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  • Dan Edleson

Enough to Be Dangerous: 33 Basic Tools For Getting Started in Revit

When I graduated College I had a hard time getting a job in an Architecture firm because my undergrad degree was not “Architecture”. I interviewed with about 25 companies who all told me to go back to school. The only way I was able to get my foot in the door was to tout my knowledge of AutoCAD. Except I didn’t know AutoCAD. I did what many people do and taught myself using Youtube videos and other online resources. There was a lot of great information out there, but it always seemed to overlook one very basic concept that was crucial; HOW DO YOU DRAW A LINE?!? It took me several weeks of troubleshooting and Googling until I finally figured out how to do the most basic of commands in AutoCAD. After that I was indeed able to get a job at a firm, and then went back to school on my own terms two years later.

This post is for people trying to get started in Revit and dealing with a similar predicament. Here I will cover only the most basic commands and show you how to do just enough to get going, whether on your own or at that job where you might have oversold your skill set. Once you start getting enough reps you will start to answer your own questions out of necessity. There’s going to be some major omissions from this post (Stairs, Rooms, Detail Lines) which will be covered in other posts. There is so much to learn, it’s important to understand basic modeling before taking the training wheels off.

This post is going to deal with four things: the Primary Toolbar, the Properties/Project Browser, the Graphic Display Bar, and the Quick Access Bar. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

1. The Primary Toolbar – We are going bare necessities here, and there is a lot of noise on this main toolbar we want to ignore for now. We are going to focus mostly on the Architecture and Modify tabs, but will look at a couple commands on the Insert tab as well.

Architecture Tab

A lot here is useful but we are just focusing on the Build and Datum sub-menus. Let’s break it down into those subsections and briefly explain each relevant tool. Note that Revit has this great thing for some of the more significant tools where if you hover over the tool a demo video plays. Super helpful for illustrating what I am saying here. Also, avoid the little arrows that signify drop down menus. That’s more advanced stuff you don’t need right now.


  • Wall – This allows you to draw a wall. Left-click on it and drag across a plan or a 3D view.

  • Door–You need to have a wall to insert a door. You can not put a door in without a wall.

  • Window– You need to have a wall to insert a window. You can not put a window in without a wall.

  • Component –For now, this is where you will find basic things like trees, furniture and people. Later it will encompass many more things. You can load more families using the Load Family button. What’s a family? Well it’s the primary logic behind Revit. Everything you place – walls, roofs, doors and the rest are all families. A wall is a wall family, a door a door family. This is how Revit parses the information in the model, something that may seem annoying when you are just trying to figure out how to make a new wall but is very powerful once your work becomes more complex.

  • Column—Place a column in plan. This is the only place you will use the drop-down menu and select Column: Architectural

  • Roof—To place a roof you sketch it (for now). Best thing to do at first is uncheck Defines Slope and create it flat, then once you have that down see my tutorial on basic massing in Revit.

  • Floor—You draw this the same as roofs, but you don’t have to worry about slopes.


  • Level– This can be confusing for new Revit users. What you need to know to start is that every object you are making in Revit has a Reference Level. It is crucial you pay attention to this. If you have a floor at Level 1 and a roof at Level 2, you want to make sure your wall Base Constraint is at Level 1, because if it’s at level 2 it’s starting on the roof. Likewise if you need to add levels you use this tool. I include it here not because you should be adding lots of levels or be able to use it masterfully, but simply because it is such a significant controller of the model that you need to understand what it does. Forget about Grid for now, it is not as essential to get started.

Modify Tab

Whenever you select a different tool, the Modify tab changes in relation to that tool you selected. If you select wall, you are using the Modify tab to draw or edit walls. If you select roof you are using it to draw the roof. The only things you want to focus on for now are the tools on the far right side of the screen. These tools will change depending on what you are drawing or editing, but they are also the most straight forward tools for modeling. Often they will be a box of different line options with the title Draw. The rest of it is just noise for now. Once you lock down how to use these tools, you will start asking more complicated questions, and you will be forced to seek out the answers. For now, just remember that the tools on the right are where you do the most basic of editing.

Insert Tab

The insert tab has a lot on it you don’t need to use and may never use. But I am guessing you may be asked to redraw overlays or link in a sketch underlay. There’s a lot more to it, but at least knowing what buttons bring in this information can be empowering. The buttons you need for now are Link Revit, Link CAD, Image.

  • Link Revit – This will link in another Revit model. If it is not coming in to the correct location it is a problem that is more advanced. Ask for help instead of trying to be the hero.

  • Link CAD –It seems similar to Import CAD but is very different. As a beginner, remember to always, always, always Link rather than Import. Your BIM Manager will thank you.

  • Image—Let’s say your boss asks you to scan a hand sketch and then draw it to scale in Revit. This is how you would bring it in. You can use .bmps, .jpgs, .jpeg, .png and .tif files but unless there has been a recent change, PDFs are not permitted.

Bonus: Something that can frustrate people is accidentally closing this Primary Toolbar. How do you get it back? Click on the arrow in the upper right corner and cycle through until you get back to a full display.

2. Properties and Project Browser – The two boxes that usually come in on the left side of the screen can be a bit bewildering. What are they? What do they do?


Like the modify tab, Properties is specifically tied into whatever you have selected. It is like a query for all the embedded information in the selected object. To keep it simple, assume for now that all relevant information you need is in the top of this scroll down menu unless someone tells you otherwise. Let’s look at a wall as an example of this. If you select a wall, it is going to tell you all about the embedded information in that wall. You can specify what level it is starting on and what level it ends on, the height, the offset from the level, etc. At the top of the properties it is telling you what kind of Wall it is; this is the family you are using. If you want to change the wall type, click on this button, and a whole list of all the walls available will come up. There’s a ton more to this but for now, that’s all you need to know.

Project Browser

This is where all the views and sheets, along with many other advanced things, live. Think of it like the file explorer on your computer. You can use it to find a better view. For example, you will not be able to draw a floor in elevation, so you will need to select a plan. Unlike AutoCAD where everything is drawn flat, you want to remember that your view relates to your drawing. An elevation is an elevation, a plan a plan.

Bonus: Another thing that can send people into a panic is accidently closing these two windows. While this is by no means a tool you need to memorize, to bring these back go to the View tab and all the way to the right and click on User Interface. Make sure Properties and Project Browser are checked. Phew! That was close!

3. Quick Access Toolbar –There’s a lot of good stuff here, and it’s there for a reason. Let’s go over what each of the buttons means quickly. Don’t worry if you forget about it, the good news is it’s always there!

  • Sheet with folded corner – New Document

  • The Folder – Open a document

  • The Hard Disk – Save File

  • The Back Arrow – Undo

  • The Forward Arrow – Redo

  • The Printer – Print

  • The Measuring Tool – One thing to keep in mind is you want to be in a controlled view like a plan or elevation to use it. It’s not going to work in 3D.

  • Dimension– Use for basic dimensions

  • Tag– Tag an object in a controlled view. Since Revit objects are all Families, there will be specific tags for each Family Category (Walls, Floors, Doors, etc.) You can tag pretty much anything, although some things may not have a tag loaded and will ask you to load one.

  • The A – Annotate, add some text to your drawing. Text is a family just like anything else, so use the properties bar to find your ideal size.

  • The House – Brings you to the default 3D view, where you can look around the project using the view cube in the upper right corner of the view.

  • The Section Head – Draws a section. One of Revit’s most basic and powerful commands, generating new drawings instantaneously.

  • Fat Lines/Thin Lines – You can toggle between having lineweights off and on in Revit without effecting the model. Great tool for drafting. Try it sometime!

  • Multi Box X – Close hidden view windows, if you have lots of windows open but not visible this will close them.

  • Double Box – Gives you the opportunity to flip through various view windows you might have open. This is nice if you have multiple projects open.

Bonus: You can’t find this stuff? Try the dropdown arrow on the right. Check everything you need. It’s in there!

4. The Bottom Toolbar – Again, we are keeping it simple for now. I only want to focus on four things, three of which are the furthermost left on the screen.

  • Scale – Views are set by scale, this will affect annotations and line weights but won’t affect the actual model. It will however affect a view already on a sheet so be careful.

  • Detail Level – There are three options, Coarse, Medium and Fine. For things like walls, the level of detail will affect how much you see of a family’s construction. It’s not super important for now but good to know if things are off visually.

  • Graphic Display – This one is an important one. Why is my view all wireframe, you ask? Probably should check in Graphic display. There’s a lot of options, but for now you only need to focus on Hidden Line and Shaded. Everything else will come later.

  • View Hidden – It’s kind of problematic to tell you about this when you don’t even know how to hide things in Revit yet. If you are having trouble finding something in the model, click this button and it will show you everything that is hidden with pink lines. Right click and go to unhide to bring it back into the view and then click the light bulb off. To hide it again right click the object and choose hide.

Alright. That’s a lot of information. Good thing it’s written down. Hopefully it’s everything you need to get going in Revit. A lot more than just drawing a line, but also just scratching the surface of what the software can do. Best of luck to you as you begin your journey through the wild world of Revit, I look forward to seeing you back here soon!


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