The handsome façade illustrates the detail possible with VersaCAD Macintosh.

 

The software also makes short work of curves, arches, and construction details.



The software helps us design and build houses and public buildings as handcrafted timber-frame structures. We use it to produce everything from elevations, floor plans, and details on how to cut the smallest pieces. Designs are also labeled with manufacturing instructions for export by DXF or IGES.

The marketing department uses outputs from the software to illustrate any stage of our designs for use in sales brochures, Web pages, and advertising. The $700/seat software is considered low cost in the computer-aided design and drafting market. But for the price, it provides high value with solid drafting features. Its 1.3-Mbyte size makes it fast, especially on a G4 computer system. And it runs on older Macintosh computers as well, although somewhat slower. The software makes it easy for users to take complex shapes, pull data points off, and transfer them for production to construction materials. This can still be done by hand, but using the software assist simplifies and speeds the processes.

The CAD program is intuitive. Although not a computer person by nature, I was able to install it and be productive in a few hours, and without reading the manual or taking formal instruction.

The feature I use most, called Program, generates 2D drawings. It lets me pull details and information from archived files and assemble them into new designs. Our homes are custom designed but with classic elements common to all. For example, several arches are used in most building, so we built a library of arches. Over the years, we have built feature libraries for labels, joinery, and common frame components. These are selected from our VersaCAD database, moved to drawings, and revised and embellished according to customer requirements.

The software's drawing functions are normally found only on more-expensive programs. For example, the software includes Bezier curves and quadratics, symbols from libraries, geometric tolerancing, and geometric construction tools for extending, trimming, and construction. The comprehensive capabilities are presented in a clean, simple interface. Tools are chosen with a single click. Settings for tools are chosen by a double click. These procedures are used throughout the program.

Like most design companies, we use layers to separate different parts of a design. The software lets me select whatever layers and parts of the design I want to plot using any convenient plot scale. This sets the software apart from most Mac-based CAD drafting programs because the others plot only to a sheet size and the drawing's original scale. Users can plot 1:1 on a D-size sheet and then turn around and plot at quarter scale to an A-size sheet, or spool the file in Postscript and e-mail it to customers who can print it on a laser printer.

The only thing to complain about is that the package doesn't produce 3D images. But that's not entirely the program's fault because it does include a copy of 3Djoy, a

surface-modeling program. However, it is not well incorporated so users have to learn one more layer of software and I have not taken the time to do so. Also, and this pertains to all programs, searching Help files for assistance is frustrating. They are difficult to negotiate unless the question is perfectly posed. It's easy to find how to make a plot. But less-obvious questions, such as those regarding basic construction, are not as easily answered. In the end, it doesn't matter because the program is so easy to use.

The developer sold the software company in 1989, bought it back 1999, and has been improving the program ever since. The customer support staff has proven themselves easy to work with and responsive to customer needs. System requirements include a Macintosh Performa, PowerMac, G3, G4 or iMac, and 2-Mbytes RAM. The software is compatible with Apple System 7.0 and 8.0. Users can hook up single or multiple screens.

VersaCAD Macintosh retails for $795 per seat and comes from Archway Systems, 2134 Main St., Suite 160 , Huntington Beach, CA 92648- 6447, (714) 374-0440.

-- Tim Chauvin


Mr. Chauvin is the president and lead designer for Red Suspenders Timber Frames Inc. in Nacogdoches, Tex. (www.redsuspenderstf.com)