Autodesk Inventor for Woodworkers – Where do I start?!

I recently received a great Email from Tom Goodman of the Stephenson Millwork Company, that really got me thinking.

Tom asked:

‘I need to set up Autodesk Inventor for manufacturing commercial cabinets. Where should I start?’

Autodesk Inventor Questions

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OK, so where DO I start?!

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a little about what makes Inventor tick. Here is my check list of where I would start if I was going to do it all over again.

Do you have anything to add? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Autodesk Inventor Hardware

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Update your Hardware

Inventor is a lot more graphic intensive than 2D CAD. If you haven’t upgraded your hardware in the last two years, then you will probably find that your machines spec’s are a little below what Inventor needs to run smoothly.

As a rule of thumb, when you are budgeting for the cost of moving to 3D split your costs in three. A third Software, a third Hardware and a third Training.

Don’t forget your network hardware. Autodesk Inventor creates a lot more files than 2D CAD and manages a lot more file relationships. The speed of your network will have a great effect on the speed that you can open and close your Inventor files.

If you have more than duo of drafters on your team or you will be managing a lot of data, you might want to consider installing Autodesk Vault data management software. Vault will help you manage your data, and it will improve performance by copying files to your local drive for editing.

You can find a great deal of useful advice on Computer Hardware for 3D CAD on the CAD Speed Blog.

Learning Autodesk Inventor

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Learn Inventor

Just Installing Inventor will not make you more productive! Inventor works in a very different way to 2D CAD, and I recommend that you budget for some professional training to get you started.

Contact your local Autodesk reseller to find out what training they can provide. If you are on a budget then see if your local technical college runs any courses.

Most resellers will break the training down into two parts. This is partially to give to you a break from training, and partially to give you an opportunity to try out what you’ve learned. It is vitally important that you use what you’ve learned straight away before you forget it all!

I recommend that you pick a small item on your current project to model up in 3D and take it all the way through to the drawing stage. The nice thing about Inventor is that it comes with a seat of AutoCAD. Both AutoCAD and Inventor create DWG files, and you can mix and match 2D and 3D data in the same DWG, so you can use which ever tool you are comfortable with while you are learning the new work flow.

Don’t stop learning! There are a great many resources out there that can help you to keep progressing once you finished your basic training. You could attend Autodesk University or an AUGI CAD Camp. You can also download past classes from the Autodesk University website.

You can join the AUGI training programme and of course there are plenty of Inventor tutorials on the web as well as a great deal of good stuff on YouTube – check out this 14 part series on the Fundamentals of Autodesk Inventor by Rob Cohee.

Buying an Inventor book is a good idea, but don’t try and read it all at once. Go through your preferred book a section at a time and make sure that you’ve taken the lesson on board before you move on. You can also get self paced tutorials on DVD, which is very intuitive and suits a lot of people more than Books.

Finally, don’t go it alone. Find a Coach, Mentor or Partner to share the experience with. This is a great help when you get stuck or you are not sure about the best work flow to adopt. Many resellers are now offering one-on-one coaching services (at a price!). Don’t forget that you can always ask a question in one of the many Autodesk Inventor forums.

Tip: if you are doing a lot of bespoke work – make sure you learn about Skeletal and Multi body modelling!

Technical Drawing Standards

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Create Standards

I hope that you already have Drawing standards at your office, If not – now is the time to write some!

Autodesk Inventor comes with a drawing standards module which can be deployed across the network. This is a great tool because it automates the process of keeping everyone using the Company standard. It’s actually harder NOT to use the standard in Inventor than it is to use it.

The drawing standards module come with the option of using National standards such as ISO, or ANSI and it’s pretty simple to copy and tweak these, should your company standard vary slightly from this.

You won’t need to worry about Layer naming standards, Inventor will handle all this for you. You will need to consider file and folder naming standards. A lot of this can be automated if you use Vault.

Autodesk Inventor doesn’t come with a lot in the way of Timber materials, so you will need to create these from scratch. The material standards module will keep these definitions straight between files.

You will want to create your own templates. Inventor uses a number of different file types and you may wish to create template .IPT, .IAM and .IPN files – as well as your template .DWG files.

If you will be using AutoCAD and Inventor on the same project, then you can create your DWG files with AutoCAD’s sheet set manager and then open them up inside Inventor to create your drawings. Inventor won’t open AutoCAD’s .DWT files. Don’t forget to open the BOM in your .IAM template and add in any custom iProperty Columns that you require.

Note: I recommend that you leave the Inventor ‘Standard’ (i.e Standard.ipt) Template  files alone and create your own copies. Inventor will use the standard template files for many other operations (i.e iPart creation and Frame generator part creation) that might not be obvious at first glance.

Create Content

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Create Content

Autodesk Inventor is great for Joinery and Cabinetry but it is designed for the Mechanical Engineering market, so it doesn’t have a lot of Timber components or fixings.

You will probably want to create your own Timber content for the frame generator, as well as adding your regular fixings and fasteners to your company library. Creating these fasteners is great practice for your 3D modelling skills, but don’t go crazy. Every chamfer and fillet will slow Inventor down. Keep your library parts simple.

Consider using iParts for components that have variable attributes, and iAssemblies for components that have variable configurations. Consider using iCopy components for  Assemblies where the size, rather than the configuration of the Assembly is likely to change. Create iFeatures for your regular Mouldings and Joints.

Tip: Learn how to publish your library components to the content centre, this is a pre-requisite for publishing frame generator content.

 Autodesk Inventor iLogic


Now you’ve got everything set up just the way you like it, it’s time to add a little octane to the mix!

Autodesk are great for making their API’s (Application Programme Interface) available for their software, Inventor is no exception. You can customize Inventor with .NET, VBA and iLogic.

Look out for procedures that are repetitive. Document them and then look for ways to automate. Don’t head straight for a C++.NET ‘cure all’ programme. You can do an awful lot with a little iLogic. Check out these great examples from Curtis Waguespack on the ‘Inventor From The trenches’ Blog.


Have fun!

When I moved from the shop floor to the drawing office, the thing I missed most was the satisfaction of having built an item with my own hands. Working in 3D brings a little of that warm feeling back, it is certainly far more intuitive to ‘Build’ your item first – and then document it.

Modelling in 3D is fun! – Just don’t tell my Boss I’m enjoying myself ;)


3 Responses to “Autodesk Inventor for Woodworkers – Where do I start?!

  • I always enjoy reading your articles!
    The best training I’ve found is TEDCF.
    Cheers …

  • Nathan
    11 years ago

    I think the initial comments around upgrading hardware, etc are a bit over the top. It depends on how complex your widget is – how many parts, how many surfaces, etc. I can run inventor on my core 2 duo laptop with 2Gb of Ram, and it works ‘OK’. When you have more then around 30 parts, then it slows down and gets sluggish. As far as training goes – there are several online tutorials that are free and do a reasonable job if you are prepared to sit through them. For cabinet making, I don’t think you’ll need to know the whole software package backwards…

    NB: If you’re a student, you can get a copy of inventor free.

    • Thanks for your comments Nathan.

      You certainly do need to consider your CAD hardware in relation to the complexity of the assemblies that you are building.

      Most commercial Joinery work would be assemblies containing many hundreds or even thousands of parts of parts. In my experience, machine speed is really important. Particularly when it comes to creating drawings.

      Regarding online training – do you have any other recommendations – other than the resources I listed? Please let me know. I’m always interested in passing on good information.