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How can I align the origin's rotation to the "obvious" rotation of an object?

For example, you can see here that the origin rotation isn't the same as the rotation of the empty:

enter image description here

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I figured it out.

Set Transformation orientation to local to align the origin with the object. This didn't solve what I really wanted to do which was to rotate the empty on the local x-axis. It ended up rotating crooked.

What I had to do was press r x then x again to rotate on local x-axis.

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I think what you are looking for is a custom transformation orientation. That will allow you to create new transformation orientation depends on edges or faces.

(shortcut is Ctrl+Alt+Spacebar)

here is a link to a quick tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaL05JYEP9o

hope it helps

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