Readers’ Project Drawing and Design Methods

In last issue’s eZine, Rob mentioned that he has not yet learned SketchUp – but plans to, in order to design his new shop. He wondered how other eZine readers draw and design their projects.

We heard some praises of SketchUp. – Editor

“Rob, I’ve used Sketchup for years (beware, there is an annual updating of the software, which means that new SketchUp files, such as those for I Can Do That, won’t load into older versions), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Forcing myself to digitally ‘mill’ every piece of a project and then fit them together has saved me a lot of board feet of lumber by getting the dimensions and joinery right. Pieces that would bump into one another in the real world also do so on the screen. Cut lists can be created either manually (by fitting the finished parts onto digital images of plywood sheets or solid wood boards) or automatically with some of the add-on applications that are available (which I personally don’t like, and they have been known to err). And you won’t lose the design like you would a sheet of paper. So, go ahead and dive in!” – Dan Else

“I, too, was a junior high school drafting class student, and quite enjoyed putting pencil to paper to plan out my woodworking projects. But when my wife and I decided to build our own house, I started using SketchUp. I drew the original, entire first draft of our house plan in just a week or so. It wasn’t too difficult. But then I began revising it based on the orders of the Supreme Commander. For seven years, we changed the layout, size and features of the various rooms in our house. In that time I learned a lot more about SketchUp’s features and how to better use its features. My advice is, don’t take seven years of noodling around to get comfortable using this powerful, helpful tool. Take a course or get a training DVD and then use it. Set aside a half hour a day for a week or two, and you will have saved yourself seven years. Now I use SketchUp for all my projects. You won’t regret it. After all, no musician regrets the hours of practice it took to play their instrument. And I’m pretty sure practice is the only thing that leads to better dovetails. This is no different. Take a class, practice and start designing! Oh, yeah. Our house ended up being featured in a ‘best log homes’ magazine. I guess the program worked.” – Tom Conlin

“I’ve used SketchUp on a couple of designs with decent results (for a 62-year-old). As a decent enough cabinetmaker, I get requests from people that I won’t turn down for furniture. My kid asked for a bookshelf headboard. Got a GREAT plan from Woodworker’s Journal and showed it to him: ‘No, that’s not what I was looking for.’ Back to the design board and ended up developing a SketchUp plan from a picture. He loved it though and still has it after five years. Currently working on a book/magazine display rack that my soon-to-be daughter-in-law asked for to put in her first grade classroom. Should have done a SketchUp on it but didn’t.  Oh well!” – E.J. Eiteljorge

And some specific advice relating to that program, and resources for learning it. – Editor

“I have a lot of sketches of projects with measurements, but no real drafting until I started using a CAD program several years ago. I usually am too impatient and would rather be in the shop building than at a desk drawing. I completed plans for a double-seat Adirondack chair using the free version of DoubleCAD (2D) about two years ago to teach myself how to use that program. I used SketchUp in fits and starts but had trouble getting my head around the drawing paradigm. I bit the bullet this past spring and used SketchUp to design a double-door spice cabinet to match our kitchen cabinets. I acquired a copy of Joe Zeh’s book SketchUp – A Design Guide for Woodworkers and went through his tutorial. By the time I was finished with the design of my cabinet, I felt pretty proficient using SketchUp. For me, a program like this is easier to learn if I have a project to complete with it, as opposed to just reading a text or manual. Zeh’s book is a great reference, and it’s still sitting here beside my computer. I really like SketchUp and am looking forward to the next project to use it with. Once you start to learn how it works and all of its capabilities (more than we will probably ever need or use), I think you will love it. For simple designs or projects, though, nothing beats a few sheets of quad-ruled paper, a pencil, and a ruler.” – Steve Hilberg

“I, too, started drafting early, though it was the ninth grade,not the eighth. In my early working years of mechanical engineering, all design was done on paper. Over time, I migrated into electronics and the drafting table disappeared. I used various CAD systems, but none provided the same satisfaction as a design on paper.  I think that was because you could touch the paper, see the smudges of effort.  Anyway, I dabbled in various home computer drawing systems, but they all had their quirks, and did not seem to provide any substantial benefit. About four years ago, we decided to do a home remodel. I wanted a way to view the various design iterations, but not spend countless hours creating countless drawings. From somewhere, I found a YouTube link on SketchUp, and it was amazing! The ability to walk through your design and see it with actual finishes is something never achievable on paper. So I downloaded the program, bought the book SketchUp for Dummies and dove in. The result is that it still took countless hours to learn.  I must have started over from scratch a half dozen times.  Now, I am nowhere near an expert, but I don’t think twice as to how I will create a new project design.  The home remodel turned out great, but I was not the contractor, just the check writer. To test myself, I used SketchUp to design a wall tool cabinet with shelves, pegboard and sliding doors (similar to those displayed in a variety of woodworking magazines).  I cut all of my material based only on the dimensions given by SketchUp. Then I assembled.  Amazed, everything fit perfectly. So, do I have any words of advice? Yes. Start all items as a cube, and make it a group or component.  Then adjust its size.  As you get enough pieces to create a part, group again. Take the time to learn this program, you will be very pleased with the results.” – Rich Sundquist

“I, too, have had several false starts at SketchUp and its tutorials. What finally got me over the hump was a series of free instructional videos at geared specifically to woodworking. This series of lessons provides essential ‘how-to’ tips and tools that are probably all most of us need for our project design. It has allowed me to work efficiently with SketchUp instead of getting lost in one or more dimensions, trying to corral the rotating 1×4 it took an hour to create. I would never have figured these things out on my own! We would all rather be making sawdust than sitting at a computer for hours trying to draft something. SketchUp, once the basics are learned, can be a powerful tool to improve your project design, visualize potential problems (in 3D, how cool is that!?), and easily make changes along the way.” – Gregg Langlois

“In the sketches I made, I was always fighting the sensitivity of the mouse — I could not get it to make things in manageable units. It was really frustrating.  Finally, after using SketchUp for three or four years, I looked and found that there is a setting for the units and, after a few adjustments, was able to control dimensions more easily.  In toolbar, click the ‘Window’ tool, and a popup will appear. If I forget to do this at the start of the drawing, it drives me crazy!” – Gordon Patnude

“I loved doing mechanical drawings when I was in high school and still love drawing on paper, but I think you will love using SketchUp once you learn how to use it. Working for a magazine, you probably know some people that are very good with SketchUp and can teach you very quickly. It would be nice if you added a section in the magazine on SketchUp with tips and tricks.” – Larry Ozella

“I have been using AutoCAD light for over 10 years, and I have currently been using SketchUp for my woodworking projects. Once you get through the learning curve and some help videos, a lot of your basic shop projects will come to life. On your workshop, it depends how much time you want to put into developing models of your tools if they are not already in the 3D Warehouse. Some times it is faster to make your 2D paper dolls to move the machines around to something workable. Learn SketchUp for the future.” – William Bomberger

Others offered thoughts about various software options. – Editor

“I am a CAD drafter proficient in SolidWorks. It has greatly enhanced my woodworking. Being able to quickly model ideas and change on the fly is a great help. Once I get the idea polished, I can create cut lists and also go as far as a bill of material so I purchase the right hardware. The biggest asset I find when doing complex projects is the ability to get compound angles upfront without trial and error. I also have a side of me that is more primitive. I enjoy making knives and just using hand tools to shape the handles, letting form and shape flow from how it feels in my hand. So there are two sides to woodworking for me, one technical and one free-flowing – both have their place.” – Jan Pergande

“SketchUp has been a service of Trimble, Inc for the last five years. Google sold Sketchup to Trimble in 2012. Contrary to some early worries, I don’t think Trimble has done anything yet to ruin SketchUp for use by woodworkers. It’s still free. Google was a relatively brief owner in the life of SketchUp.They did change the name to Google SketchUp for a while, but that is no longer the name.” – David Bird

“I still have my drafting board and all the accessories. But I seldom use it. I have tried many different CAD programs over the years, including SketchUp. I can get lost in the terminology of the actions. And if I don’t catch on quickly, I move on. Some I’ve tried were pretty expensive, like Turbo CAD, and some were the $10 CD’s you snag at the checkout line waiting your turn. But the one I’ve used now for some years is DeltaCAD. Under the “Help” menu is a really quick and easy tutorial for a calculator that gets you going in about half an hour. It’s only a 2D program, but it is advertised as the easiest CAD program to use, and I would have to agree. Mainly because the creator didn’t go with names for things I don’t understand and uses icons. It has a 45-day free trial, which can simply keep being reinstalled over and over to keep using the trial version. Or, for less than $40 bucks, you can buy it and lose the little DeltaCAD name on the corner of your printed pages. It comes with several libraries of symbols, sheet sizes and scales. It also lets you add your own symbols and create unlimited files.It also has extract data for job costing and a host of other neat features. You can also draw in multi layers, so you can show your electrical on one layer, plumbing on the other, and have the floor plan on all of them. Since we moved into the apartment, a lot smaller than our house was, I’ve measured everything including the rooms, made symbols of all the furniture and things and use it to figure what will fit where so we can best use the space. I have purchased one of the first versions, and later upgraded to a newer version. Currently, I’m using the newest trial version as I’m still going through the SSDI procedure and money is too tight. Even if you are going full blown Sketchup, try out the DeltaCAD trial. It’s a fast and easy way to figure things out, especially when making dadoes and splines.” – John E. Adams

“Your question about transitioning to CAD hit home with me! For many years, I stayed with the tried and true graphite on paper method of drawing up plans and designing simply because I thought traditional CAD software not worth the fuss for what I was doing. As a high school teacher, I have always used and taught CAD software but still deferred my design work to pencils…but no more. Instead of 2D AutoCAD (which I never really used for drawing furniture plans), I have gone fully into 3D modeling. Our school has access to Autodesk’s Inventor and I love the plans you can create. I can create each part virtually, the joinery required and then fully assemble finished piece and then quickly generate precise material lists. I can easily give students an exploded view or presentation so they can virtually ‘see’ the finished product and how it goes together.  We can also create the model and use a 3D printer or export the product into CAM software and cut or carve it on our CNC router.I haven’t used 2D CAD in several years now for drawing anything.  3D modeling is so much more precise.” – Gary Seibel

“As an architect, I use both AutoCAD and Sketchup on the job…but prefer to design/draft my woodworking projects in AutoCAD. SketchUp, however, would be much easier for the novice to learn.” – Tom Treat

“I have been drawing house plans for 20 years with CAD and I love it. Previously, I was using pencil and paper, and it was much more difficult. With CAD, you can make corrections easily as well as making multiple drawings at once, plus your drawings can be a lot more. Just my opinion.” – Charles Bickerstaff

“I started using 2D TurboCad a long time ago, when it was one of the least expensive alternatives to AutoCAD and others. However, I am only marginally competent in its use because I just don’t use it that much. I would say that one of the greatest benefits of CAD software is 3D renditions of your drawings. My wife cannot visualize anything 2D, so I love having this capability. They came out with a new product that actually allows you to show how shrubbery and trees will look in 10 or 15 years. I did load SketchUp a year or so back but wasn’t so impressed with it that I would switch, even if it is free.” – M.K. Bomstad

“I have TurboCAD. After some learning, I can now produce a workshop joinery drawing and use the measurements and cut to it in the workshop. It’s a good program. I did some oak stairs which had kites and winders and couldn’t trim them on the job because of the angles, so I worked it out on TurboCAD, dimensions, angles and heights to fit into the odd-shaped walls and it made it easy.Have a go with it and see how you get on.” – Tony Barker

And good old-fashioned paper and pencil drawings still get praise, too. – Editor

“I’m an architect, and in my days on the board, I was on the board. In those days, there was no CAD. In my later years, I became an administrative architect, and no longer did drawings. I took a course in it, but since I wasn’t doing it on a regular basis, it went by the wayside. By the time SketchUp came around for woodworkers, the learning curve was too steep for an old dog like me. I am much faster working by hand, often working from no more than a sketch. While I recognize the benefits of using SketchUp, I think I’ll stick to what I know best. By the way, SketchUp was originally a tool for architectural design, not furniture.” – Barry Saltsberg

“It kind of depends on the project! Mostly I use pencil/ink and paper for small projects; however, I do use a CAD drafting program on large complicated projects. I find that even when I’m going to use the computer, I still make a sketch on paper before grabbing the mouse.” – J. Eric Pennestri

“I draw on paper. Often just a basic concept with rough measurements but, at times, I will pull out the old drafting tools and do a scale drawing. If I needed to draw a lot of super accurate plans I’m sure I would spend the money buying and time learning a CAD program but, given how often other computer programs I like update to a less helpful (for me) version or don’t work with later versions of the operating systems (and have to be replaced with an even more expensive program), I’m glad I stayed old-school. I am only doing a couple of scale drawings a year and am an intermediate DIY, not someone doing commercial work.” – D. Robinson

“I have been reading your columns and watching your videos (as well as subscribing to your magazine) for a while now. You are like a lost twin brother (fraternal) who seems to think just like me. It’s uncanny how often you write something about yourself that describes me.
I, too, have downloaded SketchUp several times and played with it each time. But I get frustrated with the difficulty and, under the time constraints of ‘git-‘er-done,’ pull out paper and pencil.  At my job I am on the computer every day, usually all day, and the last thing I want to do when I get home is huddle over the computer.” – Mark Robinson

“Have a BSEE degree and 40+ years in the computer industry.  I am a hobbyist in wood, retired and volunteer my time supporting a woodshop at CP Rochester. Downloaded SketchUp. Scoured YouTube for tutorials. Have spent untold hours trying to lay out a multi mixed size 40 cubby project.  No results as yet – lots of frustration. Designing a single, moderately simple component is not the issue. Things get hairy as complexity increases. I think it is time for a “Sketchup for Dummies” video-based training course, woodworker’s edition. Until then, I have retrenched to paper and pencil but will give it another try when time allows.” – Norm Erwin

“I have also downloaded SketchUp twice and still do not use it.  I have made a 1/8 grid and ¼” grid ‘graph paper’ in Excel and I use that somewhat. Pencil and paper is still my go-to. I do not do a lot of design so it is not that big a deal for me. Flying by the seat of my pants is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating (when I make mistakes!), but I do not think I will be changing anytime soon.” – Al Micucci

“I read all these comments that SketchUp was so easy you could teach yourself. I tried. Lord knows, I tried. I just could not seem to get it on my own.  One of these days, I will take a course. In the meantime, I’m sticking with huge sketchpads, rulers and mechanical pencils.  When the computer zombie apocalypse hits, I will still be humming along.” – Lee Ohmart

“I downloaded the free version several years ago when it first came available. I played with it a while, but the instructions at that time were lacking and I got frustrated and stopped trying to learn it. Like you, I always drop back to my mechanical drawing class teachings to do my drafts of projects. I probably should pick up a new version and try it again as well.” – Dan Aycock

“Yeah, paper and graphite….  And LOTS of eraser crumbs!  I wish I had the self-discipline and time to master SketchUp.” – Rod Eisenbise,

“Stick with the paper and pencil method you know.  It makes you really think about the process, placement, and the desired outcome in general.  As an engineer who, like you, started drafting classes in junior high, I still resort to my collection of drafting tools. I find modern CAD difficult to read and execute properly in the field.  Don’t get me wrong, although I still have my first slide rule, I do use a calculator.  It is the thought process and execution of those thoughts where CAD fails.” – J.B. Fisher

“Pencil and paper get my vote. I’ve attempted to use CAD several times but decided that by the time I could use it efficiently, I could draw the plans by hand and have the job half done. And I’d probably forget what I learned and I’d have to start all over the next time I tried to use the CAD program.” – Chuck Baker

“I am a former woodworker who retrained as an AutoCAD drafter. The best use of software is in very complex building projects. If all you need is a fairly simple box, draw it by hand. It’s faster and you will be confirming dimensions in the real world anyway.” – Tom Powers

“I’m a much older dog than you, but I still use paper and pencil. Me, too, on downloading but not using several CAD programs over the years, including SketchUp twice. I think I have two old versions of unused CAD sitting on the bookshelf when they came on disks in cardboard boxes. I still love to use wide green bar, sprocket fed paper to plan on. Just upgraded to a full size T-square this year.  That new isometric paper, ‘cool.’” – Bill Fish

“I have been doing woodworking for over 60 years. I tried SketchUp several times, but could not get the hang of it. I’m too old to learn something new at this stage of life. I will stay with pencil and paper. This way, if I have to make a change, all I need is a sharp pencil and a good eraser.” – Brian Finnegan

“In your latest article, you asked about the use of CAD, and I found that I relate to most all your thoughts.  I am a retired facilities engineer and was required to use AutoCAD at work for my whole career. It was very powerful and way more capable than we actually needed to get the job done. I also spent many hours in class each
time they came out with a new version that made it ‘better.’ Like you, I have downloaded SketchUp on more than one occasion and have played with it a little bit but find myself going back to pencil and paper every time.  Maybe since I only produce shop drawings for myself, I don’t need to make them ‘pretty.’  It is not that I can’t learn to use a CAD program, but I just don’t see enough benefit from it. I, too, am planning on adding to my garage/shop, but I suspect I will stick with pencil and paper.” – Wayne Whitcomb

“I can relate to the simplicity of pencil and paper. I took a drafting class while I was in high school somewhere around the time dirt was invented. Over 30 years ago, the company that I worked for asked me to start doing my process control drawings on CAD. A couple of fellows from the drafting department got me started. In a short amount of time, I was able to make all my mistakes electronically! I tend to do a lot of my drawings in CAD for a couple reasons. For me, it is faster, and I normally enjoy the building more than the drawing. The main reason I tend towards the electronic drawing is the ease at transmitting that drawing to others. Not so important if you are the designer and the builder. Very important if you need to share the drawing with others. Keep your pencil sharp and your eraser clean.” –
Perry D. Hartmann

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