“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — Benjamin Franklin
When it comes to design and drafting old Ben’s quote rings as today as it did in the 1700s. A good design and a clear set of plans can spare you from a lot of unnecessary frustration or wasted material. When I went to High School in the 1990′s I had the opportunity to take classes in traditional drafting on paper and using AutoCAD on old DOS based PCs that were old even at the time. The computer was viewed as the future, but the extra time for smaller projects and prices/availability of good software was a hindrance. For the sake of expediency and my wallet I generally broke out the drawing board when I needed to make a set of plans.
Years later when I went to the North Bennet Street School they also espoused the use of traditional drafting with leads and full size drawings. No messing with expensive computers and ever-changing software. This works great for chairs and pieces with lots of complex curves. But for timber frames and buildings, often with many repeating elements a small change in the design could literally send you back to the drawing board for hours.
I recently got a copy of SketchUp and around the holidays found a real good deal on Robert Lang’s SketchUp for Woodworkers Shop Class on Demand Videos and watched them around Christmas. SketchUp took a bit of getting used to compared to my old AutoCAD days, but after watching Bob’s videos, and with my background as a software engineer and traditional draftsman I got up to speed quickly. (You may have noticed a proliferation in some computer generated renderings in recent posts) Bob Lang’s videos start with simple projects and tools and increase in complexity. I recommend getting both videos as the second video (‘Advanced Techniques’) was the most interesting to me wherein he shows the user how to create dovetails, work in the round, layout the model for printing dimensioned renderings etc.
Save a Tree, Burn some Pixels
About a year ago I designed some traditional interior shutters for my workshop — I started out drafting them by hand. The plans sat on my TODO list for a few months and now with SketchUp in hand I decided to explore some other design possibilities with the raised panels.
Design Options Explored (Colors added for easier reference here, I’m not planning to build any shutters for a circus):
- Red — Raised, Sunk Fielded Panel
- Orange — Raised and Fielded Panel
- Green — Raised and Fielded Panel (rounded fielding)
- Brown — Flat Panel
- Purple — Raised Panel
- Blue — Bead and Butt
In the end I settled on #1 above which was part of my original design, but this software saved me from having to experiment with a few test panels to see how things looked from different angles — a nice time and effort saver which offset the perceived longer time it took me to draft this project in SketchUp in the first place. Each project I get a little faster with SketchUp and I think part of why I feel like it takes longer is you generally need to complete your model in most if not all details as opposed to some shortcuts I can take when drafting by hand. (Though I think I am getting a bit OCD as I created all the mortises, draw bored pins etc in full 3D)
With SketchUp you can also experiment with colors and textures. Above you can see my shutters in Rittenhouse Blue to match my existing trim out in the shop. For other projects I’ve used actual textures which help give you a feel for how a surface would look with real wood grain etc.
The other big time saver is how fast you can generate other views — beyond top, bottom, front and back you can quickly generate an exploded view….
Or a section view…
or a dimensioned detail view. The dimensioning goes in quickly and the model can be probed in the future if you missed a dimension and want to see exactly how big a part or detail should be. All of these views help me create additional visual aids for this blog and for my teaching as I think a lot of woodworkers are visual learners. You can also share your models with other users or download thousands of models from the 3D Warehouse to save you some time.
I also like the fact that I can draft from the couch in front of the TV at night when I am too tired to be out in the shop and don’t want to be in another room hunched over the drafting board. If you have been waiting for a good reason to try out SketchUp, or draft something new you have no excuse — if you are reading this blog you are likely on a device that can be used to run SketchUp.
I look forward to seeing some of your new creations and hearing what others think about using the program.
P.S. If you’d like to build one of these shutters with me in person, there are still 1 or 2 seats left in my upcoming workshop at NBSS on this very topic. You can find more details here.
P.P.S. If you’d liked to check out Robert Lang’s SketchUp For Woodworker’s Shop Class on Demand Videos or DVDs I bought my copies from here. (I don’t get any sort of kickback for this, just recommending a good resource)