Cover your hair. We are firing up the burners on the Feature furnace of SolidWorks about to drop some gas-drenched geometry into the flames.

There’s a slew of Features that thrive on 3D geometry alone, but I’m not gonna say, “You, go learn about Features!” eight times. Post like that are useless and annoying. This is to show you that modeling in SolidWorks isn’t all sketches. We’ll look at eight guideline and the reasons why they’re gonna make your 3D sizzle.

The more I model parts and assemblies in SolidWorks, the more I find I want to get away from sketches. Not because they don’t work. The sketch features in SolidWork are incredible and gain more functionality each release. (Yes, I really believe that.) I want to work with the 3D geometry, because it keeps me in the context of the 3D part geometry. I don’t want to do extra work to stay there, so there’s a group of guidelines I use for creating feature-based geometry. Here they are.

  1. Create the basic solid without any holes or radii
    Reason: You’re able to use edges and faces (instead of sketch lines and planes) to define features added later.

    This also gives you more leverage over features. Creating them after the basic solid allows you to control them via configurations, move them around in the FeatureManager and gives you more options for feature appearance and control through the application programming interface (API).

  2. Use the Hole Wizard for any Holes
    Reason: For the same reasons above, this gives you leverage over Hole features.

    It also allows you to change standard Hole sizes more quickly, pattern components easily with a Feature-driven pattern, and they can be created in both parts and assemblies to drive SmartFastener Features.

  3. Use surfaces to control features
    Reason: Surfaces can be created quickly from existing geometry.

    Extruded and revolved surfaces require sketches, but many of the other surfacing features can be used with existing geometry, even solids. Surface don’t add volume (weight) and can be hidden easily. For example, you can define cutting planes with a mid-surface or radiate a face to define other features.

  4. Use solid geometry to define reference geometry
    Reason: Allows another dimension of definition

    Instead of setting up more planes and 3D sketches, use faces, vertices and edges to create reference planes, an axis or coordinate systems. For example, you can right-click and select the midpoint of an edge to define the location of a plane.

  5. Use features to define and end condition
    Reason: Allows new feature to change with other changes in geometry

    If you use a face to create an ‘Up to Surface‘ or ‘Up to Next‘ condition you’re building intelligence into your model and allowing it to adapt to changes in your design. For example, if you locate a support rod in a sheet metal enclosure, defining its length from face to face updates it if the size of the enclosure is changed.

  6. Locate new features off faces/edges least likely to change
    Reason: This will reduce the amount of editing and error fixing you will have to do

    By defining (guessing) what edge or face may change the least, you set up a process of creating new feature. For example, you may know that the CNC operator always starts from the lower right-hand corner. You set those edges and faces as the points where features will be define from (with respect to designing the part for change).

  7. Use Planes to create Split lines and to drive other features
    Reason: Planes can be defined with existing features and split lines can create edges and vertices not possible with a single 2D sketch

    Split lines in themselves can be utilized for creating reference geometry and build features. For example, you can split the face of a sheet metal part to define a rip or radiate a surface to trim a flange against.

  8. Move/Copy Body
    Reason: Keeps you from duplicating sketches and work

    This very simply copies/moves a feature you’ve already creat. It reduces rework and makes it quicker to add geometry. For example, you may have some gussets along a weldment. You can copy the bodies to specific locations without having to recreate sketches or add extra cuts.

The disadvantage…3rd degree burns and lost references.
Feature-based modeling makes geometry creation really enjoyable. The disadvantage of defining features by other features, however, can cause some real discomfort. If you delete (or change) an edge or face, you can get errors telling you that a feature is undefined. Even though this takes time to fix, You have control over that feature. You’ll have to go into the sketches of course, but therein lies the advantage of a sketch-based, history-based system – you have more freedom to control features when there are changes.

Ok, so go learn about Features. I kid. But really, setting up some basic guideline for how to used them goes a long way toward getting those features to work better in SolidWorks. Is there anything you want to go into deeper with this? Do you have your own tricks that makes modeling with solids less sketchy and more useful?


Josh is founder and editor at, 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.