The easiest projects to make are those you’ve built once before. Most woodworkers only tackle furniture projects once in a lifetime and then move on to something else. So the next best thing is to build something mentally, visualizing how the pieces and parts fit together. Google SketchUp makes this mental process extremely close to the real thing, except for unloading lumber and sanding. We’ve been fans of SketchUp since we began using it a few years ago because it makes the process of planning quick and painless. It gets us out to the shop in less time, and when we start to build for real we’re armed with as much information as we want about how the project (and all the parts) fits together. It gives us the confidence that comes from experience, and we catch mistakes we might have made in the past that waste time and material.
Being the resident CAD jockey here at Popular Woodworking Magazine, I began experimenting with SketchUp to see what the buzz we kept hearing was about. I struggled for a month or two until the light bulb went off over my head and I caught on to what a powerful design tool this program is. I shared what I learned with the rest of the staff, and within a year we stopped using anything but SketchUp for our project planning and design. It has saved us untold time and money, but more important, it has made us better and more efficient woodworkers.
A lot of our readers have joined us. We put plans for new projects that appear in the magazine online in the form of SketchUp models in our 3D Warehouse Collection, and many of those models were made by enthusiastic and helpful readers. It’s a great tool to understand how something goes together.
About a year and a half ago, I began organizing what I had learned about using SketchUp into an aid for teaching it. I noticed that the things I struggled with while learning SketchUp were common among our staff members, readers I corresponded with and students in classes I taught. SketchUp is a relatively simple program, but learning it isn’t that simple. It’s different from other graphics and design programs and it’s easy to get sidetracked and frustrated if you don’t get a firm grip on basic concepts at the start, or if you practice the hard way of doing things. This bucket of knowledge began to look like a book, but a printed book seemed to fall short of the best way to present techniques for working on a computer. Then I found out that it is possible to embed video with PDF documents.
The result of this is my new digital format book, Woodworker’s Guide to Google SketchUp 7. It’s all on a disc that you open with Adobe Reader. There are 184 pages of text, and within the text are 49 short video clips. You can read in detail how to perform a technique or solve a problem, then click on the page and watch a video that shows you what to click, where to drag and when to type. You can have Reader open in one window on your machine and SketchUp open on another so you can practice as you read. If you want to review a lesson, you can quickly find the video to refresh your memory. All of this is easily searchable, and the entire document is bookmarked. Entries in the Table of Contents are links; click on the topic in the TOC and that page opens in an instant.
As the author, editor and publisher of Woodworker’s Guide to Google SketchUp 7, my opinion is naturally biased. Several bloggers have had nice things to say about this new book, including Al Navas of Sandal Woods, Kari Hultman of The Village Carpenter, Matt Vanderlist of Matt’s Basement Workshop and Bonnie Roskes of 3dvinci. Read what they have to say, ask your friends on online forums, or purchase a copy to try it yourself. Woodworker’s Guide to Google SketchUp 7 is available for immediate delivery at Popular Woodworking’s Woodworker’s Book Shop.
The question everyone asks is “what is the difference between this and the Shop Class videos Popular Woodworking released earlier this year?” The material covered and techniques presented are similar, both the videos and the book take you from opening SketchUp for the first time and show you how to efficiently plan woodworking projects and extract useful information from a completed model. The one that works best for you depends on your style of learning. The Shop Class videos are all video and fast paced, they are a lot like recorded versions of the sessions I give at our Woodworking in America conferences. The book has room for more detailed explanations of why and how to do things; the videos within reinforce the text and screen shot illustrations.
If you have any questions, send me an e-mail, or leave a comment.