For many woodworkers, plans are purchased in a book or online. Some guys even go without plans, just feeling it out as they go; sometimes that works….a lot of times it doesn’t. Personally, I like to draw up my own plans, with my own ideas of projects. As in the shop, you need to the right tools to accomplish drawings that are accurate. Trimble has a free product, called “SketchUp” that is perfect for this task, available on both PC and Mac. Google formerly put it out.
Not only can you accurately design your own project, you can also “render” it photo realistically. Meaning, you can turn that drawing into a picture that looks like it’s an actual physical object. There are a couple of profound benefits from doing this:
- You can “build” the object before actually taking the time and money to build it, and make tweaks as necessary to get the look you had envisioned.
- Easily try different contrasting woods, and see how well they go together.
- If you are decent with Photoshop, you can take that rendering and inset it into a picture. This would be helpful if presenting an idea to a client. Perhaps they want an armoire – you could show them very much what it would look like in their own home!
- There are also thousands and thousands of already made models of – virtually anything – available for free at the Sketchup 3D Warehouse. I’ve used this for props. Lets say you’re sketching out a kitchen island, for example; you could go to the 3D Warehouse and import flowers, dishes, etc, right into your model.
So what’s the downside to SketchUp (hereby referred to as “SU”)? Well, the learning curve, primarily. I had to attack it twice before I finally got handy with it. I still don’t know everything there is to know, but I know enough to accomplish almost all I’ll ever do. If I get stuck, I can always check Google’s help desk for SU, or go to a user community forum, such as Sketchucation. There are also plenty of good “how-to” videos on YouTube. You might want to what I did, and get “Google Sketchup 7 for Dummies”. Obviously, if you a computer geek, and I am somewhat, then it will go easier for you. Is it tricky to learn? Yes. Is it worth it? I say yes, very much so.
I should point out that the “rendering” part is done in another program, called Kerkythea. Basically, you draw up your project in SU, and render (turn it into a photorealistic picture) in Kerkythea. There’s a bit of a learning curve on that one too, but there are also tutorials for that. And no one says you have to dive into the rendering either – I often just print out sheets from SU to take down to the shop, and off I go; but if you really want to get a very good feel for what that project will look like finished, rendering can really give you a very good idea.