Tips, Tools & Workarounds

Part of the beauty of Autodesk® Revit for me is its unparalleled ability to allow practically anything to be created.  As a detailer, I use Revit for geometry.  The accurate size and placement of steel components is paramount to the success of my business.  The speed and agility with which I can do this is also of key importance.  That being said, my Tips & Tricks rendition will be slanted toward the creation or modification of components to achieve the geometry required.  It will also use techniques recently made possible in Revit 2014 (i.e., double-clicking an element to edit it, a task not as easily performed in earlier releases of Revit).


During the process of logging more than 15,000 hours in Revit, I have learned that there are ways to modify Revit elements...then there are ways to modify them easily.  Take walls, for example.  My first inclination was to use Revit's wall opening tool (Structure>Opening>Wall) because, after all, I wanted to cut an opening in a wall. 

What I quickly discovered with this tool is I basically have one shot to get it right, or I will spend some time finessing the opening to achieve the correct size and placement.  This involved a lot of added dimensions, lines, alignment tool, etc.  WHEW!!!  Finally... I have a wall opening.  Nine more to go. 

The EASY way to create wall openings is to simply Edit the wall.  Double-click the wall, and simply draw the openings you want, as many as you want, in whatever shape you want, and close the wall and you have your openings.  The benefit of creating wall openings this way is that you can manipulate the lines using the same commands on the Annotate and Modify panels that you would use if you were drafting the wall and it's openings in 2D.  Make a mistake? Simply Edit the profile and change it.  This technique can also be used for shaping the top, sides, or bottom of a wall, as long as it is straight, but it will give a warning on how to properly control the height and depth of walls.    If your wall is curved in plan view, not to worry, I will cover editing the top of that wall later. 

Figure 1: Wall openings


Just as with walls, beams sometimes require cut.  In similar fashion Revit has a cutting tool for this as well (Structure>Opening>By Face).  Typically, this tool works well for most applications...until you get to a moment connection cut.  The problem with using the standard tool for this is you must extend your lines beyond the edge of the beam.  If not, and you are slightly inside the beam perimeter (even an amount small enough that you cannot see it visually), it simply will not cut.  The cutting shape will remain there, invisible until you actually roll over it with your mouse.  By the time you become aware of this, you may have a few attempts at cutting stacked on top of each other #foundoutthehardway. In any event, if conditions are not just right, it can be cumbersome. 

\A great solution to this (and beneficial in other areas of Revit as well) is the use of Voids to cut elements.  In order for this to work, a few stars have to align; not to worry, I will also cover that shortly.  As you can see in Figure 2, the end of the beam has been prepared for a moment weld, including the bevels, rat holes, and even down to the backing bars by a Void cutting family. (Insert Fig. 2 – Beam Cutting Techniques)

Figure 2: Beam cutting techniques

Void Cutting Tools

So far, a lot of talk about void cutting tools, but no real information has been provided.  Your approach to creating a void cutting tool will depend on the intended application.  If you have one cut, something you may not use again, simply model it in place (Structure>Component>Model In Place). Typically, void cutting tools are void extrusions because they are the most versatile of the shapes, allowing height, width, and depth control.  You can create it as a void form, or if you forget and create a solid extrusion, simply select the extrusion and toggle between solid and void in the Properties Browser.  If your cutting tool is one that will be used frequently on other projects, create a Void Family. 

The Benefits of Family

The benefits of creating families in Revit are many, including repeatability, stability, and performance.  Modeling in place, too often, will increase model size and slow performance.  When creating a void cutting family, always create it as a Generic Model - Face Based.  When inserted into the project, this type of family can be placed on: Face (Vertical and Horizontal), Level, or Work Plane, allowing every scenario to be covered.  When creating a void family, be sure to create it to go below the depth of the face, to ensure you properly cut all the way through your element.  Because a family is a file, be sensitive to this fact: The deeper the void, the larger the file.  Don't use a 1'-0" long void to cut a 1/4" material thickness. 

Finally, if you are adept at family creation and using parameters, create your void family with parametric controls.  This will allow you to have one family that will cover many different sizes of cuts.  We have created a simple tool in this manner that allows me to control height, length, and depth. I use it frequently to cut joist/beam pockets in walls, web holes in beams, precast plan recesses in walls, holes (or even depressions) in floors and roof.  Additionally, we also have a parametric hole cutting tool that allows me to enter Hole Diameter, Hole Count, Hole Spacing, Cut Depth.  When nailer bolt holes are required in a beam or perimeter angle, whether it is 2 holes or 100, one simple tool cuts all of them with two clicks of the mouse. 

A final note about void cutting tools in general: Linear stiffener angle will not allow a void to cut it, as loaded into the project.  A workaround for this is to Edit the family and change it's Family Category to Structural Framing, and check "Cut with voids when loaded," in the Family Parameters list.  Reload it into the project and it can then be cut.

Figure 3: Void cutting tools

Combination Families

As shown in Figure 2, the moment connection prep was cut with a tool that included a void and a couple of solid extrusions.  If you have a need to do this, or perhaps you need to cut the web of a beam for mechanical systems and wrap it with flat bar or angle, create the void family, and include the added elements to it.  It is a very simple way to ensure that the shape you cut and the added solid elements are always correctly placed. When creating this in a face-based family, remember to use your Reference Level as the FACE of your element.  This can be a beam web, if you are using a web cutting tool, or it can be the beam top flange, as is the case with our moment connection cutting tool. 

There are few limitations to the complexity and number of included items in a family such as this.  A little time spent on a family on the front end will allow you to perform multiple cuts and placement of items with just a couple of mouse clicks.  See Scheduling for how to make your family schedulable.

Figure 4: Combination families

Family Parameters

We use Revit to detail structural steel, something that is admittedly not its primary function.  Due to that, we are put in the enviable position of having to create our own content.  I say it is an enviable position because when it is thrust upon you, there is no better way to learn what TO do...and what NOT to do.  Understanding the difference between Instance and Type parameters, and their uses, is liberating in the sense that it gives you complete control over the use of your family.  For our cutting tool shown in Figure 3, we use Instance Parameters because we want to use one tool to create several cuts of different sizes and depths. 

For items that we want to include in assemblies, schedules, and may have need to change multiple instances at one time, we use Type Parameters.  A good example of this is our Shear Plate connections.  In our office, a 2-hole shear plate is always "sp2" and has 2 connection bolts/holes.  A 3-hole plate is "sp3", and so on.  If the project requires that the shear plate thickness change from 3/8" to 1/2", a Type Parameter allows for one change and it will apply to all instances of that TYPE, whether it is 5 shear plates or 200.  If it only applies to the "sp2" plates, then only the type parameter "thickness" for that plate is changed.  When a new plate is needed, say a "sp4," we simply duplicate the family as a "sp4" and change the number of holes/bolts to 4.  I’ll expound on the benefit of this in the next paragraph.

Figure 5: Family parameters

Family Categories

Nearly every custom family we create in-house for our detailing is a generic model-face based—simply because this is a pure form of family that can be added to the project in many ways (Face, Level, Work Plane), and it doesn't contain the built-in parameters that can throw you a curve ball (such as a Structural Framing family).  The dichotomy that this creates is: We need it to show up in schedules and we need to be able to cut it.  A good practice to adopt is to always correctly categorize your family.  For us, this is after we create it, because the placement and function of the family is paramount. As mentioned in Void Cutting Tools above, always check category and options of your family that you are trying to cut with a void.  Currently, linear stiffener items will not allow a void to cut them, but simply changing the category to Structural Framing Member will allow cutting (don't forget to select to open the "Cut with voids when loaded). If you don't want this to show up in your Structural Framing Schedule, simply filter it out.

Figure 6: Family categories


Revit will schedule practically everything.  A beneficial part of this in our office is using the scheduling functions of Revit to create Bill of Materials for our fabrication sheets.  As we are rather unique in our approach to using Revit, we also are forced to find some unique ways to schedule our items in a format that is expected in a steel fabrication shop.  Our Bill of Materials should show, at a minimum,  "COUNT," "MARK," "COMMENTS."  In order for this to occur, we must add a MARK and COMMENT in the Properties Browser of each item.  This is one of the benefits of using Type Parameters.  One way to mark all "sp2" plates as "sp2" is to hover over the element in 3D>Right Click>Select All>In Entire Project, and enter the data in the Mark and Comment fields in the Properties Browser.  Another way to populate these fields is to create a Schedule, and enter the data there. 

In our office we routinely generate Structural Framing Schedules, Structural Column Schedules, and Structural Connection Schedules.  By selecting the proper display fields on the Framing and Column schedules, the schedules will display Count, Assembly Name, Cut Length (Framing), Length (Column), Mark, Comments.  In these cases, the Mark and Comment fields will be blank.  If your assemblies are created and named properly, this is where you would enter the data in the Mark and Comment fields by simply typing in the Type and Cut Length (i.e., W16x26 x 19'-10-3/4" would be the result of Type: W16x26 and Cut Length : 19'-10-3/4"). 

For the time being, this is the only way (that we are aware of) to achieve this; however, we are working on changing that to an automatically populated field, standard, rather than a complex work around.  The type of parameters used in Family creation can have far reaching implications, and will eventually show up in areas such as this, often long after the family has been created.  It can be changed, but be aware that it can adversely affect the existing elements in your project.  A little planning, on the front end, goes a long way.

Figure 7: Scheduling


A little used area of Revit is the Assembly option.  If you use Revit LT, it does not have this option.  The Assembly tool is vital to the work our office produces every day, so it precludes us from using Revit LT.  Consider your intended use before buying software; it can become very important when it is too late.  As mentioned before, we create most of our content, such as base plates, cap plates, shear plates, connection angles, haunches, stabilizer plates, stiffener plates, etc. Those elements have their own data associated with them, as mentioned in the above paragraph. 

Our model is complete; now what do we do with it? Believe it or not, that was a serious question in our office when we first began using Revit.  I am a little embarrassed to say that we didn't know about the Assembly tool then, so when the question arose, we simply set about re-drawing the entire structure in 2D Drafting Views.  It was a six story building. You can imagine our elation when we discovered the Assembly tool!  Now, when we create a model, it will likely contain beams and columns, each with varying numbers of elements attached to it. 

There are two ways to create an assembly:  1) Select all the elements that will be included in that assembly, as it will be shop fabricated and shipped.  On simple projects this can be done with a simple selection box; however, one day you will come upon a very crowded area; and 2) When you come upon this crowded area, select the main member, create the assembly, then edit the assembly and   select the add option.  This will allow you to selectively add one item at a time, so you don't end up with unwanted elements in your assembly.  When this is achieved, you can then create Assembly Views by right-clicking on the Assembly in the very bottom of the Project Browser, and selecting "Create Assembly Views."  Note that several options will be available and you will have to settle on what works for you. 

In our office we typically select: 3D Ortho, Front, Back, Left, Right, Top, Bottom, and Part List.  Some of the views will not be used, but we select these to give us options on how we want to display the part in the view. The most complex side may be on the back of the beam, or it may require more than one view, as is the case with many columns.  A quick tip to figure out Front versus Left is to look at the 3D Ortho view.  On the cube, you will see Front and Right, as well as corresponding South and East directions.  This will allow you to select the proper view and is essential for column placement, both on the fab drawings and erection drawings.  That being said, perhaps the most comprehensive view created is the Part List.  This is the list our office uses as a Bill of Materials.  Currently, it requires several steps to manipulate it to be what we want, but we are also working on changing that (if you want further direction on how to change that, email me and I will be glad to elaborate further).  The key to making this list work as a Bill of Materials is the data you previously entered, as discussed in the previous paragraph, SCHEDULING.  Just as the assembly combines all of the physical elements of a column/beam, the part list combines all of the data associated with those elements. 

One note about assemblies: You cannot include an existing assembly in a new assembly (i.e., if you have created a base plate as an assembly, you cannot include it in a column.  To do that, you must first copy the base plate and paste it back to the same location, then immediately create an assembly.  You will then have two in the same place (and get a warning)—one as a standalone assembly and one to be included in the major assembly.  Be cautious with this, however, as Revit will count all of them, and your schedule count will be off due to that).

Figure 8: Creating assemblies

Figure 9: Creating assembly views

Rotating Views

By now you have tried all of the tips & tricks listed above and you have a nice, neat column assembly ready for use.  If the most beneficial view of the column was on the right side (East), then you have a curve ball coming.  When Revit creates assembly views, the default top and bottom views are oriented to the South view.  You may NEED to use an East, West, or North view, as well you should; but the top and bottom views don't know that.  A simple workaround for this is:  Go to your top view, select "Crop Region Visible," select the crop region in the drawing window, and use the rotate tool to rotate the view (without rotating the model element).  Two key actions here are: 1) Select ONLY the crop region (not the model element);  and 2) You must rotate the OPPOSITE direction of your intended direction (if you want to see the bottom or top view).   I cannot explain the WHY behind the opposite rotation, other than it works.  When doing this, always pay close attention to your model element to ensure the process works correctly.  This can be a bit confusing at first, but eventually it becomes routine.

Figure 10: Rotating views

Easy View Templates

There are a couple of ways to create view templates.  One way is to trudge through the laundry list of items provided in the view template window.  An easier way is to simply modify the view you are working on to reflect what you want to see.  In most cases you will find that  this can be achieved through the options at the bottom of the drawings window (scale, detail level, display, visual style, and so on).  If you don't want to show a particular category, simply right-click (the element)>Hide In View>Category.  When the view is set to your preferences, select the view in the Properties browser, Right-click>Create View Template From View.  Name the view template and you now have the view template you want, without the laundry list.

Figure 11: Easy view templates

Final Word

As mentioned before, part of the beauty of Revit for me, as a detailer, is it's unparalleled ability to allow practically anything to be created.  With many options come many workarounds.  The tips & tricks I have listed here are certainly not all inclusive, and may not fit every application.  Revit users are a unique breed, in that they take pride in their program and the stunning designs it allows them to create.  To that end, many users have also created their own workarounds that better fit their needs.  In any event, these are the workarounds that help our office be productive; I hope you find something in here that will help you become the best Reviteer you can be.  Keep Calm...and Revit On!

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