Wood CAD Chips #1: SketchUp for Woodworking

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Since my main interests at the moment are CAD/BIM on one side and structural wood design on the other, it might make sense to talk a bit more on this site about the combination of these two. To start this off, here’s a quick intro on using SketchUp for woodworking. Designing larger objects (i.e. structures) in wood will follow later.

So why would you want to use SketchUp for woodworking? The answer is (at least) two-fold. First, you can precisely model in 3D all the parts that make up your object (a chair, for example). This allows you to verify dimensions and solve complex geometries in an easy way. The requirement for this to work is, however, that you model precisely. So keep the Measurements (the old VC) box in your view and enter dimensions rather than clicking them.

The second benefit is that shop drawings ad material lists can be created with relative ease. SketchUp allows for different views using its Pages function and dimensions can be added easily. If you purchase the professional version of SketchUp, you can also use LayOut for creating polished drawings.

So what’s out there to help you along?

The main website I’d recommend for reading is Tim Killen and¬†David Richards’¬†Design.Click.Build. blog at FineWoodworking.com. Both are posting frequently on anything from basic techniques to full step-by-step model developments of classic woodworking pieces. On their blog, you’ll find for example how to make an 18th century child’s cradle, a ladder-back chair , a Windsor chair or simply a classic dovetail joint (and much more).

Beyond the main page, some good points of entry are the archive of the old site and a selection of “technique” posts. For more posts by “DaveR”, you can also read his own blog on the Lumberjocks site.

If you would just like to look at models of either nice woodworking pieces or an amazing array of workbenches, then check out Google’s 3D Warehouse. One of the collections of interst is Popular Woodworking’s.

In the warehouse you’ll also find one of my pieces: A set of garden benches I made from remnants of tested glulams. Not very intricate by any stretch of the imagination, but rather modern and functional with broad lines and wide seams.

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My garden bench – made from tested glulam

When you use SketchUp for woodworking, then you’ll likely benefit from one of the available plugins. Beyond plugins that help you create intricate geometry, I’d recommend you look at the Cut List and Materials plugin (look for it on the linked page).

Of course, once you want to create anything turned or with sweeping curves, you’ll likely run into SketchUp’s main deficiency: the fact that every curve is represented by a set of polygonal lines. As always, you can get around this by increasing the number of segments that make up a curve (in the “Entity Info” window). This will increase your model size significantly, though and may slow down SketchUp. For most uses – especially if you don’t send the file to a CNC machine – this limitation can be accepted and worked around.