Software?

I've done some extensive searching over a period of a few days but I haven't found something simple and straightforward to use. What would be nice is a piece of software to double-check my calculations with. I spent a lot of time planning what I'd need to build a set of shelves with 3 shelves, 4 feet long. It would be super to have a piece of software where I could input all the piees of wood, then have a 3D image that I could then put together to check the 2D calculations, ideally one that would allow me to move the pieces around to fit. In other words, a tool that is visually like putting together the actual pieces of wood.
Is there anything available to do this? What would people here recommend. A lot of the CAD programs seem too so much more than this simple need. Yet I haven't found a woodworking one that does this, so far.
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I suggest learning to draw mechanical drawings and then learning to use a piece of CAD software. I have been using CAD software and Optimization software since 1986 and do no know of any software that will do what you want to do as you describe it. Decent CAD programs let you put in specific lengths and will let you add dimensions that can also verify that your entries were correct.
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At this stage in the software industry (AI in it's infancy) you're asking for two opposite things. Easy and complex.
Easy - There are many 3D home design, cabinet design and woodturning design software packages available.
Complex - Full blown CAD or solid modeling.
When companies use a complex package they have a dedicated person to do the work. It takes years to become an expert in CAD or solid modeling. Generally the skills and expertise involved are considered "higher" than the "crew" who assembles the designed components.
At previously stated on this forum, one of the better free beginner packages is sketchup. http://sketchup.google.com / http://www.sketchucation.com/forums/scf/viewforum.php?f 6
Intuitive drawing, can be modified by changing measurements, objects can be built by drawing or by input of dimensions. Shared modeling resources to get you started. Imports CAD drawings from major manufacturers, windows, doors, cabinets, appliances, etc.. Imports CAD drawings and solid models from high end packages. Exports to CAD and solid model packages. Exports to CAM applications. Has texture skinning to view paint and finish choices. Many other features. Nothing else free has as much power. Most professional designers will be using a higher end package like Autocad or Solidworks, among many others available, these are just the most advertised. Or a shop will be using a dedicated package for their industry, from simple cabinetry to finite analysis, kinetic simulation or fluid flow dynamics.
Some dedicated packages provide cut lists, integrate with job costing, sub-contractor management and accounting packages. High-end CAM packages integrate with inventory, material ordering, shop timekeeping and communicate directly with machinery to produce product, NC panel saws, CNC routers, NC paint and finish sprayers and drying ovens.
Others here can recommend commercial packages but I would highly recommend becoming familiar and productive with sketchup before spending any money on another package. Most of the skills will be transferable and most packages will be "more difficult" to use, albeit with a potentially restricted feature set dedicated to a more specific design segment.
Since the majority of the world is still using commercial Operating systems, win or mac, I didn't put forth the open source alternatives. Some of the best CAD, CAM, Kinetic, FEA, etc. tools are available for free in open source software. However, all these tools expect you to be pre-schooled or expert in their field of operation and run on Linux or BSD based systems.
If your need is strictly cabinetry, there are a number of commercial cabinet making packages available that may suit your taste. Most are in the $1000+ range. I couldn't see justifying any commercial software until you have a shop waiting for design work. This means at least four workers on the floor. Or you have already elevated yourself to a price point to justify the expense of software, hardware and education to become productive in the application, singles pieces selling for >$1000.
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MitchellWmA wrote:

If you're running Windows then try out Alibre Design Xpress--it's freeware and works the way you say you want to work--you design the parts, then make the assembly from the parts.
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--John
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Try Cabinetplanner http://www.cabinetplanner.com/index.html
inexpensive (free for the 1st 10 uses, $90 after that)
Richard

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Thanks Bob, I did not see this. It is filed away now.
It never hurts to have choices.
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