Saturday, May 5, 2018

SketchUp Success for Woodworkers -- Woodworking Tip #22

The 22nd woodworking tip is:  buy this book and use it to learn SketchUp!!

And yes, here I thought I was the only woodworker graduate from Columbia. Turns out I was wrong, for David Heim, one of my fellow alumni, is not only a fine fine woodworker, specifically wood turning, but also one of the country's leading experts on the use of the 3D modeling program SketchUp as applicable to furniture making, cabinetry and all the other lovely objects made from wood. SketchUp is a complete drawing program, useful not just to woodworkers, but to interior designers, architects, landscapers, city planners, etc. What David Heim has done in his excellent book SketchUp Success for Woodworkers recently published by Spring House Press is extracted and tuned the aspects of the program which enable woodworkers to produce attractive, realistic 3D models of their ideas, designs and projects.  (At this point I have finally stopped my word processing program's constant urge to turn SketchUp into ketchup.)

If you stop reading here, my advice to you woodworkers is get David's book and learn SketchUp! While you're at it also visit his online shop at Etsy:  to see some of his beautiful turnings.  You can also buy his book through his Etsy shop.

So how does design happen? Starting to learn SketchUp got me reflecting about the evolution of the design tools I've utilized throughout my woodworking career. Now please don't ask why I still have this, but it all begins here:

Back in the day, while the girls were sewing and muffining in Home EC class, the boys were combating Sputnik by taking Mechanical Drawing. I don't think this was an elective either; it was a manly skill.  The main object of the course was converting some fanciful 3D object, often resembling the parapet of a Medieval castle, into front, top and side views. A lot of your grade depended on placing a dotted line where superman's Xray vision would have detected a change in form on the opposite side.

Years later when I took up professional woodworking, home computers, let alone drawing software, had not yet been invented, and thus dredging up this old junior high school skill proved most useful. At this point we call it "drafting."  I found myself even building drafting tables for myself and customers as well as gathering a nice collection of those green plastic Staedtler templates.  These templates helped me learn such important things as curves are French.  Still the plans did not appear all that different from those in 8th grade:

Continuing on: thanks to the urging of our son Josh we were one of the first families on the block to own a computer, a handmade XT. Fast forward years later Josh has opened his bicycle trailer and accessory business BikeShopHub and required a CAD-CAM program to operate a ShopBot CNC tool in the manufacture of his novel bicycle travel case the Cello. The Cello amazingly converted a BOB one-wheeled bicycle trailer into a travel luggage box for not only itself but also the bike that pulled it! The chosen program was bobCAD-CAM (ironic, but no relationship to the trailer company), and thus thanks to my son I myself moved to the next stage in design: computer aided drafting using BobCAD-CAM. Without question the greatest benefit of CAD was what I call “dimensional integrity,” no more struggling with finest line on a triangle scale to extract a particular dimension or carefully adding up a series of dimensions to verify sums. Any part of a plan could be measured, and the numbers were precise, perfect, always added up!

So now I have reached the latest stage in the evolution of my design career: starting to learn SketchUp using David Heim's excellent book SketchUp Success for Woodworkers. My first recommendation and his too is to pass over the online program and download SketchUp Make 2017 (still available free as of this posting). Then with program running follow David's clear step-by-step instructions: from choosing a template to setting up your first file to learning the basic tools to creating your first board. He is easy to follow. The centerpiece of the book, his four rules for success, makes enormous sense to anyone who has ever encountered a table saw and attests to his major investment in both mastering and adapting SketchUp for fine woodworkers. What I particularly like about David's approach is that he walks you so very carefully through the SketchUp learning curve. I would not expect to become adept overnight, but you could not have a better guide.

Perhaps only second to the joy of creating, for a custom fine woodworker, is the joy of working directly with your clients, getting to know them and their vision of the environment they desire to inhabit. Yet with few exceptions the difficulty has always been offering a clear picture of what exactly they were commissioning. Shop drawing and blueprints are generally insufficient in this regard. Once I even had to build a piece completely over again because I could not see the “picture in the head.”

I only wish I had had a tool like SketchUp throughout my career. I could have then offered to clients a fully 3-dimensional model, built in the chosen woods and with the right stain color, something they could “walk” around. In the later chapters of his book David explains how you can import any wood grain or texture to your model or even render it realistically. Clients are always finding photographs of some piece or environment they like, and you will even learn how to initiate your design using one of these. Both client and creator benefit. You will be able to push, pull, stretch, shrink, reshape, add components, subtract components until the picture in your own head is achieved.

Afterword: SketchUp and computer assisted manufacturing (CAM)

Though in most cases I did not use the CAM side of bobCAD-CAM, occasionally it came in very handy especially when both precision and duplication were required such as cutting the triangular solid oak countertops that formed this 15-sided customer service center. The screen shot of the bobCAD-CAM file used to cut these on ShopBot is pictured above along with the finished product. SketchUp Success for Woodworkers does not cover using SketchUp files (.skp) to operate CNC machinery, but a quick look on the web indicates that conversion to CNC files is possible. I am no expert on drawing programs, but I do know a good guidebook when I see one. David Heim's book is the first place to go if you want this powerful tool in your tool bag...happy sketching!

I would be remiss not to mention that Flying Circus Studios is also on Etsy.

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