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I'm wondering how to approach duct work, piping, and wiring?

In the past, I have used the spin tool to make corners, but I find it very cumbersome.

How do you do duct work and piping? I have seen people use curves, but I find it's hard to get straight 90 degree angles or just uniform angling across the whole model. It's also hard connecting piping together if they started from different locations.

Here's some reference:

Something like this

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To create basic connections you can use any or a combination of the following 3 Techniques:

  • Pipe Joints, part of the Mesh > Extra Objects Add-on

Open the user preferences window (Ctrl+Alt+U in 2.79, or Edit>Preferences in 2.8) Navigate to the add-ons section.

Enable the Add Mesh: Extra Objects Add-on

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You'll have a new item on the add menu to create pipe joints.

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UPDATE:

As of version 2.79 and 2.8 Pipe Joints are accessible on Add>Mesh>Mechanical>Pipe Joints.

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At creation time, each of the tools have a different set of options to refine the angle, diameter, etc. (if the tool tab is not open press T to make it visible or press F6

Keep in mind that once you make any further transformations, those original parameters cannot be reset (read this).

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  • Connect different segments.

To connect two cylinder segments that have the same number of vertices, select the end edges and use Bridge Edge Loops, and adjust number of cut and smoothness.

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  • Curves

To create large sections and more intricate paths , create a base shape for the pipe.

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And use it as a Bevel object on a curve:

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To deal with sharp turns adjust the control points by pressing B and selecting Vector. The width of the curve can then be ajusted by changing the radius of a control point.

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't know about the extra options in the bridge edge loops operator. Thanks for mentioning that! $\endgroup$ – TARDIS Maker Dec 6 '15 at 0:47
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Two other ways to make pipes: Vertex extrusion and Spin tool.

A fun way to make pipes is first to create with simple vertex extrusions:

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Then bevel the angles (Ctrl + B and tweak the parameters in the Operator box):

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Convert your mesh to a Bézier curve (header menu → ObjectConvert ToCurve):

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Then bevel your curve to give it thickness (Properties panelObject DataGeometryBevel). After that, reconvert to mesh, give it a Subdivision Surface modifier, and a smooth shading...

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Instead of converting to curve you could give your mesh a Skin modifier (CtrlA to change the vertices radius):

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When you're good, apply the Skin modifier, give your object a Subdivision Surface modifier:

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Use for example the

Another way is to use the Spin tool. Switch to top view, select the edge, put your 3D cursor where the center of the rotation is supposed to be:

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Select the Spin tool:

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Rotate the edge, use Ctrl to constrain to 10° by 10°, tweak the Operator box parameters if necessary:

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