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Design

Autodesk Autocad (2D) and Inventor (3D) and are good quality design/modeling tools that are free for academics. 
http://students.autodesk.com/?nd=download_center

Onshape is a Cloud-Based (3D) system that works with any modern web browser irrespective of computer OS.  (Requires internet connection) 
https://www.onshape.com/edu

3D Modeling a design is always better than designing something on the fly. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s also faster to have a complete design ready before you start building. Additionally, if you have a model of your design I can better assist you in building in.


A few tips for 3D modeling

  1. A paper sketch or something to work off can be useful
  2. Understand your scale, try to understand the size of what you’re modeling. 1 Inch may look big on the screen, but it reality it can be small.
  3. Understand and use fillets to avoid stress concentrations.
  4. Filet and champers can add curves and edges to sharp corners
  5. The loft tool can be used to stitch two or more non co-planer surfaces
  6. Take into account machineing tolerance when designing
  7. Slots can help with alignment
  8. Understand the difference between clearance and tapped holes
  9. These tools can find all the mass properties of your object (moments of inertia, center of gravity, area, volume)
  10. Design for manufacturability