Sketchup Introduction

by Dan Phalen

An Unpaid Appeal To Every Woodworker

Okay, craftspeople, our pledge drive objective today is to get you to try Sketchup.

I'll drag you into it kicking and screaming if I have to, because you know why? Because I wish someone had done that with me back in the day.

I'll give you a bunch of reasons why you should try it, and I'll explain what'll happen to you if you don't. And if I can't scare you into it, I'll just shut up, because I'm no good at sweet-talking a shop-weary woodworker brandishing a rotary saw.

Oh, No, Not CAD Again! Although a number of us come from an engineering background, few woodworkers are comfortable or experienced with computer-aided design (CAD), and even fewer can spell it. We certainly don't want to shell out for the big programs for a part-time hobby. Most of us approach "drafting" with fear and trembling, if at all.

But the funny thing is, we're not afraid to go out to the shop and butcher a beautiful piece of figured hardwood because we didn't test our design first. I'm guilty of that myself. Why do we do it? Many of us are intimidated by computers.We're more comfortable working with shop tools than moving a mouse or thumbing an iPad, so we'll get by with a felt marker and paper napkin, thank you very much. Now, where's my dead-blow mallet?

"They're Writing Sketchup Plans, But Not For Me." Maybe you're like I was for a long while. I put off using Sketchup for years before I finally decided I was designing too much on the fly in the workshop. People in the WW forums would often show a Sketchup image along with project snapshots, but I figured, "Hey, probably an engineer, does that stuff every day on the job. I'll just booger along as always and get by."

Easy-Peasy. Well, I'm here to tell you Sketchup turned out to be much easier for me than I thought—and I'm just your average nuclear physicist. At any rate, today I try every idea in Sketchup before I even buy the wood, because planning in 3D to scale, with 1/64th accuracy if I want it, is way better than scratching paper on the kitchen table with ruler and triangle. Been there. Done that.

However, once I bit the bullet and got started, I never looked back. Why? Because in just a couple of hours, I learned enough to build any project in cyber space. I thought it would take weeks, months, but it didn't. Today, I can make my mistakes and correct them in computerland without ruining an expensive piece of figured hardwood. I can try my ideas for fit, proportion, contour, aesthetics, and even wood selection, before I go cut wood.

And all for the cost of my own time and a few nano-cents to the power company.

There's A Cure For That. What made it easy for me was discovering Rob Cameron. Rob is a fellow woodworker with an amazing talent for teaching and video production. After an hour or two of me following along with Rob's FREE videos, I had the confidence to start into my first REAL Sketchup design, which turned out to be my Mission Cabinet and the plans you can find right here on CrestonWood.


Rob's approach is specifically for woodworkers. His examples are projects you can relate to, and he takes you step-by-step through the process of building, for example, a bookcase. What's great about the video approach is you can stop it and play back anything you missed or didn't understand. And the videos are free, of course, just like Sketchup.

One, Two, Three, Go. Before you throw up your hands and stomp out to the shop to do some real work, please try these three simple steps: (1) download and install Google Sketchup, (2) set it up for woodworking per my little tutorial (okay, it's another 12-step program, but don't read anything into that!), and (3) watch Rob's free videos. Best of all, there's no pop quiz at the end.

If after that you want to go back to pen and napkin, fine, I wish you the very best. For many people, that's good enough. Whatever works.

Regardless, I truly hope you appreciate what I consider to be the most important part of every workshop project: PLANNING. Do your due diligence beforehand, whether you're working from fully dimensioned plans such as mine, or pencil scratches on the back of an envelope.

Just remember: Measure twice, cut once, and don't test the toe-kick with steel-cap boots.


I hope you're happy enough with this little dissertation to take the action recommended. I'll be most pleased if you drop me a line and tell me about your Sketchup experience.

Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoyed your visit.


EB Cover

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