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Best Software for Deck Plank Design?

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I've been attempting to draw out the deck planking pattern for my Triton project on graph paper which has worked out very well for me in the past.  However, since the deck planks taper towards the bow/stern resulting in curved planks and planks with differing widths, my graph paper and pencil method has been leaving a lot to be desired.  What would be the easiest software solution to fiddle with planking pattern design?  I've been told Sketchup is the way to go since I have virtually zero drawing/CAD experience, but wanted to check with this group as well...



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I would say there is no "best" program. All drawing and CAD programs are different, using different methods to achieve the same end results.


There are two general types of programs you can use. One type is a CAD drafting program, and the other is an illustration program. They are intended for different purposes. Whatever program you decide to use, it will take you quite a bit of time to learn how to use it. And it can be a real distraction from working on your model.


CAD programs are used to create detailed dimensioned drawings used for product development and production, driving NC milling machines and lathes, 3D printing and such. They can be used to print 2D construction drawings and blueprints. CAD programs can create 2D and 3D models. They had a great variety of commands for precision drawing. Because they have so many drawing functions it can take a long time to learn to use them. Examples are SolidWorks, AutoCAD and the program I use, DesignCAD 3D MAX.


The other type is Illustration programs. These are intended to make pretty pictures, and usually have far superior rendering capabilities to the CAD programs. However, they may not have functions for precision drawing or provisions for creating 2D dimensioned plans, and if they do they are fairly primitive compared to CAD programs. Rhino, Blender and Sketchup are examples.




What do you want to do? Is your goal to print out 2D deck plans? If so you should be sure that the program you use has these capabilities:


1. Does the program have a 2D drawing mode? This is necessary for 2D plans that you print on paper.


2. Does the program have provisions for drawing in exact scale? Some sketching and illustration programs draw in arbitrary "drawing units" so everything is scaled relative to everything else, but with no actual real world dimensions.


3. Does the program have the ability to print 2D diagrams to scale. Some 3D illustration programs can print images, but only of the 3D models, and only as views with perspective, lighting, shadows, etc.. These are not usable for 2D plans.



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Hi Jim,  kind of...  Hook Scarfs..


Phil, you hit the nail on the head regarding the time spent learning a new program taking time away from actual work on the model.  My goal is definitely to print 2D plans.  I'll also definitely need the ability to draw in exact scale..




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Alan; I use adobe illustrator but it's expensive and there's a steep learning curve. I need the program for my business. It does a great job for issues like years. I've wanted to learn Sketchup for years but haven't taken the time to do it.  I've heard it's easier to learn than most CAD PROGRAMS but I'm not an expert...Moab

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All graphic programs have a big learning curve. Might the better route be to draw manually? Handling a long, flexible drafting curve is a much quicker learning process!

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If all you need is dimensioned 2D plans there are several free or cheap CAD programs that will do that.


With any program it is very important to have a user's forum where you can ask experienced users how to do something. It is also important that the forum be open to all without charge.


I can recommend the 2D version of the program I use, DesignCAD. It has a very active user forum with members from all around the globe. The tech support people and programmers monitor the forum and chime in to answer questions experienced users haven't answered. I should add that I have been using the program since 1988 and I am a volunteer beta tester for the program, so I am a bit biased. I do not have any other connection with the company, and I am not a stock holder - just a user.


Have a look at the forum:




You do not have to be a member to ask questions. Go ahead an ask the forum members what program they would recommend for 2D drafting. You might be surprised to hear other programs recommended! Be patient - the forum has been a bit slow for the last few days. This is not normal.


Here is a link to the program's web site:




It costs $50.00 US.



Edited by Dr PR
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Hi Alan


Another option for a CAD program is Fusion360, I'm only just learning it now and have only touched one other "real" CAD program, so I can't give you an objective comparison but it seems quite powerful once you get over that steep initial learning curve. I started to learn Sketch-Up a few years back but it didn't work the way my mind works, I felt like I was always looking for a way to get around the program to do what I wanted, a "proper" CAD program makes more sense to me.


Instructables.com has a 3D Design class using Fusion as well as several classes on 3D printing, CNC etc which use it and on the Fusion 360 website there are extensive video tutorials. (Instructables and Fusion360 are both owned by AutoCAD)


It's a professional program but free to "startups and hobbyists".


Like everything the best program is the one that works for you, I'd suggest, as their both free, doing a few tutorials on SketchUp and Fusion360 and see which fits you.



Edited by mgdawson


Mark D

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The deck should have camber.  The actual surface area will be larger than a 2D screen simulation.

Why not use a 8x5 index card and get a pattern of the open deck area on it.  When you lay it flat, it will include the additional camber area.

Try your plank patterns on it directly, or scan it and use a Photo Shop clone or a straight forward drawing program on the scan.  Just make sure you

know the scale adjustments needed to get a scan to print out a copy that is identical to the original.  It seems like scanners are required to alter the scale when doing a direct scan-print copy, so a digital copy is also altered.

NRG member 50 years




HMS Ajax 1767 - 74-gun 3rd rate - 1:192 POF exploration - works but too intense -no margin for error

HMS Centurion 1732 - 60-gun 4th rate - POF Navall Timber framing

HMS Beagle 1831 refiit  10-gun brig with a small mizzen - POF Navall (ish) Timber framing

The U.S. Ex. Ex. 1838-1842
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Peacock  1828  Sloop-of -War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
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Relief  1835 packet hull USN ship - POF timbers ready for assembly


Portsmouth  1843  Sloop-of-War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
Le Commerce de Marseilles  1788   118 cannons - POF framed

La Renommee 1744 Frigate - POF framed - ready for hawse and stern timbers


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Jaager has a good point. You can't take a flat print and map it directly onto a curved surface. That's where 3D modelling has it's virtues.

However, going from a 3D model and "flattening" it onto a 2D print is a VERY complex operation. Many (most) CAD programs cannot do this (one of the members of the DesignCAD Forum wrote a macro that will flatten designs, but creating the design so it will flatten correctly is still tricky). Programs designed for sheet metal stamping can open up 3D designs for cutting out of flat metal sheets, but those programs usually aren't design programs.

Having said this, I doubt that the deck camber is significant enough to cause problems going from a 2D design. You can measure the deck width midships and at the deck ends and use those measurements as the widths on the 2D drawing. Then just taper the lines accordingly so the planks come out correctly.


Here are a couple of examples of (relatively modern) deck planking done in CAD, one with curved planks and one with nibbing. Make no mistake, each plank and grout line has to be drawn individually. It probably doesn't take as long as actually fitting and cutting the real planks, but it does take quite a bit of time, and that adds to the overall modelling time. On the other hand, I think it is fun, and when (if) I ever get around to fitting the deck on my 1:96 model I will have a pretty good idea what I am in for.





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Fantastic replies!  I have a lot of thinking to do. And it may in fact be more logical/quicker for me to draw everything out by hand.  Phil, those are great examples.  The curved planking is exactly what I'm wishing to draw, with hook scarfs where needed.



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