Tip 1008: Use a temporary “handle” to tighten up your Move/Copy/Paste actions

Take things always by their smooth handle.

–Thomas Jefferson

This CAD tip comes from working with some of the best CADDsters around, and will not be found in any AutoCAD textbook. It involves creating a temporary “handle” object for a Move or Copy operation, in order to ensure that the base and destination points are placed exactly where you intend them to be, with no chance for accidental misalignments.

The following example uses the Windows clipboard-based Copy/Move/Paste action, where you are moving or copying objects between two separate DWG files. The same method applies when you are using the AutoCAD-based COPY or MOVE command within a single drawing file.

Let’s say you want to copy an entire floor full of office furniture from an old plan (PLAN-OLD.dwg) to a new plan (PLAN-NEW.dwg). Part of your strategy would be to use the Layer Isolate command to isolate the Furniture layer to make selecting all of the furniture quick and easy.

If the old and new plans have exactly the same origin point, that’s great– you can simply use 0,0,0 as the base point when copying to clipboard, and then use 0,0,0 as the destination point when pasting into the new plan. You could also use the “Paste to Original Coordinates” option, but I have found that tool to be unreliable in many cases.

If you cannot use the origin-to-origin method above, another solution is to create a “handle.” A handle, in this case, is a temporary, odd-looking object which has one end point carefully located on a definite reference point in your drawing which is common to both the PLAN-OLD file and the PLAN-NEW file.

The handle is usually a very large line or arc, with a bright, very visible color and a size, shape and angle that makes it look unlike any other object on the drawing. The handle might be an arc connecting to the building in two very clear locations such as the building’s two front corners; or it might be a line starting on a crucial point such as the front left building corner and stretching way off into space at a funky random angle.  See below:

Using a Handle to identify a base point

I draw the handle from an attachment point that I set very carefully, zooming in as much as is necessary and using the ENDPOINT snap override, not the OSNAP tool, to further ensure the accuracy of the handle’s placement. I usually put the handle on either the 0 (zero) layer or on the same layer as the objects being manipulated (the Furniture layer in the above example). I make it big, odd-looking and colorful so that I can’t accidentally forget to erase it later.

If the handle is big enough, you can zoom out to see the entire big picture and still be totally accurate by using an Endpoint Snap Override and hovering over the handle a short distance away from its carefully-placed end point. I don’t hover directly over that endpoint, just in case there may be multiple random points in the drawing near the endpoint that might be accidentally snapped to.

You may want to draw a handle on both the base point and the destination point. Note that they do not have to be identical handles. It is critical that they both attach to the same key reference point in the drawing.

As you can see, many of these steps are designed to avoid unintended snap errors, a common cause of inaccuracies in AutoCAD. The OSNAP tool is a two-edged sword (see Tip 1004). The OSNAP tool is necessary to make good connections between lines and objects. At the same time, like many of us, it’s easily confused. (“Hey, speak for yourself!”) (“Shush.”) The main goal is to have a drawing that you can count on to be free of those small, hard-to-see inaccuracies that can make editing the drawing a very frustrating and time consuming job. In an office environment, one learns fairly quickly who creates drawings with a high level of accuracy and who doesn’t.

Master CADDsters do, consistently. You can, too.

Please post your comments, I love hearing from you.

Keep on CADDing! 🙂


P.S. Here’s the full quote from Thomas Jefferson:

AUTHOR: Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
QUOTATION: A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life.
1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.
ATTRIBUTION: THOMAS JEFFERSON, letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825.—Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul L. Ford, vol. 10, p. 341 (1899).