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for the small woodworking shop

CutList Plus

This is a piece of software that I didn't think I would need - how could it do a better job than me at laying out and optimizing the use of sheet goods. Finally (back in 2003) I sprang for the entry level version, about $30 in those ancient days. Almost immediately it saved me a sheet of plywood - did a layout enough better that I needed one fewer sheets, worth more than the price I paid for the software. Not only does it optimize the layout and material use, the software is sophisticated enough to allow for saw kerfs and the amount you want to trim to get rid of the dings on the edges of the sheet. And the software is so intuitive that almost no time is needed to learn it. If you don't want to read on, the bottom line is that I love this software and recommend it highly.

Express Edition

This is similar to where I started 12 years ago. You can have a project with 25 different parts (I seldom get over 10 in a single cabinet or piece of furniture) and up to 50 copies of each part (may be a limitation if you are building a wine cellar or something with lots of compartments, but has never been a problem for me). What is a part and a copy? A simple table has two parts, top and legs; one copy of top, four copies of legs. This version only supports sheet goods, which (of course) is where the software really shines. It is only available as a download, but has full support. This version is intended for the hobby user, but it has all the optimization of its big brothers.

Silver Edition

This edition allows 50 parts per project and 1000 copies per part. If I am building a bedroom set or something where I would like to optimize over multiple pieces of furniture, the number of parts will go up. It also includes lumber (rough and dimensional), labor, and hardware (like drawer slides and knobs). This version has saved my ... when I had forgotten to include some things in my proposal, it became apparent. It also allows me to include off-cuts (scraps) in my inventory, and will include those in other projects where practical. This version can print parts labels, like the big shops, so each piece is labeled as it is cut, or the drawings include the part numbers so I use chalk to label them as cut.

Gold Edition

If you use plywood, you almost certainly use edge banding. What's the big deal? Pull out a roll of the appropriate wood species of pre-glued tape, and the iron you stole from your spouse, and go. But I often glue a hardwood edge on my shelves - 3/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches high. Declare that edge banding, and the Gold edition will magically adjust the size of the plywood that becomes the shelf. Or if I plan on 1/2 inch thick solid hardwood edge, that can be considered edge banding, too.

The Gold edition can be used to prepare proposals. I sure take advantage of the material list and cost, even though I generate my own proposals. I can combine projects - take the plan for the bookcase, and combine it with two copies of the plan for the nightstand, and the bed, and... poof, here is your proposal. This is the version I grew into, and the most popular version of the program.

Platinum Edition

Some of the fancy kitchen and closet design software produces a parts list, but does nothing to optimize the parts layout. The Platinum edition imports those designs so you can optimize and price, as required. It also exports the diagrams as DXF files for use with CNC systems. I didn't think I needed more than the entry level version, but I have grown to the Gold edition, so I don't rule out the possibility I will someday move to Platinum!

Free Extras

For years I printed the layout pages and carried them to the shop, and marked on them as I cut pieces, and too often cut duplicate pieces. There are now free companion apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android that takes the layouts from the CutList program to the shop electronically on your portable device. You can check off the pieces as they are cut, label them (e.g. with chalk), and keep track of where you are. It works even if you only have the Express edition.

But Wait... there's more

If you are disappointed in the first 90 days you can request a refund.

You can, at any time, upgrade from your current version to a higher version, by paying only the difference in purchase price. There is no charge for maintenance upgrades "ever."

Runs on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, 8, and 10. Works with both 32 and 64-bit systems. Takes advantage of multi-core processors when available. Tested on a Mac under Parallels with Windows 8, but can also be used on a Mac with Fusion or Boot Camp.

Did I say I really like this software? And recommend it highly. See the CutListPlus web site for more details.

Cabinet design software

In general I recommend that you NOT get into the business of making kitchen cabinets, but on that web page that spells out why, I do review some of the primary software packages for that purpose.


SketchUp was started in 1999 by a couple very talented programmers (at one time the total staff was 4 people). In 2006 Google bought SketchUp, and made their low-end package available free, and the price of their high end package dropped from thousands of dollars to hundreds. It blossomed from a little known program to a hugely popular package. Trimble Navigation acquired SketchUp from Google in 2012, and offers a Free version, SketchUp Make, and a paid version with more functionality, SketchUp Pro. Both versions do an outstanding job at creating 2D and 3D drawings, and with the right techniques and a simple add-on or two can create parts lists (cut lists) from the drawings. Both version can "render" attractive "pictures" with varied lighting and perspective.

My experience is that it is very easy to use until you step off the deep end, and then you are immediately over your head. A reader, Garry, suggested the YouTube tutorials by Rob Cameron - see Sketchup For Woodworkers (www.sketchupforwoodworkers.com) as a web site or a YouTube channel. (I have only glanced at these tutorials, but they look good). If you are just starting, get lots of practice with simple things before moving to complex works, since I personally find it hard to recover if you mess up a complex drawing.

There are many forums and tutorials on this program; one forum is supported by Fine Woodworking magazine, http://forums.finewoodworking.com/sketchup , but it caters to many skill levels and topics. One "helper" besides Rob Cameron that you may encounter is Dave Richards, a great guy and talented SketchUp user and woodworker. There is a huge library of components, from knobs to casters to entire buildings, that you can incorporate into your drawing. SketchUp is amazingly powerful, not too hard to learn, and not as expensive as many alternatives.

Auto CAD and imitations

I am blessed with the ability to put a few dimensions on the back of a used envelope, envision the project, and build it. Good news and bad news. Good news, I spend almost no time on design drawings, perhaps contributing to the relatively low price of my custom furniture. Bad news, people who need a picture don't get a good one from me, unless I spend a lot of extra effort (cost).

Auto CAD is the gold standard for engineering drawing (and it costs like gold). I have seen AutoCAD experts throw together a complete detailed dimensioned drawing faster than I can do a rough sketch. But I am not that expert, and don't have that program.

The good news, if you want a drafting package, is that there are low cost alternatives to Auto CAD. I have one (TurboCAD?) that, as I recall, cost under $100, but I use so seldom I could not find it installed on any of my computers. I found an on-line recommendation for nanoCAD, which on quick examination looks good, and comes in a free version. I am tempted to try it - the free program is probably 20 years newer than my old $100 program, with hopefully 20 year better technology. If you try it, let me know how it worked for you.