Oh to have ways of creating models faster. Moving your mouse around really fast-like doesn’t help, gripping your neck and squeezing real hard doesn’t help much either. Sometimes, it’s just what you have in your bag o’ tricks that can get you moving along… or in our case, a library of tricks.

In SolidWorks, you may use the Design Library to store everything from common features to standard assemblies, but what it’s rarely used as, is a library of surface features; surfaces that can be used to aid design. This may feel a little soupy if you’re unfamiliar with surfacing in SolidWorks, but I think you’ll be able to pick up some ideas even if you don’t use surfacing.

To explain, picture this example.

You create door handles that uses the same semi-complicated shape. You store a copy of it on your desktop so you can reference the sketches and dimensions each time you have to recreate it. (You don’t restart from a previous model because it’s more work to modify than start build into the model.) Instead, you could have started your model by inserting a surface as another part, then trimming existing geometry with that surface, thereby eliminating hours of work and choke marks around your neck.

Insert a Surface as a Part?
Yes. The command is called Insert Part. Basically, you start a part and insert another part into it. Did you know you could do that? That part acts as a Base Part. It’s fairly common for companies to have a library of parts to start off with. Think of extrusions or other stock material. I highly recommend doing that if you don’t. It can go along way toward saving time and having standards.

But surfaces used as “Base Parts” just aren’t the most obvious features to use in starting or defining geometry.

Quick and Dirty How to
If you’re too busy to read the rest, look into the Insert Part Feature and test it out using surfaces inserted into other parts. Now, on to a quick step-by-step.

  1. Open part
  2. Select a Surface (this can be a face or series of faces)
  3. From the menubar, select Insert, Surface, Offset Surface and enter Zero
  4. In the FeatureManager, expand the Solidbodies Folder, right-click on the feature and select Hide
  5. Save the part to a Design Library Folder
  6. Start a New part
  7. From the menubar, select Insert, Insert Part and open your previously created surface
  8. Check to Transfer only the Surface Bodies
  9. Locate surface in your part
  10. Select Insert, Cut, Cut with surface

Benefits of using Surfaces as Base Parts
So, it can go pretty quick once you get it down and there’s some added benefits to using surfaces as reference.

  • Surfaces are easily hidden
  • Surfaces don’t weight anything
  • You’re avoid have to create more sketches and features

One disadvantage is, you can’t replace parts inserted into other parts. They act as a feature of that part. Bummer. In this case, I would suggest suppressing it and adding another surface.

Bonus benefit #1
Using Insert Part, you can insert as many as you want into an assembly. This is a problem when you Derive Component Parts from an assembly. You can not insert that part back into the assembly. With a library of surfaces already derived from a part you can toss those sucka’s in where ever you want.

Bonus benefit #2
You can also use these surfaces as a guide in an assembly. This would be a top-down approach to assembly design. After locating your surfaces, you could extrude up to or create relations and dimensions off of surfaces you’ve located to build the parts in your assembly.

Ways to use a library of surface
Really, just about any parts can get some definition from a surface. A good example would be a simple extrusion. I can set up an assembly that contains all my extrusion profiles as surfaces and extrude up to other surfaces. Here are some other applications:

  • Piping Inlets and Outlet locations
  • Fuselage Profiles
  • Material Thickness
  • Canister shapes for labels
  • Letters for Sign design
  • Ergonomic Shapes

Surfacing can be used for a lot besides all those fancy shapes out there. You’ll be surprised too. As you begin to use surfacing, you’ll find functionality you haven’t used before that will give you ideas about how to use it for other things in your design. Before you know it, those blocky looking parts could start getting a little sexier.


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.