I’ve been getting to grips with FreeCAD. I find it both one of the most frustrating pieces of software I’ve ever used and one of the ugliest. I mean, just look at that logo! In keeping with the regrettable user interface trends of professional engineering software, the interface is made up of hundreds of tiny and complicated icons whose meaning you just have to know already. The icon for “clone”, the head of a mutant orange sheep, is probably the weirdest of these. The taxonomy is confusing: should you use the Part Design workbench or the Part workbench to design a part? (Answer: yes.)

Despite all that, I’m very glad it exists. With the help of some tutorials, I broke through the impenetrable barrier and now I can make shapes that are in my head.

Up till now, I’ve been using OpenSCAD for everything, but the constraints system in FreeCAD makes some things much easier, where I’d need to do a lot of trigonometry in OpenSCAD. The other advantage of FreeCAD over OpenSCAD is that it’s much easier to add rounded edges. 3D printers don’t do sharp corners in the XY plane, and a small radius drastically improves the results.

Using FreeCAD, I designed and printed a parametric bridge for my mandolin-banjo project. I’ll probably make a wooden one in the end (unless the plastic one sounds good enough) but for the moment I don’t know exactly what size I need, and being able to print ones of arbitrary height makes iteration a lot quicker.

3D rendering of a string instrument bridge with four courses of paired
strings, circular holes through, and rounded shoulders

The mandolin-banjo bridge I designed in FreeCAD

I made more progress on the mandolin-banjo. I glued the pot, refretted and dressed the neck, and it just needs the last few coats of paint before I can reassemble everything and see what I’ve made. I’ll write up the second part of the story once I’ve done that.

My upgraded phone is still working fine, and I have the reassurance of knowing that I’m not exposed to years-old exploitable vulnerabilities. After a week, I’ve just about managed to turn off all the annoying sounds. I don’t want any notification sounds, ever.

I went through the wood-turning induction at the makerspace on Sunday. That means that I’m now allowed to turn wood between centres. It doesn’t mean I’m any good at it! It’s much harder than using a metal lathe: there are so many more variables, and the human element is much more significant.

This week’s links: