Use a SketchUp Model to “Get It”
For the last few years we have placed a free SketchUp model of nearly every project we’ve published in Popular Woodworking Magazine on Google’s SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse. We use SketchUp to plan our products, and as the root of the illustrations you see in the printed magazine. If you have SketchUp installed on your computer, you can download a model, view it from any angle, take it apart and modify it if you want. It makes life in the shop a lot easier because you can work through how a project goes together and adapt it to the way you work without cutting any wood. We try to get all the intricacies of construction across in the words, pictures and drawings you see in the magazine, but it’s hard to beat having a three-dimensional view of a project that you can take apart and put back together. That’s the closest way we know to actual building, and life in the shop is better when you thoroughly understand the construction of a project.
One of the articles in the February 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, Roubo’s Folding Bookstand, by Roy Underhill, was different from most project articles we publish. The “how-to” part was translated by Roy from the original instructions, written in French more than 200 years ago by Andre Roubo in L’Art du Menusier. The illustrations in the article were copies of what appeared in Roubo’s book. Roubo was one of the first authors of woodworking instruction, and while all the information needed to make the bookrack is there, the form was unusual enough to leave some of our readers scratching their heads, sending letters and e-mails, and leaving comments on the Chris Schwarz Blog.
Reader Donna Hill sent us a SketchUp model of the bookstand, and it’s the next best thing to traveling back to 18th century France to ask M. Roubo himself how to make the bookrack. I added the model to our 3D Warehouse Collection, and it’s a perfect example of how to use SketchUp as a problem solving tool. The bookrack is deceptively simple, cut from a single piece of wood.
In SketchUp, you can save snapshots of a project at different stages of completion by setting up scenes. You can create multiple scenes quickly by copying parts of your model and you can control what you see in each scene by using layers. This model has several scenes, and when you download the model you can switch from one scene to another by clicking on the tabs at the top of the modeling window. Go to the Window menu in SketchUp and check “Scenes” and “Layers” and you can see how this model is organized. The scene named “Initial Layout” shows where to draw the lines for carving the hinge, and the one shown here, “Carving Layout” shows clearly which hunks of wood go away, and which hunks stay.
The next scene, titled “Pre-Split” shows what things look like after the carving and before sawing the board lengthwise in thickness to separate the hinges. Each scene can be printed individually so you can have a reference next to you on the bench, if you don’t want to drag your laptop out into your shop. If you’re making your own model, this process of creating a scene for each step of a project gets you to walk through the building process mentally. When you start in on the “real” bookrack, you have the experience of building it in SketchUp on your side.
You can also do things in SketchUp that you can’t do in real life that help to understand construction, and what individual pieces of a project look like. The scene named “Leafs Separated” is an example of that, showing each piece of the bookrack as a separate entity. This makes it clear how the pieces are shaped, where they interlock and how they work together as a hinge. You can orbit and zoom to get a visual image of how it all works together.
SketchUp is fun to play around with, but I think it’s one of the best ways to ensure that the time I spend in the shop is enjoyable and productive. The time I spend working out details in SketchUp always pays off in the shop. If you have a good story about how SketchUp has saved your bacon in a project, leave a comment or send an e-mail.