WIA St Charles: What SketchUp can do for you

Bob Lang at work during the session

Bob Lang at work during the session; photo by Al Navas


I tried it, and gave up. Then I tried it again, and gave up once more. But this session with Bob Lang opened my eyes to the true power of SketchUp. As a result, I will try it again; and I will apply myself in a more determined way. Why would I want to do this, if I use the eCabinet Systems software? For a simple reason: SketchUp has much more flexibility to design furniture; the main focus of eCabinets is cabinets made with plywood, although it is possible to design using solids – but that is a lot more work!

I now have SketchUp 7 installed on my laptop. When a proper time window is available, I will focus on learning the program. Who knows? I may be able to suggest to Bob a trick or two next time we meet. In the meantime, the best I can do is entice you to use the program with my write-up about the session. If my write-up contains errors, it is my fault; I took notes during the session, which I used as reference for this entry. Please, do not blame Bob, as he did a superb job convincing me to use the program.

My notes cover only the basics. However, Bob used a laptop and a projection system to demonstrate how to use all the basics to design a nice little table, as I show in the photo above. That was the best part, as I was able to see the power of SketchUp on-screen. It was a real eye-opener, and an eye popper to see the true power of the program!

Some important stuff to know:

  • What to practice, and
  • How to practice the stuff learned

Some things can be problematic. As a result, it is best to:

  • Learn all the tools in the program
  • Learn how to navigate, and how to model


  • Use the scroll wheel on the mouse; this is the best way to do it!
  • Set the crosshairs: From the Menu, pull down Window | Preferences | Drawing, and check Display Crosshairs
  • Turn on the Instructor: Window | Instructor
  • Learn to NOT draw anything; i.e., use the rectangle tool, or use Push/Pull to quickly draw a box
  • Learn to replicate
  • Import models from 3D Warehouse, and play with them
  • Draw joinery, to fully understand it
  • Make Groups, and also Components, to allow joining without disturbing edges/faces
  • Critical: Learn to Move items, and in particular how to pick up items
  • Use the Measurement window, and enter dimension(s) to get a line to proper length, for example
  • Select by dragging; note the different behavior when dragging left-to-right vs. right-to-left


  • Drag them from the Component window into the work area
  • Make copies of a component; these are unique, and can be modified, edited, and used as a new component

Applying the learned “stuff”:

  • Make “8th Grade” projects, to apply learned techniques
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts
  • Turn on X-Ray vision to see, for example, tenons inside mortises
  • Use tenons to create the mortises in the legs; Bob showed how to do this (terrific!)
  • Re-size, to get and entirely new table. This creates a totally new cut list!

That’s it! I did not create video of this session. But now you and I can get busy, and start using SketchUp. And don’t give up – I promise I won’t this time. To help along the way, and keeping a promise he made during this session, Bob posted an entry on the Popular Woodworking blog, titled Woodworking in America — Arts & Crafts and SketchUp. In this entry Bob included links to SketchUp resources; I invite you to read the article, and to make use of those resources.

You really should plan to attend the next conference, in Valley Forge, PA.


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About Al Navas

I love working with wood, and sharing here on the blog. I also love designing items that my clients will love having in their homes and offices. Please let me know if you need a special piece to share with your loved ones. Freelance, Legal, and Community Interpreter. Love photography.