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Forum topic by drcodfish posted 03-07-2016 05:12 AM 1347 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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124 posts in 1004 days

03-07-2016 05:12 AM

Wizards of the wood working world:

I am in the process of graduating from boxes and other smaller projects to furniture. I bought plans for a mission style oak desk from American Furniture Design Co, which appears to be associated with Lee Valley and Veritas. The project is rated for beginners and I think I can handle it, mostly because it has good drawings and fairly clear and thorough instructions. But I want to modify it: It has a bank of drawers on one side (making it a ‘student’ desk) and I would like to add a bank of drawers on the other side, making it more of an office desk. I also want to build a riser, which will put a shelf and a set of cubbies above the desk top. This will sit on the desk top.

it would be nice to be able to produce plans and drawings for these modifications similar to the original desk plans. But I haven’t figured out if Sketch Up can do this for me. I’ve done a search on Sketch Up here and also looked at the offerings on line. I don’t think I have a very good idea of what one can do with Sketch Up and would be happy to hear your thoughts if you are a user. I am also not the greatest computer wizard so am concerned that it might be over my head.

What do you like about Sketch Up, what are the short comings? Does Sketch Up really cost over $400.00?

-- Dr C

15 replies so far

View ROB_IN_MN's profile


32 posts in 2198 days

#1 posted 03-07-2016 05:24 AM

sketchup is free and is absolutely invaluable. there are also great tutorials. don’t spend money to buy OR learn how to use sketchup!

you can use it to just figure out proportions of things all the way to using it to help plan out your joinery. i never make anything more complicated than a cutting board without modeling it in sketchup.

View PurpLev's profile


8539 posts in 3700 days

#2 posted 03-07-2016 05:41 AM

Yes, SketchUp can do what you are thinking.

SketchUp is a great tool, and can offer a lot of value. keep in mind – it is a tool, not a magic formula, and as such will require some learning curve before you can get what you want out of it. but time vested in learning to use this tool will pay off long term amounts most/all future projects

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View daddywoofdawg's profile


1028 posts in 1626 days

#3 posted 03-07-2016 09:00 AM

you tube has a lot of great tutorials.
Sketch up is free,you don’t need the pro version,and you can look in the sketch up warehouse and see all kinds of ideas maybe close to what you want.So there is no reason not to download it play with it for a while when you can use the tools,then go and design what you need.

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991 posts in 3027 days

#4 posted 03-07-2016 11:51 AM

I use sketch up but added the Cutlist and Woodworx add-ins.

View TraylorPark's profile


212 posts in 1650 days

#5 posted 03-07-2016 01:22 PM

I agree with everyone so far, Sketch Up is a great tool. I can sketch projects on paper, but to get the proportions and a good visual example to show clients, or in my case my wife, you can’t beat Sketch Up. You Tube has lots of tutorials and make sure you have Sketch Up on the woodworking settings so the dimensions are in inches not feet.


-- --Zach

View JayT's profile


5709 posts in 2263 days

#6 posted 03-07-2016 02:07 PM

I love Sketchup. As the others have said, it is a tool and has a learning curve. Start with simple projects and work up from there. I found it very intuitive, but others don’t. You have to learn the little things that make using it much easier, like when to use components instead of a group and how to utilize arrays. Once you get to a good comfort level, it can be very fast and powerful.

The free version (Sketchup Make) will do anything you need. I have that one at home for woodworking projects and use the Pro version at work to plan store layouts and remodels. The additional features of Pro are nice when you need them, a hobbyist just won’t need them very often, if at all.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View JBrow's profile


1365 posts in 972 days

#7 posted 03-07-2016 02:57 PM


I have never used Sketch-Up, but if it is FREE, that is a great deal. TraylorPark pretty well nailed down why a CAD program is useful. Unfortunately, in my experience at least, CAD takes an investment of time before getting the most out of the tool, just like any other tool in the workshop. The last “The Woodworking Shows” I attended (2 years ago) offered some Sketch-Up training, so it appears there is help beyond any documentation the Sketch-Up programmers may offer.

I began using TurboCad, a CAD program, before Sketch-Up appeared on the scene. I rarely build anything (even the simplest of projects), without developing a cyber scale drawer. What TraylorPark implied but did not specifically mention is that the parts are drawn to scale. As a result, it is straightforward to get a set of plans with accurately dimensioned parts. So, for example, a part that has tenons on each end is drawn to its full length and you can then describe the tenon dimensions on the full length piece. It reduces the chances of cutting that part too short. Any problems in the design are revealed either by the CAD or by spending the time on the CAD and just thinking about the project.

I have used the TurboCad Deluxe version, which costs about $100 and is fairly powerful. However, I prefer their complete software program, TurboCad Pro. I have not found anything I cannot draw in the Pro version – it is extremely powerful. I think TurboCad is competing with AutoCad for a piece of the architectural and drafting businesses.

The prior version of the Pro edition of TurboCad costs about $400. The current version of the Pro edition runs about $1400. They seem to upgrade annually. TurboCad comes with a well written bound manual. While the manual is also available within the software and on their web site, the bound manual is handy especially when learning to use the software. I am not sure whether a bound manual comes with Sketch-Up. TurboCad also offers training packages at a cost. I have not used them, so I do not know whether they are worth the extra money – but they are available. I thought I recalled some on-line training offered for Sketch-Up – maybe by Popular Woodworking, just not sure.

I find that I spend about 10% – 20% of the total project build time on developing the CAD plans. But by the time I start building, I find that I have the project pretty much in my mind’s eye. I refer to the drawers mostly for specific dimensions and complex joints or parts.

One downside to CAD is that if you buy a new computer with a newer version of the operating systems (e.g. Windows 10 instead of Windows 7), I think you have to get a new version of the CAD to run on the new operating system. Even though the CAD may be upgraded regularly, there is no reason to upgrade unless you are changing operating systems or you want some new feature offered on the new version. I continue to use TruboCad Pro 16, which is now 8 years old.

View BobLang's profile


156 posts in 3452 days

#8 posted 03-07-2016 03:06 PM

The big advantage of SketchUp is that once you learn how to use it, you are pretending to build. The design, planning and problem solving experience is far closer to being out in the shop making something than any other method. Modifying and changing stuff is where it really shines. As I tell students in my SketchUp classes you rarely need to draw anything more than once; copying and changing is much faster.

-- Bob Lang,

View fivecodys's profile


1031 posts in 1688 days

#9 posted 03-07-2016 09:48 PM

Like the others above have said, Sketch-Up is fantastic.
There is a learning curve but there are many many You Tube tutorials available for free!
Bob Lang said it best. You get to pretend to build. I can’t tell you how many times I have found my mistakes in Sketch-Up before I actually cut anything. I use it all the time.

-- There' are two theories to arguin' with a woman. Neither one works.

View Lazyman's profile


2163 posts in 1439 days

#10 posted 03-07-2016 11:22 PM

Most of the projects that I have posted on LJ involved Sketchup. I find it very handy to verify dimensions to ensure that everything fits together. It can be a little frustrating at first but I found that Matthias Wandel’s YouTube tutorial very helpful. I think that this link will take you to his tutorial playlist.

Unless they provided the plans you are using in Sketchup format, you’ll have to redraw all or at least the parts you are modifying yourself. As long as its not too complex, that might be pretty easy for a beginner and may be a good way to learn Sketchup as well.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View drcodfish's profile


124 posts in 1004 days

#11 posted 03-08-2016 05:20 AM

Thanks for all the helpful responses everyone. I will definitely download the free version, probably this weekend (working late most nights this week) and see if I can make something of it. Funny how some of your comments are ahead of my thinking.

I dimensioned some stock for part of this desk over the weekend and cut pieces long just to account for trimming to fit. Of course I didn’t consider that a lot of this construction relies on mortise and tenon joinery (mission style furniture). So glad I left things long. That is the sort of thing I believe sketch up would be a great help with. I looked at the wudworx add in and of course zeroed in on the M&T section, I can see how this would really cut down on having to think through the joinery for every piece.

Jbrow, don’t think I discounted your post; I had one brief brush with CAD some years ago and found it a little over my head, well actually way over my head. I assume it has been simplified some in 10+ years, and I certainly have better computer skills than I did back then, but you know how it is, once bitten twice shy.

Again thanks for all your frank opinions, that’s what I like most about this place: encouragement leavened with honesty.

-- Dr C

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192 posts in 3059 days

#12 posted 03-08-2016 07:17 PM

When it comes to FREE software, SketchUp just might be the greatest thing EVER.


View JBrow's profile


1365 posts in 972 days

#13 posted 03-09-2016 01:34 AM


I do not believe at all that you discounted my post. I mentioned TurboCad to ensure you were aware that other CAD programs beside Sketch-Up are available – not to convince you to use TurboCAD. My desire when posting on this forum is that questions and concerns are addressed completely and thoroughly so that the Original Poster can make an informed decision. I share my views, insights, and experiences to that end.

View madburg's profile


206 posts in 894 days

#14 posted 03-09-2016 02:23 AM

Well, a heretic here and possibly a luddite!!! I tried Sketch up and failed to come to terms with it – probably didn’t persevere for long enough. Any how I stick to paper and pencil. Though not conventional working drawings, just sketches on a sketch pad, which I can do while watching TV, flying off somewhere, or on holiday, rather than being stuck in the study in front of a PC, lap top or tablet. I do occasionally draw things out full size on old wall paper though, and also occasionally use the basic drawing elements in Microsoft Windows. My back ground as an ex woodwork teacher, probably means I can carry a lot of the design basics and traditional working drawings in my head. I tend to work to over all sizes and then sort the fine details out as I go along. My experience means I know what and when that detail needs to be worked out!

OK so some of my posted projects are small and simple, but others are very complicated eg my Klimt on a box – which didn’t have any traditional working drawings no Front view, side view, plan etc etc just loads of sketches, in my sketch pad.

It seems some get more fun out of the manipulating the software and inputting their design, which can some times end up basic and simple due to limitations of the program and/or their skill level with it. But the more you do the better you get, as with all aspects of woodwork, designing and making!

JBrows comment – I find that I spend about 10% – 20% of the total project build time on developing the CAD plans. But by the time I start building, I find that I have the project pretty much in my mind’s eye. I refer to the drawers mostly for specific dimensions and complex joints or parts.

Is spot on and its where I get to with my sketch pad.

But each to their own, and if you like or need to use Sketch-up then do so, and enjoy it. But I do OK with paper and pencil, enjoy that approach, and don’t have the need or desire to master Sketch-up!

-- Madburg WA

View drcodfish's profile


124 posts in 1004 days

#15 posted 03-09-2016 08:42 PM

Actually, ...
the resident IT Specialist and CFO took time out of her busy schedule last evening to down loan and walk me through Sketchup. I watched a tutorial and can see that this is a very powerful tool which will require some concentrated effort on my part to get up to speed on how to use it effectively. I looked at the wudworx plugin and was immediately attracted to the Mortise and Tenon unit. I can see how that would be vey helpful with this mission style desk I want to build, which has a lot of M&T joinery.

Thanks to all of you (I think) for feeding my addiction.


-- Dr C

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