answer. There are those who swear by VAR training. Others swear at VAR training and opt for online training. Still others go through the tutorials, then learn as they go along. There are also the ones who learn in a formal classroom with an instructor.
What’s best for you depends on you, your needs and your learning style.
Where I’ve experienced all of them as a student and/or instructor, I figured I’d give my esteemed opinion.
With VAR training, you get a lot of info crammed into your brain in a short amount of time. Depending on the AE doing the training, it could be a lot of info crammed into your brain in a monotone voice. The upside is you do get formal training and a book and files you can take with you.
It seems like every time you turn around, there’s another website offering training. The two biggest players, in my opinion are and There are others, but I haven’t played with them enough to speak to them. The nice thing about online training is you can watch the lessons over and over. If you’re in charge of training for your group, some of the sites offer the ability to track each person’s progress. Some even offer DVDs should you want to go that route. The bonus here is it’s all self-paced training.
I’m of the next group; I started with the tutorials, then trial by fire. It took time, but getting formal training wasn’t an option. Long after it was needed, I hd an employer send me for VAR training, which is when I realized I could actually be the trainer instead of the trainee.
Last, but not least, is the formal educational route. I think people who can go this route are the luckiest. The training is usually spread out over 6 or more weeks with plenty of available one-on-one time with your instructor. You’re not under pressure to get work projects done, just classroom projects. You even get a student edition you can load up on your home computer.
What does it all boil down to? That depends on you, and how you learn. For me, I like the learn on my own approach. I learn from my mistakes and also learn multiple ways to do things. That’s me. You? You’ll need to decide on your own, unless your employer decides for you. If I were to make a recommendation, it’d be to go the online route. I think you get more bang for your buck.

March 6, 2014 · Posted in Instructional, SolidWorks Community, SolidWorks Tips  

When my journey started, I didn’t know it would end up here. Mostly because “Certified SolidWorks Expert” didn’t exist, but also because, at the time, SolidWorks was simply a means to an end. (Cue “back in time” special effects).

I started using SolidWorks around 1998. I was employed at a machine manufacturer and had just been moved into the technical publications department as a parts manual writer. At the time, there was about a 2.5:1 ratio of writers to illustrators. The workflow was such that the illustrators would feed the writers, then the writers would create the parts lists. I was told that I’d have to wait before I could start on the manual as the illustrators were behind. Being the curious lad that I was, I’d spent some time talking to the engineers about their CAD software because I thought it looked cool. No surprise, it was SolidWorks. I knew that the tech pubs illustrators were using AutoCad and I asked why they didn’t just use SolidWorks to generate their illustrations. The response? They claimed you couldn’t get a true Isometric view. Challenge accepted. With a bit of finagling on my part, I was able to get SolidWorks loaded onto my computer and set about learning how to use it. Fast forward 6 months or so, and the first parts wholly derived from SolidWorks was completed. To do this, I’d had my fair share trials and tribulations, but had recreated the whole machine in SolidWorks and then created my own illustrations from the assembly. Over the course of the next few years, I learned more and more while creating other parts manuals. By the time I left the company in 2005, I was one of the most proficient users there. This was validated when I passed the CSWP exam in December of that year.

Life moved on and I grew as a user. I started participating in forums and user groups and started writing this blog. I enjoyed helping other users overcome their issues and being able to help them grow too (still do). For a point in time there, I worked as an AE for a reseller which was a blessing and a curse. However, that’s not a story for today. I railed against the second generation of the CSWP exam, along with others who had taken the old exam. We felt it had been dumbed-down. The certification team then upped the ante with another revamped exam and then they started busting out the advanced exams. Then they rolled out the expert exam and raised things to another level.

I saw all this going on, and kept telling myself that I’d sit for the advanced exams…someday. Fast forward to SolidWorks World 2013. The age of the CSWP special event had come to an end in favor of a CSWE event. Now, where I attend SWW as a member of the press, I figured I’d just sneak in. Mike Puckett wasn’t having any of it, though. He did make a deal with me. I could attend if, by SWW 2014, I promised to be a CSWE. I quickly agreed. (You can read about the party here.)

Fast forward to December 2013. SolidWorks World 2014 is looming around the corner and I haven’t even taken the first of the four advanced exams needed just to qualify to take the CSWE. With almost 2 weeks off around Christmas, I bit the bullet and started taking the exams. I passed the drawing and sheet metal exams, got spanked by the surfacing exam, then passed the mold tools and weldments. While I didn’t ace any of the exams, I passed all but mold tools with a comfortable margin.

Now it was time for the CSWE exam. I planned on taking it on a Saturday morning while my kids were still asleep. The last thing I needed was to be interrupted during a timed exam, one that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d pass. Coffee in hand, I sat down and fired up my laptop. After procrastinating a bit, I got Pandora going, put on my headphones and started up the exam. When I finished, I took a deep breath and ended the exam. I had just become a CSWE.

For me, it’s a personal victory. While I’m sure that there are plenty of users out there who also possess the knowledge to become CSWEs, I think having done it is its own statement. For those of you who plan on going after it, be sure to do any practice exams you can, they’ll help you with how the real exams work. Don’t rush, there is plenty of time for each exam, for the most part. Pay close attention to models you create that will be used to answer multiple questions, one mistake will mess up all the answers.

If you’re planning on going for it, or already have, I’d love to hear what you think about the advanced exams, as well as the CSWE.



January 28, 2014 · Posted in SolidWorks Community  

Hey! I’m still here!

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I am still around, even if I haven’t had anything to write since June. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been so busy, but that wouldn’t be truthful. I’ve just been at a complete loss as to what to write about. The last thing I wrote was actually for Develop3D magazine, though it hasn’t been published as of yet. Even then, it was about Solid Edge…

What’s got me typing away today? I was thinking about a project we just finished up for the Amazon Paperwhite. By ‘we’, I mean Imagicorps. Anyway, we were tasked with creating an interactive area for consumers. There were various elements that needed to go into it: seating area, individual ‘pods’, a device bar, informational graphics and other bits and bobs. The coolest part, in my opinion, was the pods. They were designed in SolidWorks (duh) and are compound curves. While they didn’t seem like they’d be overly difficult to design, they did present some challenges. One half of one side is a door. Looking down from the top, the left and right sides are concentric, but the seating area inside is rectangular. Then there’s the round acrylic windows that fit in each of the side panels, including the door. Oh, and when the potential customer sat down, the acrylic had to go from clear to opaque.

There were other things, too, that we had to figure out, but my point of it all is this: you can design anything in SolidWorks. In the 15 years or so that I’ve been using it, I’ve designed a multitude of different things. From hydroforming presses to gate operators to sonar cases. Add in some anti-piracy training facilities, my girlfriend’s deck and other miscellaneous things (including a book case for the aforementioned project) and one can see the versatility in just my short resume. Add in all the other examples that are out there and it becomes even more evident.

As soon as I get 2014 up and running again, I’ll share my thoughts on it. Hopefully, it won’t be another 4 month gap.

October 5, 2013 · Posted in SolidWorks Community  

My.SolidWorks browse view

Last week, exited beta testing and is now a full-fledged site. What is I’m quite sure I touched upon it during world, but let’s go over it just in case, shall we?

In a nutshell, it’s like an electronic funnel for just about all things SolidWorks. You can find answers to questions or see latest posts from the SolidWorks forums. It’s all part of the 3D experience that Dassault has been espousing of late. Their plan is to add more services over time, while consolidating web properties, thereby making it easier to find what you’re looking for, be it insight, help or a place to share and discover.

Currently, the sources for are the SolidWorks forums, YouTube channel, Twitter feed, SolidWorks Blog and SolidWorks Teacher Blog, with plans to add more sources as time goes on. The Search sources include everything I just mentioned (aside from Twitter), and the online help with the SolidWorks Knowledge Base to be added ASAP. They also plan on adding mobile capabilities and an add-in to SolidWorks itself soon.

You’re able to filter what you want to see, or not see, bookmark articles for later reading or share them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or via email. There really is a ton of stuff up there right now to peruse through.

The obvious question is: is it any good? Frankly, I’m on the fence right now. I haven’t played with it too much, but there just seems to be a lot of stuff and it’s not readily apparent where the stuff came from. Not that I’m implying the sources aren’t good. I think, for me anyway, it’d be nice to know where an article came from. Then again, maybe I’m just being overly picky. I just think it’d be nice to have some more headers up there or something…

That all being said, go and check it out for yourself and then let me know what you think.

April 8, 2013 · Posted in SolidWorks Community  

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a few different computer systems; Xi, Boxx, HP and Dell. While the first three were desktops, and pretty much equal, the Dell is my M4600 and a bit lesser than the others. Unlike other hardware reviews, I’m not going to list the system specs. Why? Well, the Xi and HP were work computers and, sadly, I’m no longer employed and don’t have access to the specs any longer. Dammit. Also, I’m not a hard core hardware guy like others I know (Charles & Anna). When all is said and done, I want a computer that does what I need it to do without giving me a headache. Three out of the four did/do just that.

Let’s start with my Dell M4600. It’s my everyday workhorse. It’s what I write these incredibly in-depth blog posts on. It’s what I do my surfing on. My software testing. My Facebooking and much of my tweeting. While it’s not as fast as the three desktops, I have had only two issues with all of the Dells that I’ve used over the years. One was a BIOS issue and, just last week, two of my USB ports started screwing up. In both cases, Dell tech support responded quickly and extremely satisfactorily. I know that others have had less than stellar experiences with Dell, but that hasn’t been my experience. Honestly, I just love my Dell just as I loved my past ones. My sons now use my 5-year old Dell, God help it.

Next is the Boxx 4050 Xtreme Series, which I just sent back to them. What an incredible machine! I mean it was absolutely rock solid and fast. I will admit that it’s a bit tough to go back to using SolidWorks on my Dell after experiencing the Boxx. If I remember correctly, it had a Windows Experience rating of 7.1, with graphics and processor both at 7.9. Speaking of graphics, they were incredible thanks to the Quadro2000 graphics card. It was a quiet computer, too. Where it was speeding along, I expected the cooling fans to be louder than the dull hum that I did hear. I think the biggest drawback is the ~$4,000 price tag attached to it. That can be quite a bit to swallow, especially for smaller companies. The upside is you get what you pay for; Boxx loaded this thing. There was something like 12 USB ports on it! Seriously, who needs that many peripherals? I so wish I could have kept it, but it’s way outside my budget.

The HP Z420 was a solid machine. Obviously, it wasn’t as fast as the Boxx, but it was fast enough for what I needed. I believe its Windows Experience rating was about 7.0 with only the processor sitting at 7.9 (SolidState Drive). It, too, was a very quiet machine. I really liked it and, if memory serves me correctly, it was only around $2,000 with the upgrades we put in. Well worth the money and a great value for what you get. I’ve heard, though, that they can be a bit temperamental and can be prone to slowdowns. In the short time I used it, I didn’t experience slowdowns, but did have one graphics glitch which disappeared with a restart.

Last is the Xi. Out of the box this was a demon child. As soon as I started it, one of the cooling fans was making noise. I called tech support and got them to send me another fan. No bueno. Still had the noise upon startup. Thankfully, as the machine warmed up the sound would lessen. After going back and forth with them, and opening up the box a few times, I was able to determine that it was the fan on the cooling tower that was causing the issue. I couldn’t quite figure out why, when it was a mechanical issue, that the sound would lessen after warming up. Nonetheless, that issue was finally fixed. The fan didn’t stop me from using the Xi, and it was fast computer. Its Windows Experience was around 7.0, with the processor and graphics up around 7.7. The graphics were excellent. Then I got a BSOD. I haven’t seen one in 10+ years and never on a brand new computer. What got me though way Xi’s customer service. Their cavalier attitude about it (“these things happen”) really didn’t sit well with me at all. I lost complete confidence in the computer and the company, and returned the computer. I’m still a bit torqued that they were so “meh” about the BSOD. What does that say about their product that something like that would appear to be routine? Needless to say, I won’t be buying from them in the future.

If I were to rate them based on performance, it’d be: Boxx, HP, Dell, Xi.

If I were to rate them based on reliability, it’d be: Dell, Boxx/Hp, Xi

If I were to rate them based on preference, it’d be: Boxx, Dell, Hp, Xi

These are my opinions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

April 2, 2013 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  

This interview has been a long time coming. I first reached out to Mark back in September, but I didn’t mark his response and it got buried. I apologized to Mark for my disorganization. He, graciously, accepted my apology. Without further ado, let’s learn about Mr. Mark Lyons.

Mark Lyons

Mark grew up in Marlboro, Massachusetts as one of 10 kids in a blended family. Home life, as one might imagine, was a bit chaotic. He loved sports, focusing on baseball, had three paper routes and spent whatever free time he had at the Marlboro Boys & Girls club or fishing. One of his most vivid memories was when he was 15 and playing on a travelling basketball team. They went to play against another team out of Cambridge who had a player that stood 6′ 11″ at 15-years old. This player constantly knocked Mark’s shot attempts, sending them into the stands. Mark’s team lost to the Cambridge team and their star player, Patrick Ewing, that day.

Mark attended Assabet Valley Vocational High School with plans on learning printing. His family had a print shop in town and he planned on joining the family business. Part of the curriculum at Assabet required that students look at other trades and one of those happened to be drafting. Turns out, Mark was pretty good at it and opted for drafting as career.

After graduating from high school, he opted to join the workforce forgoing college. He worked began working at Hypertronics in Hudson, MA. His quick promotion to Drafting Department Supervisor, at the tender age of 18, was proof that he’d made the right decision.

From Hypertronics, he moved on to Digital Equipment and Prime Computer. Both of whom offered education reimbursement, which afforded Mark the opportunity to go to night school for Mechanical Engineering. Quite the go-getter, Mr. Lyons. It was also at these companies that he was got his first taste of CAD. Unigraphics and then Prime Medusa.

Mark’s career took off at this point. He went to work as a Senior Mechanical Designer at Bose. He worked designing speaker housings for automobiles, mainly supporting GM. His designs could be found in Cadillac, Camaro, Olds, Mercedes and Mazda. At the time, circa 1988, Bose hadn’t moved to CAD. Mark helped change that, though it was a bit before they were using a 3D package (Unigraphics). Being able to truly design in 3D Mark was moved around to various teams to design. He created designs for the first generation noise cancelling headphones as well as the Wave Radio.

The next natural step for Mark was to give back. Assabet recruited him to teach drafting. Talk about coming full circle, eh? He started teaching manual drafting, the AutoCAD. He spent 10 years teaching, getting the school involved in the FIRST robotics program while he was at it. During his off time, Mark had started playing golf, becoming quite good at it. He left teaching and went to work in the golf industry, as a player and teacher. After trying it for a time, he returned to teaching at Bay Path Tech in Charlton, MA. Again, teaching drafting in both AutoCAD and SolidWorks. Three years later, a position opened up at SolidWorks and Mark took it. In his words, he is “the 2D guy”. He is the DraftSight Training Specialist. He creates training material for Draftsight and loves it.

In his down time, Mark loves to spend time with his wife and kids. He also enjoys golfing, fishing and watching the New England Patriots. That, alone, makes him a-ok in my book.


Picture stolen from

March 3, 2013 · Posted in Interview, SolidWorks Community  

For My Seattle Readers

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You all know we have a SolidWorks user group in Seattle, right? The Seattle Area SolidWorks Power User Group (SASPUG) was founded in February 1996 and, as I’ve been told, is the olded user group in the nation. Today’s version has a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

Our next meeting will be March 6th from 5-7pm at Lake Washing Technical Institute.

Ben Gowers from Delcam will be give us a demo and provide a test drive as well.
Hope Rich from Aerotek will be introducing herself to the group.
Bob Jensen, owner of Burgermaster, will talk about how SolidWorks has saved him tons of money.
If push comes to shove, I’ll talk about SWW and try to rope Ken into it as well.

Please RSVP so we can order enough food!

February 22, 2013 · Posted in SolidWorks Community  

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