The most significant woodworking tool that has been introduced in my lifetime doesn’t cut wood and it costs nothing. It is Google’s SketchUp program, a 3D computer-aided design program that runs on virtually any computer.
Before SketchUp (the BS era), I used a variety of CAD programs to create construction drawings. Because I use only Macintosh computers, the CAD programs available to me were expensive, clunky or just laughable.
But I muddled through and paid the man because CAD is an incredible woodworking tool when it comes to designing furniture from scratch.
When SketchUp was released, I deleted my old programs and have never looked back. SketchUp allows me to easily design things in three dimensions so I can really get a feel for what the piece will look like. It allows me to quickly try out dozens of different designs before I narrow the field to the point where I want to mock something up. And it allows me to be a more accurate and faster builder , I can get dimensions I need without using that pesky error-prone thing called math.
Plus, there is Google’s 3D Warehouse, a treasure trove of objects and designs you can use in your CAD drawings. Why re-draw a Veritas woodworking vise when someone has already modeled it for you?
I cut my teeth in SketchUp by taking the online tutorials; they’re great, but can only take you so far. My real education in SketchUp has come from Senior Editor Robert W. Lang, a long-time AutoCAD jockey who knows SketchUp inside and out.
In fact, SketchUp was the inspiration for our Woodworking in America conference next month on Furniture Construction & Design. The core of the conference will be Lang’s presentations on the computer program and a laboratory that will be staffed by SketchUp experts.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m not teaching anything at this conference. Why? Because I want to attend it, laptop in lap, and become a better designer, both in my hands and in my heart.
If you are on the fence about attending this conference, consider the following: When we proposed a conference on design, it was difficult to sell the idea to our superiors. The topic seemed too esoteric. But we pushed hard anyway because we think that design is an undiscovered country for most woodworkers.
I know this conference will be a success, but I don’t know if we’ll ever repeat this topic again. So this might be your best shot for finally mastering SketchUp and getting a boot-camp style education on furniture design from a group of A-list speakers. Personally, I can’t believer we’re going to have all these people in one place.
I know the conference is expensive. I know the economy is tough and lots of us are holding our breath right now. But if you can attend, I know you’ll be glad you did.
And you might get a chance to kick my hinder. More on that tomorrow.
– Christopher Schwarz