Make the Most of Shop Time — Use SketchUp

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When the SketchUp model is complete, it doesn’t take long to generate views of specific steps.

My son is like many recent college graduates; he’s trying to get by with a job that doesn’t pay much and his apartment is under-furnished. I’m happy to help him out and guide him through a project but neither one of us has much free time to get to the shop and make something. To make the most of that limited time, I spent a few hours making a model of the project in SketchUp. You’ll see the complete story of this build when it appears as a presentation here on 360 WoodWorking. Today I want to share a few of the ways that SketchUp made it easy to hit the ground running when we arrived at the shop with two sheets of plywood and some rough lumber.

What we’re up to is a basic plywood box trimmed out with solid wood. That means two distinct phases to the project. After making the SketchUp model I added several scenes (the tabs at the top of the image-you can read more about Scenes and Layers in SketchUp here). Each scene is a solution to a potential problem in the shop; ways to let us know what things ought to look like as we work. To the right is a look at how the plywood parts go together, along with some notes about various parts. I printed each scene and took the pages with us so that we didn’t need to guess as we worked.

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A detail of a complex part, as seen in the SketchUp model.

With any project there is a certain amount of time that will be spent figuring things out and making decisions. It takes some experience to realize that we have a choice about when and where to to that. You can wait until you’re out in the shop and interrupt the process of really making something to decide on the next move, or you can make those decisions ahead of time when you’re working on the SketchUp model. Either way, you’ll make some mistakes, change your mind or decide on a better method for a certain step. Out in the shop there is pressure to get something accomplished and mistakes or changes often mean another trip to the lumber yard or precious time completely wasted. In SketchUp there is an “Undo” command, the materials are free and always available, and nothing is heavy or awkward to move around. Having a good plan in place lets me get in a rhythm of building and that results in better work in less time, without much worry or frustration along the way.

No head scratching here. Measurements to make this jig come from the model.
No head scratching here. Measurements to make this jig come from the model.

One of the lessons Hunter learned yesterday is that the shop is a terrible place to do math. There is something about the smell of sawdust that makes it incredibly easy to add when you meant to subtract, or measure from here when you meant to measure from there. When it comes time to layout a key part, it’s pretty nice to have a drawing handy that shows all the dimensions. In this case, we needed to make a couple of jigs, so I figured those out ahead of time and added the critical dimensions to the detail. A little bit of time in SketchUp saves a ton of time in the shop.

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It took about ten minutes in SketchUp to plan the best method to cut all the parts from a single sheet of plywood.

In addition to supplying advice, I’m also paying for the materials. My instincts told me that I could get all of the parts for the carcase from a single 4′ x 8′ sheet of 3/4″ thick plywood. In SketchUp, I made a 48″ x 96″ rectangle and started dragging components (you can read more about components in SketchUp here) from the Components window to the virtual sheet of plywood. This is essentially the same process I would go through in the shop. I put the largest, longest pieces in position and filled in around them with the small ones. It took some fiddling, and I made some notes to remind us which cuts to make first. The cutting went forward without a hitch, we ended up with the pile of parts we planned on, my kid thinks I know what I’m doing, and I kept myself from making an expensive mistake.

 — Bob Lang

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One thought on “Make the Most of Shop Time — Use SketchUp

  1. If you download the cutlist plugin fro the warehouse, you vill get the cutting layout for free, both for sheets and boards.

    Ole Knap

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