Another plug for Google? No, I'm not on their payroll. I'm just reporting on what I have found useful - and free. SketchUp http://sketchup.google.com/ is another internet tool which I have been using for a while and I still would not consider myself fully competent or an expert just yet. I used a couple of other much simpler drawing programs for years and I have never used the high-end and pricey ones such as 2D-3D AutoCAD (design, drafting, modeling, architectural drawing, and engineering software) or 3D CAD SolidWorks (3D mechanical CAD) so I can't offer any opinion about how they compare.
SketchUp is described as 3D sketching software for the conceptual phases of design. It is free to download and there is good reference and tutorial instruction supporting it. I found it easy to get started creating and modifying various solid objects but I soon slowed down as I began to learn the finer details which really make the program most useful. I'd say it took me about 40 hours to get as much competence as I needed to put it into every day use.
I recently added the Terry Ross plugins explained in the Winter 2008 issue of the Hammer's Blow. I intended to do it at the time I read the article. Well, time flies. Now it is the 1.2.1 Version - 01-11-2011.
I don't do much scroll work but for those who do the Curve Maker tool should be really useful. It offers these line varieties; Archimedies spiral, Bernouli spiral, Euler Spiral, Cosine Curve, Fermat Spiral, Helix, Hyperbolic spiral, Lituus Spiral, Golden Spiral and Sine Curve.
The Taper Maker is more useful for my day to day use. It is made for square, rectangular, round, hexagon, octagon and diamond stock. The diamond is square rotated 90º, as you would expect. The bevel angle defines the edge break or chamfer.
The Stock Maker handles square, rectangular, round and hexagon stock. The rectangle tool models sheet and plate stock which are just rectangles with little thickness.
The Cost tool is still a mystery to me. It's probably useful on really large projects. I'll explore it more when time allows.
My design work doesn't seem to require more than this free version of Google SketchUp 8. I have a couple of friends who like SolidWorks but I'm not looking to spend any more money on a drawing program until I think I really need it. For years I got along with just pen and paper but I have come to rely more and more on the software drawing programs as their intuitive interface has improved.
Now SketchUp is my primary design tool. I like the ability to layout 2D and 3D plans with very accurate precision, 1/64" and 1º limits. Also the ability to create a 3D model and orbit it to any point of view is cool. I can rotate the design to front, back, side, Top, Bottom, etc. and print the image. Also, I can capture screen images which can be emailed to a client for comment.