There are a lot of people nowadays using CAD-style software to design their woodworking projects. Many woodworkers have adopted SketchUp as their design program of choice. This is due in part that the basic program is free, but even a free program won’t get used if it’s clunky, awkward, or just ugly to use. The best reason to use it is that it’s fairly easy to use, and you can get a feel for what your project is going to look like when it’s built in real life. Although I do use Sketchup and it is useful, it’s not necessary to use a CAD program for doing detailed 3d designs. And on top of that you may not want to because you do well with a pad of paper and a pencil and you’re not trying to impress anyone with your computer skills. If you do want to, then keep reading. If not, keep reading.
I started using SketchUp back in ’06 or ’07 (I’m not sure exactly when that’s how long ago it was) and really just played around with it trying to draw up an idea of what I was making rather than a usable drawing. I had some prior experience with Auto Cad from my college days so for me, picking it up was merely a re-learning experience. What I’ve noticed while trying to train others at work is that they lack the basic skills and knowledge of 3D design so working in Sketchup is just confusing. So I’ve decided to do some tutorials that are fundamental to any 3d design program. You can watch this video or keep reading.
The 3 things you must know when working in Sketchup
1. You need to know how to orbit
You need to know how to orbit and manipulate the different angled views (front, back, left, right, top, bottom, and isometric). When working in 3D you can spin the object around as if it were floating in space. When you spin the object so the top is on the bottom and the bottom is on the top it’s easy to be confused especially if it’s not obvious which side should be up or down. Orbiting can be done in two different ways. You can click on the Orbit icon which looks like this “insert” or you can click on the scroll wheel of your mouse (note: if you’re using a track pad or a mouse without a scroll wheel, you’ll be much better off if you get a mouse with a scroll wheel). When you’ve selected the Orbit tool or clicked on the scroll wheel of your mouse, your cursor will look like the icon on the Orbit tool and you can then move your mouse around to spin the cube. Use your mouse almost like you’re turning a page. If you want to see the bottom right part of the cube, put your cursor on the bottom right corner of the screen, click and hold while you move it to the top left part of the screen. If you want to see the top, move your cursor to the top of the screen, click and hold while you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen.
If you get lost in the drawing you can always go back to a place that’s more familiar by going to one of the standard viewpoints which are front, back, left, right, bottom, and top. You can do this several ways. The first way is to click on the Camera item on the top menu and scroll down to “Standard Views”. The standard views will pop out to the right and then you select the view you want. Or you can click on the “View” item on the top menu and select “Toolbars” then select “Views”. This will bring up a toolbar that has a bunch of different pictures of houses all at different views. You can select any of the views from this toolbar except the bottom view. Another way you can see different views is by setting the views to different shortcut keys, but that is another tutorial I will show you in the future.
If you have any questions on orbiting you can comment on this article and I’ll respond to your questions individually.
2. You need to know how to zoom in and out
When you’re in the middle of a design and you need to get down to the nitty-gritty details you don’t want to be designing from what looks like a mile away. At the same time you don’t need to be close enough to see the hairs on the leg of a grasshopper to draw bigger objects. Know how to zoom and you can focus in or out depending on what makes sense.
But zooming isn’t just about seeing up close or far away. One of the most important things it can do for you is position your drawing where you want it. You can also do this with the pan tool, but it’s just as easy to do it while zooming once you get used to it. In order to see more of the bottom right portion of the drawing, move your cursor to the top left part of the drawing and scroll out. You can do this with a scroll wheel mouse by scrolling back or toward yourself. Sounds counter-intuitive I know, but that’s how it works. Once you’ve zoomed out with your cursor in the top left corner, then you can move your cursor to the bottom right corner and zoom in by scrolling your mouse wheel up or away from you. Wherever your cursor is when zooming in is where your screen will focus on. The position of your cursor is very critical to zooming in and out. Learn this one thing and Sketchup will be so much easier.
3. You need to know how to select objects
Selecting objects can be very tricky especially if they are not grouped or part of a component (or that can make it even more tricky depending on what you’re trying to do). You can select a line or a face by simply clicking on the line or face. When you have selected something it will be highlighted blue. But what if you want to select the entire assembly. There are two primary ways to select everything. The first way is the most simple. If you triple click (click quickly three times in a row) any part of a group of lines and faces it will select anything touching that part. This is great if you want to select everything touching that part, but if you don’t, you’ll want to do it another way.
The solid line box selecting method: To select everything you need to have the select tool (a solid black arrow) and position your cursor to above and to the left of everything you want to select. Then left click and hold while you drag your cursor to the below and to the right encompassing entirely everything you want to select. Do not surround anything in this box entirely that you don’t want to select. This operation will only select those things that you surround entirely. Likewise you can perform this same operation by left clicking and holding while dragging from below and to the left and completely surrounding the objects in the box. I call this the solid line box selecting method because the box you create will show solid lines.
The dashed line box selecting method: If you position your cursor below (or above) the objects and click while holding and drag to the right and above (or below) you will be selecting only those things which your box touches. If your box touched everything you will select everything. I call this the dashed line box selecting method because the box you create will show dashed lines.
These selecting methods come in very handy when you have a lot of groups and or components because you can select them without selecting others by the way you drag your box.
That’s all there is for this first basic lesson. If you will practice these techniques you will be well on your way to becoming a Sketchup master.