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Quick sequence to get started with SolidWorks

Start SolidWorks and choose “New Part”. SolidWorks allows you to build either a standalone part, or what is called an “assembly”, which is a useful feature for more complex projects. Parts can be independently designed and updated, and the assembly will also be updated. In an assembly parts can be added one after the other, and made to be positioned in special relationships — with faces which coincide, or with holes which are aligned, or centered, just as in real life objects can have parts which move about each other, such as a doorknob rotating on a door.

To start, we will just work with one part at a time, to start understanding the basics. So from this point on, we assume you have started SolidWorks and you chose ‘New’ ‘Part’ (from the “welcome window” for instance).

The main concept is the sketch. There are two types of sketches and we will explain the one used in most instances — the 2d-sketch. A 2d sketch is typically some type of contour, a square, a circle, an ellipse, some general polygon, which is drawn in a plane. Once drawn, we can extrude material from it, which means we ask Solidworks to build a 3d body by translating the sketch. For instance, a cylinder can be extruded from a circle, and a cube or a rectangular prism, can be extruded from a square in a plane.

To make a 2d-sketch, we have to decide in which plane we draw it. The plane can be one of the three planes (front, top or right), as they appear in SolidWorks, or a new plane, which we would have defined before, from other existing elements, using Geometry.

Solidworks has several groups of menus. The left bar is enumerating the components of the current entity, here, the Part. As you add features, they appear one after the other one, and the bar at the bottom marks the end of the sequence of operations and entities taken into account (that is, things can be rolled back, if something is not right).

To have something visible, let us toggle the ‘Eye’ button for the ‘Front Plane’. So you click on ‘Front Plane’ , a small pop-up appears right next to it, and then you can click on the eye icon (which is labeled ‘Show’ if you just hover over it). Be careful not to click on the text of ‘Front Plane’ instead of the small icon next to it — clicking on the text, much like clicking in File Explorer, allows you to change the name of the plane — and this is true with other entities as well.

So, if this went well, you should see something like this:

Now, let us try to start drawing, to eventually build something. The top bar, under the general “File,Edit,In sert,etc”, has several groups of tools, and we see the ‘Sketch’ tool right there.

First, just hover above it with the mouse (pointer, or with the touchpad — we recommend using a mouse, for ease of use, to rotate and translate the views, etc — even a very simple three-button mouse with a wheel for the middle button works very well).

So, we go ahead and select this tool. A dialogue now starts between you and SolidWorks: basically, before SolidWorks can do things for you, once you start asking it for them, it will ask you back one or more questions. Once the answers are approved, SolidWorks goes ahead and does it. Here, you are being asked to select the plane where you want to draw the regular 2d sketch, which is of course a legitimate question:

So we go and click on the Front Plane — whenever an entity is “clickable”, it becomes orange while we are hovering above it. Here’s a 10 second video showing the whole process, which ends with the chosen plane rotated to have a frontal view of it:

Observe that the left bar now shows the Sketch being edited under the bar, because it is an entity being worked on. Also the top menu has the “Exit” highlighted, when we are ready to finish editing it. We can always come back and add more features to it (but that has to be done carefully, because sometimes other constraints “down the road” may become inconsistent, and it is not easy to “repair” things). Anyway so, here we are:

Our first project will be a very simple pencil holder, made of a hollow cylinder, resting on a prism as a base. The top menu bar with tools has a few drawing elements ready to use, such as lines, rectangles, circles, or splines. We will first create a rectangle.

If you go and hover above the rectangle tool, a small popup with an animation gently shows you what is going to happen and how to go about it.

Like with many things SolidWorks, there are always variants and sub-categories for everything. So, the rectangles can be “Corner Rectangle”, “Center Rectangle”, and so on. If you click on the small black triangle-down arrow, you get a popup with their list.

If you click on the rectangle itself, you start to be able to draw it, in the current sketch. Let’s go do that:

Once that’s done, and we are happy with the result, we need to tell SolidWorks that, by validating it. So we need to go click on the green checkmark which is waiting for us in the left bar (when we hover above it, we see the label ‘Close Dialog’):

So we go and close it, and now we have our first closed-path drawing on our first sketch. So we can build something out of it, by asking SolidWorks to extrude it. To do that, we need to go in the ‘Features’ section of tools, by clicking on it (observe now that the top toolbox has changed accordingly):

So what we want is an ‘Extruded Boss/Base’. Before we go and click on it, let us learn how to rotate the image around. So we go with the mouse pointer anywhere around the sketch, in the main window (without having anything turning orange — we don’t want to select anything), and we press the middle button (so we do not spin the wheel — that is zoom in and out and it goes very fast). We only press the button, keep it pressed, and move the mouse around gently. The ‘Front Plane’ with its sketch will spin around, and we can play with that for a bit. Once we are happy, we just release the mouse button. Now let us press Ctrl and then again the middle button. This just translates the objects around, without rotating them. Finally, release everything, and spin the wheel, but just one or two clicks. Spinning it towards us zooms in, and the oppose way zooms out. Ok, let us leave everything “sideways”, somewhat like so:

Now we can go click on the ‘Extruded Boss/Base’ tool from the top menu, to build the base. Again, SolidWorks is asking us to select what to extrude (also observe the red X, which means ‘Cancel’, or ‘Nevermind’, in case we change our mind midway).

Like in the previous dialog, we go and hover until the sketch becomes orange, and then we click on it, and things start to happen:

This is a preview of what is going to happen if we click the green checkmark, to validate everything. We are in a mode where we can adjust parameters, such as the dimension to extrude along. We prefer to work with mm, grams and seconds as units (as selected from the lower right corner), so that’s why the left bar shows us 16mm as proposed length. We can go and edit that number, or literally drag the middle arrow from within the yellow prism being build (it will first become orange, when we hover, then, if we click, it will go up or down). Here’s even more: we can even rotate the whole thing while we are deciding about all these parameters. Watch it here, and see how the left 16mm changes when we click on the arrow and lengthen or shorten it:

Also observe that from time to time, a mouse icon with a check mark appears: this is a validating shortcut — clicking the right mouse button tells SolidWorks that we’re done, the same way as when we click the green checkmark in the left bar. So we can go and validate something of the order of 2cm (20mm).

Now that we have the base, we can build a cylinder on top of it. How do we do that ? The same way ! So, we need to first draw a sketch, (a 2d sketch, that is), and then to extrude it. Where do we draw the sketch ? The most natural choice is “on top of this little box”. Ok, before we do that, let us look at the left bar — it now contains a new item we added, and it is named by its type:

We can however change its name, by clicking on it, as we said before.

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