Fusion 360 first impressions

← Back to Kevin's homepagePublished: 2019 March 27Last updated: 2019 April 10

My first impressions on Fusion 360, in the context of modeling and building this chair:

assembled chair

I’m a CAD advanced amateur: I first learned SolidWorks to laser cut tetrominoes, then I used Autodesk Inventor extensively to design and CNC mill my cell phone explore workshop designs, and generate construction plans for a sauna (writeup on that TBD). Overall, I’ve probably spent just a hundred hours using CAD packages, learning via Lynda.com video training courses and relentless clicking through menus.

I was happy with Inventor, but unfortunately it’s Windows-only and while traveling I only have my Mac laptop. Since Fusion 360 does work on OS X (and because Autodesk is pushing it hard into the hobbyist market) I thought it’d be worth exploring.

Install + dealing with the cloud

I first installed Fusion 360 via the Mac App Store, but this turned out to have OS X sandbox limitations that prevented plugins from fully accessing the filesystem. So I reinstalled Fusion 360 directly from Autodesk’s website (Version 2.0.5357) Apparently this includes a 30 day trial; no idea what will happen after that, but it’s good motivation to finish the chair I’m making.

Sometimes Fusion 360 starts in 5 seconds; other times it literally takes a few minutes, with Activity Monitor reporting “Application Not Responding”. Have faith (or go make a coffee).

I told Fusion my project was “chair2” and it opened a tab called “chair2 v0”. That’s cool, sounds like there’s some built in versioning.

However, at some point that turned into “chair2 v0 v0”, at which point I decided to take everything offline before Fusion 360 lost my work. The toggle is inexplicably hidden behind a clock:

Fusion360 offline toggle

I handle versioning / backups myself by using File > Export and checking Save to my computer:

Fusion360 save to my computer

Note that unchecking Save to my computer automatically checks Save to a project in the cloud, which is then impossible to uncheck. If this happens, close the export and start over. (Or export to the cloud while working offline? No idea what happens there.)

Initial impressions

Note: Craig Andera wrote in to clarify some of the issues I ran into below. You can check out our conversation for details.

I didn’t use the CAM or drawing tools, so can’t speak to them, but overall, Fusion 360 is definitely sufficient for modeling a simple chair:

chair model

Never having used Fusion 360 before, this took me about 4 hours to model.

My focus for this project was to establish process, so I didn’t worry too much about the design — it’s pretty much copied from a photo of Hitoshi Makino’s “RECO” chair (which I’d link to directly, but their website is made of, uh, JavaScript.)

Creating a chair template: drawing mode fail

I planned to cut my chair from a sheet of plywood / OSB and assemble with dowels (flatpack-style). Initially, my plan was to create a sheet-sized PDF (4’ x 8’) from Fusion 360, then find some PDF utility to split across a home-printable paper size (i.e., 8.5" x 11").

Unfortunately, Fusion 360’s drawing environment is quite limited:

Creating a chair template in model mode

Fusion 360 sketches have an “export to DXF” option, so instead of creating a drawing I tried copying my chair components, aligning over a virtual sheet, and then projecting the geometry onto a sketch that could be exported:

cut sketch

To make the parts co-planar, I found the Modify > Align tool to be much faster than using the formal Assemble > Joint tool. See this video for details.

Unfortunately, I ran into trouble when trying to convert the exported DXF to a PDF:

I then gave up on DXF export and instead turned to the Shaper Utilities plugin, which exports to SVG.

I tried to clean up the SVG and export to PDF using Sketch (Bohemian Coding’s graphic design tool), but this failed because:

Finally, I decided to just process the SVG myself, since it’s a format I understand from years of working on the web.

First I ran:

sed -i '' s/"rgb(100,100,100)"/"black"/g chair.svg

to turn the cut lines black, then converted to PDF with the appropriately-named Chrome headless render PDF command line tool:

chrome-headless-render-pdf --no-margins --paper-width 24 --paper-height 48 --url file://`pwd`/chair.svg --pdf chair.pdf

At this point, I’d had my fill of computering, so instead of trying to tile the PDF to something I could print myself, I just went to a print shop and had them print it out on a single sheet of paper. (By luck, it turns out that 24" is a common paper roll width.)

I then glued the template to a quarter sheet of ½" OSB and cut it out with a jigsaw on the back steps of my AirBNB:

template and sheet ready to cut

I then assembled the pieces using glue and dowels to form a chair:

assembled chair


Alas, Fusion 360 broke off our relationship suddenly when I tried to work at a no-wifi coffee shop:

Fusion 360 says: You have to go online

Fusion 360 says: I can't get online, so I refuse to work

As someone who has built in the middle of the woods, I can’t justify paying for software that refuses to work offline.

I’ve since switched back to my old copy of Inventor, which actually runs more smoothly in a Parallels VM than Fusion 360 ever did natively. Plus, since the VM has never seen the Internet and works fine, I know it’ll work just fine 10 years from now — which is more than I can say for Fusion.