Using CAD

Using CAD

One of the key modules we have introduced to the Designer-Maker course here in recent years is CAD. Using Rhino, a 3D computer graphics and CAD application, we are able to teach our students the basic elements to get them started. This is often all they need, as one of our students, Chris Cooper discovered…

From the moment he joined the course, Chris knew he wanted to make a large exhibition piece. Often students opt to make a number of smaller pieces during their second six months here, allowing them to work on a range of skills. Not Chris. He wanted to make one standout piece, something that he had never seen before.

“I had watched a show a few years back on great architecture and the architect said that any great design should be able to be drawn blindfolded, in 3 seconds, and be instantly recognisable,” he recalls. “I tried to drag this concept into my initial designs and this was my starting point. Drawing quick sketches with my eyes closed to come up with interesting shapes and designs.”


Early sketches and inspirations behind the piece 

Using Rhino to mock up the design

Once he had come up with an initial idea it took around 2 months to completely flesh it out, with the assistance of Daren and Duncan. This included making multiple sketches of every component and design detail to get the right length, width, radii and proportion. “What I ended up with is a circular cabinet with 2 shelves, a porthole mirror and asymmetric legs. I personally see it sitting well in a large bathroom or bedroom as a vanity cabinet,” he says, “but I think it could work just as well as a display cabinet in a living or reception room.”

The next stage in the design process is typically either to create 1:5 scale maquette, or to mock up the design in Rhino. This allows the designer to check if the piece works as a whole, in 3 dimensions and from every angle. “I toyed with making a small maquette but as my piece had a lot of curves it would have been tricky to make small laminations and fit curves to curves so decided to use Rhino.”











Using Rhino to mock up the design

Rhino is a fantastic tool for seeing the whole piece in 3D and for getting final dimensions, but Chris still relied on traditional paper and pencil for being creative. Unless very skilled on Rhino, what can happen is that people design pieces to the best of their Rhino ability and not to the best of their creative ability. These creative skills come with time, and most students expect to continue to use Rhino in the future.

Working with Curves

Chris also found Rhino to be incredibly useful when working with curved components. Due to the nature of his piece, he ended up with lengths of components having very specific values. An example of this is finding the right length and bevel angle on the joint between both legs and the middle stretcher. “Even when drawn out full size on an MDF rod, I found it pretty difficult to get the exact length of the component and angle of the joint,” he says. “The number would typically fall somewhere between 0 and 0.5 mm increments and the thickness of pencil line can make things an issue.”

“But by mocking up the piece on Rhino I could tell instantly by using the dimension checking tool that the length of the component isn’t, for example, 250.something but 250.438. This, I believe, made my joints, angles etc a lot more accurate than they would have been otherwise.”

Rhino is also great for making quick adjustments. For example, if the circumference of a cabinet is too big, it takes literally seconds to adjust this on Rhino. Using models Chris may have had to make whole new components, or completely re-draw a rod as the whole piece centres around that all important cabinet circumference. In cases such as this, using Rhino can save a lot of time. “I am by no means a Rhino master,” says Chris, “but with just a small amount of teaching, I was able to create my piece accurately enough in 3 dimensions which I believe saved me a lot of time and greatly improved my accuracy.”

Great work, Chris. We look forward to seeing the piece, once it is complete.

Until next time,



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