Is Sketchup a Game Changer for the Hobbist?


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I just broke the seal and entered into the land of sketchup. I downloaded the free version and have begun watching the tutorials.  Looked like a lot to learn until I watched the first one a few times.  It looks a lot more simple now.  Woodworking is not my day job and right now, ahead of me, I'm looking at building another router console to put my tabletop and lift onto/into.  I'm also looking at building another assembly table with  drawers and maybe an entertainment center and more bookcases....for now.  I guess my question is - is this program too much to learn not doing woodworking as a day job?  I enjoy the precision of things and apply it to the world of wood when I can.  I have an Incra system on my table saw and for the router table so I think this program would fit neatly with my personality and the way I like to do things.  I see some guys here and they begin with a rough sketch and figure it out along the way.  I can do that for some things but prefer to begin with a set of plans, hammer out the details, and then blindly cut and fit to build and I'm thinking sketchup would work well for me.

     For lunch, I often go to a sandwich shop and read or sketch projects that I want to build.  With the Incra system, the router and lift are oriented toward one end of the table. I've sketched it all out with the detailed joinery adding and subtracting for the joints to make it all work out measurement-wise and it was a pain to check and re-check.  Now, I guess I can do this through sketchup a lot easier?  Will sketchup allow me to look, say overhead and see the particular joints? Does it measure for me and eliminate the tedious task of figuring the distances of measurements in between things?  Will this free version serve for what I need?  Lot of questions I know but I figure you guys here can guide me..... maybe it's too much to learn and invest in for an occasional use? 



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Yes, Sketchup will scale. I drew rafters in the free program. I knew my span and rise and needed to join and support two lengths of 2x10 over an already sloped roof. I put in the measurements I knew and the program scaled the rest. There is a fantastic wealth of tutorial material on YouTube that I would recommend.

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is this program too much to learn not doing woodworking as a day job?

Like any program, it has a learning curve, but SketchUp's is nothing compared to some other CAD applications. In my opinion it's great for the hobbyist, as it has a lot of features, but it's still easy to learn.

Will sketchup allow me to look, say overhead and see the particular joints?

what exactly do you mean by this?

Does it measure for me and eliminate the tedious task of figuring the distances of measurements in between things?

this will help.

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Like a vertical sliding dovetail or vertical dado. Overhead view of a half lap joint or tongue and groove.

yep you can do this, by just using the different preset views.

it also helps to have the view mode in parallel projection.

check out this video, it was done completely in sketchup.

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It's not a game changer. Sketchup is a useful tool, but incremental benefit only. On the average build, you may save an hour or so over hand drawings, but that's it.  It's a good program, and we have a 2014 pro license. Note: SolidWorks is a lot better, but more expensive. The Domino XL, TS55, etc are trans-formative.


You want SketchUp to be a game changer?


Well how about a SketchUp Woodworkers Toolbar with a dozen new tools: (off the top of my head and in no particular order):


1. Automatic drawer builder: enter dimensions, half/blind or through, 6:1 or 8:1, side rails or rails/kick and it'll printout the four component templates to scale with dovetail layout indicated.

2. Cabirole leg template builder: enter length & width and it spits-out bandsaw template.

3. Integral sagulator

4. Carving tool: grab any screen image, tool converts to vector art, you enter dimensions, it's scales as line-art then spit-outs transfer template

5. Joint maker: join two components in the model, select a joint-type, the components are automatically opened and the male/female joint halves are automatically added.

6. Component printer: Print-out a scale template of any project component with joinery indicated and layout lines

7. Project checker - Aesthetics: reviews project for pleasing aesthetics using various architectural standards (natural ratios, Fibonacci, golden section, etc, etc). Note: you can also specify period and project will cross check against design standards (Queen Anne, Hepplewhite, Craftsman, Chippendale, etc)

8. Project checker - Design: reviews project for structural issues, weak joinery, excessive loads, high center of gravity

9. Project checker - Seating Comfort: reviews seating to identify uncomfortable designs.

10. Project checker - Dining sets: enter number of people, formal/casual, comfort factor and spits-out proper dimensions.

11. Stock Selector - scans-in digital images of the stock, outputs rough-cut template, fine component templates, and cultist to optimize grain-flow, harmony, etc

12. Panel Builder - reviews image scans of components and outputs orientation/layout to give the optimal grain layout, harmony, flow for any panel


I can think about a dozen other tools, but I said 12, so will leave the next 12 to you imagination.


BTW: if you have a 3D printer it'll spit out line drawing and a 3/8" routing template


PS: I'll add one for the road... Workflow tool: - analyzes project and scanned-in rough stock. Outputs break-down templates, optimal milling progression, rip/cross-cut progression, final milling progression, scale component templates, and bench-workflow including what tools you need and in what order.


PPS: Sorry, I can't help myself: Woodworker orientation: A sliding scale from Neander to Norm which the program will use to select joints, workflow, etc.


One last: Evaluate project, woodworking style, etc against a list of available tools in your shop and output a 30page justification for why you need to postpone that dishwasher purchase because you need to pickup "a few items", say a bandsaw.. :)


Now we could continue with the finishing toolbar, the mobile module that allows you to scan stock at the mill and report which sticks to purchase, the reverse engineering module that will scan a photo and reverse engineer into project components, etc etc. The possibilities are endless...

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Sketchup is probably the simplest 3D modeling tool available for woodworkers to use. Although one can get very complex with it in short order, the basics will get most of us by quite well, and aren't hard to learn. It was worth the learning curve for me, just to visualize joints and parts sizes before cutting. I have never used a printed plan from it, but certainly have used it to determine if my concept will actually work.

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I guess my question is - is this program too much to learn not doing woodworking as a day job?


Not at all. It is really not a difficult program to learn. I've used numerous 3D software tools over the years and I can categorically say that Sketchup changed the landscape in terms of ease of use and quick learning curve.


Even if you don't do woodworking as a day job, you may find that Sketchup can help you with all sorts of other things as well. Personally, I wish I could do more woodworking. I love creating stuff and while, admittedly it is by far second best to creating a tangible project, I often derive enjoyment just by designing something in Sketchup.


Some time ago I modelled our entire house in Sketchup. Just the basic structure, nothing too detailed. Then, when we decided to break down the wall between the living room and kitchen and convert it into open plan, I used that same model and started adding detail. Before I knew it, I had a perfect model of what we wanted and I could use that to give measurements and illustrations to the builders and kitchen fitters. Now we have an open plan living room and kitchen that is pretty much exactly how we had envisioned it.

Then, just a month ago we wanted to paint the roof and exterior walls. It was as simple as opening up my model, select the applicable surfaces and read the surface area. Bingo. No math required, Sketchup could tell me exactly how much paint I needed to buy. So really, the uses of Sketchup is endless and even rank amateurs such as myself can master it.

If you're interested, here are some renders of the living room / kitchen I designed on Sketchup and the real McCoy photographed afterwards for comparison.






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Deefstes, are you using the 'pro' version of Sketchup? I am not aware of a way to do that sort of rendering in the free version. Maybe I'm overlooking it?

Sorry, I should have been more specific I guess. No, I'm not using the Pro version of Sketchup but I did the final render using another piece of free software, POVRay. There are plugins than you can install for Sketchup which can generate pretty decent renders as well but they're all rather pricey and I have previous experience with POVRay so I like this approach.

All of the design work was done in Sketchup free and I tried to be as accurate as I could with the textures. For most of the textured objects (like the upholstered furniture and the blackwood dining room set) I used actual photographs of the texture to apply to the Sketchup model. I also positioned all the light sources in Sketchup even though Sketchup can't render them. The whole model is then exported to a POVRay file and rendered in POVRay. That's the easy step but it can take some time depending on the resolution and quality you want from the render. Ray-tracing can be rather a time consuming process.

If anyone is interested I can provide more information on how this is done but I don't really think that is the purpose of this discussion. Suffice it to say that Sketchup is an amazing tool and you no longer have to be a computer graphics guru to get great results.

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  • 3 weeks later...


For me nope. I hate it. Pick up a sheet of ply and draw bits of it full size. Anyone who's an engineer in mindset will doubtless love it. Just to stress again, I really, really hate it :-). I did try after that I knew I never wanted to bother again. 


For you, it might be different.


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Well how about a SketchUp Woodworkers Toolbar with a dozen new tools: (off the top of my head and in no particular order):


1. Automatic drawer builder: enter dimensions, half/blind or through, 6:1 or 8:1, side rails or rails/kick and it'll printout the four component templates to scale with dovetail layout indicated.


Not beyond the realm of possibility.  You need to create a special plug-in for this, though, and that requires writing some code in Ruby.

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I get that... I’ve never programmed Ruby and doubt that I ever will… :)


I just typed a list of features illustrative of what ‘game-changer’ might look like in a software package as applied to hobby/small-business woodworking… At the home-hobby-level, software isn’t going to be a game-changer – how could it? Does using SketchUp save significant amounts of time, cost, effort, materials? It could catch a flawed dimension or poor design option, but exactly how much more efficiently than a scale drawing, prototype, etc? We’ve used it for built-ins, but that’s about it… At the commercial-level, sure, if you’ve got five hundred linear feet of millwork to deliver on-time-on-budget, software (read as AutoCad, Oracle ERP, SAP, et al) is a key enabler… But’s that’s a different world.

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I need to try Ruby again some day. Never did feel like I moved beyond copying and pasting code with it.

I'll propose that SU is a game changer for hobbyists looking to break into serious, paid commissions. The ability to present prospective clients or (even worse) committees with beautiful perspective renderings is a major coup in trying to sell a project. The altar build I blogged two years ago was sold with SU renderings. I've even used it to pitch something as pedestrian as moving furniture from one corner of a room to another.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Almost everything I make is drawn on Sketchup. I started out many years ago manually drawing things for a living  (I was a mechanical engineering design draughtsman at the time) and then in the early 80s everything went electronic and I was trained in Autocad. Then recently when Sketchup came out it was a revelation - free software that was a 3D modeller!

I haven't looked back since. But drawing things out is what I have always done to make sure I don't come up with unexpected problems when designing something.


Believe me the learning curve is not as steep as Autocad. It may take some time to learn all Sketchup's features and become totally proficient but you can do a lot with it even in the early stages of learning.

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SU is nice for designing, as others have pointed out. Another reason SU is nice is the fact that many teachers are offering .skp as part of their instructional plans. The WW Guild projects are a great example. If you, as a hobbyist, can see yourself buying into a system like this for a project or two, then you likely will want to become comfortable with the program.

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I have SU 7 and 8... and never felt the need to move beyond those.  Does it limit me?  I've never noticed.


The answer is because I don't use the program to the fullest extent I could.  While others might just use it to create the basic shape of things, and worry about the joints after they see the mock up, I try to work the joinery into my SUmockup.  Takes longer, but I think it's helped in terms of realizing how much other materials I need to get.  (There have been times when the project looks simple because it's all a butt joint in SU... and then I remember that dovetails and tenons need material on the end of the component.)


Have I built anything from my fully-mocked-up SU models....successfully? no.  Attempted?, yes.  (See above lightbulb moment.)


If you just want the basic shapes, you can knock that out in 30 minutes or less.  If you want to know how to join the pieces together, that takes a little longer.  (And if I wasn't already taking a full semester of other classes, I'd try to figure out any of Bob Lang's material.)  But I haven't felt the compelling need to "graduate" to a higher skill, partially because what I have already gets me to where I want to go, and partially because I'd rather be working in wood.

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