Finally Learning SketchUp

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 12-05-2009 10:30 PM 3815 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Computer Challenged

I had just bought my MacBook in 2006 and was still learning how to use it when I bought the pro version of SketchUp. I had grand delusions of doing all of my design work on the computer. I refer to this as a delusion because with running my own remodel business, learning how to use my first computer, and learning SketchUp I did not have enough time. There was just too much to learn at one once, I had no reference point for understanding the principles of computers or how they worked let alone a drawing program.

As a contractor I have a saying, “You don’t need to know it all – just know who to call.” Since I did not have time to learn how to use SketchUp I would hire the drawings out. I could make very simple changes, then do a screen capture with notations and I would get a new drawing with the confirmed changes. This all seemed to be a laborious and costly process since I had to completely sketch something out and add all measurements to it for someone else to draw it up on the computer. My drawing could be rough, but it had to be clear enough that the draftsman would not spend too much time trying to decipher my drawings at $60 per hour. Fortunately most of my work does not require computer generated or CAD type drawings.

Quite an Investment

If you have a business it is necessary to figure out the true cost of making an investment. Even if you get the free version of SketchUp there is a cost to learning it, it’s an investment of time. For me it’s been a lot of time. I do not have the option for taking classes so a couple of books, the online tutorials, and help from generous people has been moving me along.

The Payoff

I have always understood the value and potential of using SketchUp for presentation and accurate plans, but fitting time in to learn it seemed to be difficult. Recently I picked an office project to learn the program on. The project consists of using large doug fir beams, left over from the construction of a house, to build out an entire office full of cabinets, desktop, and walls of bookcases.

I struggled for 3 weeks on drawing the room full of cabinetry with SketchUp. But now I have a basic set of skills for drawing with the program and I look forward to using it. I learned that, when getting frustrated, to turn it off and come back later. Most often, the element that I was not understanding would come to light after I relaxed my mind. Sitting in front of my 13” laptop for hours on end does not help the situation. Hands-on time in the shop always seemed to help this situation.

Besides developing my SketchUp skills, my presentation impressed the clients. I took my laptop in for the presentation, but I started out with a small 3 ring binder with 22 screenshots of the room at various angles, levels of zoom, and with added dimensions for understanding size.

Office 1

Office 3

I chose this job to learn SketchUp on because of the level of client and the scope of the job. They paid me good money for a design and it warranted a professional presentation. It seems to have paid off because the size of the job has increased. I am now working on a new set of plans with the changes and additions. In the past I would have paid someone else to do this and it still would have taken a lot of my time.

Added Benefits

Impressing the clients and getting additional work (this contract still has be finalized) is certainly a benefit, but there is also the benefit of having measured shop drawings. I don’t need every detail of a cabinet spec’ed out, just the outside dimensions work for me and then I reverse engineer to the insides of a cabinet. With the experience I have, I design the outside dimensions around what needs to go on the inside and everything just falls into place.

For this project I also designed an Arts&Crafts style bookcase to fit a specific area and it took me just under an hour to finish it. I can hand sketch faster than that. When I do a hand sketch, that gives me the concept but I need to figure out all of the specific dimensions and do clean drawing for the client. I need to do a front view and side view at least. Doing this by hand requires at least an hour if not more. With SketchUp I only need to draw it once and rotate it to see the various angles.

Bookcase 2

I determine the sizes of the parts as I draw and I can see if the proportional relationships work instantly. Most often I have an idea of the concept and sizes the parts need to be for a project, this comes with experience over time. But after drawing it once I am able to get all of the dimensions off of the project to use in the shop. Another benefit is the ability to make changes efficiently. A file can be copied then modifications made to it to show an alternate version.

Bookcase 4

There is a feature where you can add a sketchy hand drawn effect instantly to the project. This would seem ridiculous but it has it’s place. You can render a more simplistic drawing and then apply the sketchy effect to show a client. It renders an artistic image that is more vague on the specifics but gives the concept. For a cool looking artistic representation, the architects I know will apply the sketchy effect and then color the print out with Prismacolor markers. It may sound silly but clients get excited about artistic renderings of their projects. It says to them, “Your project is a work of art!”

Bookcase 3

My Conclusion

SketchUp is an investment. I bought the pro version because I see the need for some of the features that it offered. But even if you get the free version it is an investment of time.

Time invested for individuals will vary. It is important to note that I have never taken a formal computer class of any sort beyond high school and I learned on a TRS-80 (some will have to Google this to know what I mean and it may cause you to laugh) so my learning curve seemed quite steep. I did not have anything to compare it to or any other point of reference. People would often say, ” Oh it’s easy compared to…” but I have no training in any of these other programs so it is all relative.

I am excited about adding SketchUp to my repertoire of skills. It is an item that seems to validate my professionalism and skills to the client. As a business, impressions and presentations are very important.

Hand sketches are still very important. I find they are the best for capturing a thought quickly and for allowing the flow of ideas without getting hung up technology. Hand sketches are going to be the first form of visual communication with a client that will lead to clean drawings. Most often a rough sketch is all that I need to build from but I understand the importance of using SketchUp to ensure a clear transfer of ideas to the client.

If you are not going to use SketchUp often or do not deal with clients, it may be more of a novelty and is not necessary. I would in fact encourage more time in the shop than time on the computer for building woodworking skills. But this is a personal decision that everyone will have to make for themselves.

Share the Love ~ Share the Knowledge

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

15 comments so far

View Grumpy's profile


23917 posts in 3849 days

#1 posted 12-05-2009 10:49 PM

Certainly looks like all the effort paid off Todd.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#2 posted 12-05-2009 11:35 PM

BentlyJ, I did not even think of using the x-ray feature like that. I did not draw the interiors so I will not do that on this project but I can see the benefit of using it on future projects.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Jack Barnhill's profile

Jack Barnhill

366 posts in 3364 days

#3 posted 12-05-2009 11:38 PM

Congratulations on learning a new skill and, if I understood you correctly, you got paid to learn; win-win. Good looking design too.

-- Best regards, Jack -- I may not be good, but I'm slow --

View Taigert's profile


593 posts in 3839 days

#4 posted 12-05-2009 11:53 PM

You did a fantastic job on this blog entry.
I could really feel your pain with trying to teach yourself how to design with Sketch Up. I am going through the same thing right now. You and I must be about the same age. TRS = Tandy Radio Shack I started with the casettes as well, 64 bytes was some thing else back then.

-- Taigert - Milan, IN

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#5 posted 12-06-2009 12:08 AM

my hat is off to anyone who can figure out that program! It makes my head spin.
But as you say it is a worthy investment for a professional. I can imagine that the benefits are far more than what you have touched on here.

Great blog (and congrats with your new project)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View cabinetmaster's profile


10874 posts in 3556 days

#6 posted 12-06-2009 12:10 AM

Thanks todd for this great blog. My computer skills satarted with the PC jr. Know you can tell how long that has been.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View kosta's profile


946 posts in 3353 days

#7 posted 12-06-2009 12:26 AM

I still havent figured out how to use sketch up lol

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3172 days

#8 posted 12-06-2009 12:37 AM

Todd: I agree with those who complimented you on this post. Bravo!

I also salute you for taking this risk. As a small business owner, in what is largely considered a down economy, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to invest time (and $$), now. But I think that’s exactly what smart businesspeople do during the leaner times: they sharpen the saw.

So … kudos to you for getting up the learning curve on this one, for making me more convinced than ever that I’m going to have to get there, too, and for doing such a darned fine job on those drawings. The clients should have been wowed. I’m glad they were!

Whose first computer was a tape-drive Interact, and who anxiously waited for the Trash-80 to come out :-)

-- -- Neil

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#9 posted 12-06-2009 12:44 AM

NBeener- Sharpening the saw is well stated.

BentlyJ – What you have done is exactly how I see myself using it. For bathroom remodels I usually did not do an actual full sketch but would map it out on the floor as an overhead view. Now I will most likely do a rendering. This is something very few contractors offer.

MsDeb – Learning this has definitely made my head hurt at times!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18271 posts in 3674 days

#10 posted 12-06-2009 03:01 AM

Looks like you’re on a roll now!! Congrats Todd. Is that what you were working on when you were here??

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Jeison's profile


968 posts in 3106 days

#11 posted 12-06-2009 03:12 AM

very cool, I just downloaded the free version a few days ago to play around with it (need something to do over the winter while its too cold to work in the garage/shop, may as well start planning for the spring lol!) There is a nice little “getting started” article in the Dec/Jan issue of Woodcraft (vol 6/no 32) that got me interested, nothing really in depth but for anyone that’s never used it (like me) seems enough to get your foot in the door (and since the articles specifically targeted at woodworkers has some handy tricks)

-- - Jei, Rockford IL - When in doubt, spray it with WD-40 and wrap it with duct tape. The details will attend to themselves.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#12 posted 12-06-2009 03:28 AM

Topamax – That is what I was working on. I have to admit I was pretty fried on it too. I was getting hung up on the technology but I am glad that I stuck with it and worked it out.

Using the program still takes time but there is so much information that it gives you when done, the time spent is worth it.

Jei’son – Good luck with learning it. I have been learning it under the pressure of a deadline so that added a tremendous amount of pressure.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3873 days

#13 posted 12-06-2009 08:29 AM

Glad you’re joining us in the 21st century Todd! Welcome! ;)

I’m sure now that you’ve caught on you’ll be blowing the rest of us out of the water with how you use it.

Once you realize that Sketch-up thinks like you, you will start to think like Sketch-up.

-- Happy woodworking!

View newTim's profile


607 posts in 3605 days

#14 posted 12-06-2009 08:30 AM

Well heck Todd, looks like you’ve got it mastered along with all your other skills. I didn’t even get a chance to give you any advice. ;)

Just think, in the Pro version you can make components that move on command. You can show doors and drawers opening and closing, and you can… and you can… and you can…

Remember, like with any software, it wants to work, it really does.

-- tim hill

View Dusty56's profile


11819 posts in 3686 days

#15 posted 12-06-2009 05:07 PM

I guess I’m still in the “old school” mind set …pencil and paper , but then again it works for my needs and I don’t have to impress any clients with my computer skills or lack of…hahaha
I’ve tried the SketchUp process , but I get too frustrated with it.
I’m used to working with real boards , not keyboards !
I’m happy that this is working out so well for you , Todd.
All the best wishes for you , and thanks for this excellent Blog : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

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