by Devin on December 9, 2010

The only thing better than being able to visualize a widget before building it, doing it on free software.

No report on the sample (yet), but in the meantime, a trip back in time and to the benefits of free software…

For someone who can’t really draw, and probably even for those who can, 3-D modeling programs are awesome. I know it’s so obvious that it’s almost not worth saying, but it’s uber helpful to be able to test out different dimensions, shapes and ratios before committing them to physical material. To do those things for the Boiler, I used Google SketchUp. [*Here, I had originally written about some of the limitations of SketchUp, but as it turns out, most of them weren’t accurate, or have been resolved in updates made since the version I originally used. My haste, rather than a deficiency in the program, resulted in some extra work on my end, and sketchy stand-in for a hole in the fire bowl. The only remaining issue that I see with it is that, for the free version at least, you can’t export files into formats usable by CNC machines or other CAD programs. I’m indebted to customer and SketchUp Ninja, Bob, for setting me straight and giving me some tutoring. :) ]

On the topic free visual design software, there are a couple notable open-source gems I use and can also recommend (SketchUp isn’t open-source, just free). The first is GIMP, which is short for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It can do a lot of what Adobe Photoshop can do – pretty sophisticated photo editing. The other is Inkscape, a vector-graphics editor similar to Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator, which can be used to make really high-end, scalable graphics. [My earlier revisions only underscore the thesis here – free programs are great. Deficiencies are much more likely in the skill of the novice user than in the limitations of the programs.]

On the other hand, if you all do want to see some stuff by a guy who does really know his way around fancy CAD and other engineering programs, you should check out the work of Steve Evans from Suluk46. I would be surprised if his name was new to many of the readers here. As is typical of the independent outdoor gear folks I’ve encountered, he’s both super creative and smart. He’s probably best known for creating the world lightest ice axe, and a new version just became available through his site a few weeks ago. If you want really cutting edge stuff, check out his R&D section.