The Most Basic Procedure in SketchUp

comments (1) March 19th, 2009 in blogs

Killenwood Tim Killen, contributor
thumbs up 10 users recommend

Readers have recently mentioned difficulty in drawing a line to exact length and achieving a clean rectangle with a face. This is the most basic operation in SketchUp and without success here, chances of any further advancement are nil.

There are a number of things that get in the way of achieving this basic skill for beginners for example:

  1. Not using the mouse correctly, i.e., holding the left mouse button when it should only be a click
  2. Straying from the axis; red, green, or blue
  3. Not taking advantage of the "inferences" that SketchUp automatically displays
  4. Wondering when and how to type the length
  5. Not understanding how the Measurement box works. You can't click in this box to accomplish anything. SketchUp understands when it will accept typed input without any mouse clicking in that box.
  6. Forgetting to hit the enter key after typing a length
  7. Being way zoomed out or drawing a line far back in the 3D space, so that a line shows up as a miniscule dash or dot

As an exercise in building this skill, let's use this component which is a piece of a maple workbench. At first we will only create the front face of the component (no 3D nor cut outs or embellishments).

Step 1: Pick the line tool. To start the line click the left mouse button and immediately release the mouse button. DO NOT HOLD DOWN THE LEFT MOUSE BUTTON WHILE DRAWING A LINE. When you move the mouse you will see the line extend out from the starting point.

Now find the red axis - the line will turn red and you should see a flag saying "On Red Axis" as shown below. Pull the line out on the red axis to any length - it doesn't matter how long. Release your hand from the mouse (do not click anything), and start typing the exact length, in this case 16 1/4. Type the number just as I've done with a space between the 16 and the 1/4.

You will see 16 1/4 in the Measurements Box (lower right hand corner). Don't click a mouse in this box thinking this is required to enter a number. Just type and it will be there automatically.

You could also type 16.25 and get the same results. (If your settings of units are architectural or metric, then you need to type consistent units.)

When you are done typing, hit the ENTER key and the line is done and exact length.

Step 2: Continue the line upward on the blue axis. Make sure your line turns to blue color. Release the mouse at any length without clicking, then type 4 and ENTER.

Step 3: Continue the line in reverse on red axis. Make sure line turns red. As you get close to the correct length of 16 1/4, SketchUp should give an inference indication showing a dotted line upwards from the lower left corner. (Sometimes you have to help SketchUp find the inference by hovering your mouse over the lower left hand corner then raising back up to the red axis). Click the mouse to stop the line on the inference, then continue on down to complete the rectangle.

Step 4: When you finish the rectangle, a "face" will automatically appear and fill in the space. If you do not get a face, then you've not maintained the geometry so all lines are coplanar…. You've not stayed on axis.

Here is a completed rectangle with stepwise notes on its creation.

This process may feel very strange at first, but with practice it becomes automatic without much thought. We've only done the front face of the component, so there is quite a bit more you can do in completing the model and gaining confidence in drawing to exact length and staying on axis.


posted in: blogs

Comments (1)

KevinKuehl KevinKuehl writes: Thanks for the clear description, Tim. Another good resource for walking you through these types of things is Aidan Chopra's videos on YouTube ( Between your posts and his videos, I've gotten the hang of SketchUp pretty quickly even without any prior exposure to CAD tools.
Posted: 5:20 pm on March 31st

You must be logged in to post comments. Log in.

Save up to 51% on Fine Woodworking


Become a Better Woodworker

About Design. Click. Build.

Learn the art and science of designing furniture in SketchUp with Fine Woodworking's official blog. Moderated by a devoted community of woodworkers, we feature step-by-step SketchUp tutorials on designing components, downloads of pre-built 3D models of furniture parts, and news and information about the evolving world of digital furniture design.

Buy the Video
Don't miss Dave Richard's brand-new DVD/video download, The Basics.

Buy the Book
Get Tim Killen's popular eBook, the Google SketchUp Guide for Woodworkers.

Basic SketchUp Tutorials 
Learn the basics of building furniture in SketchUp with these classic posts from the Design. Click. Build. blog.

Creating a Project Plan in SketchUp
How I Draw in SketchUp
Axes in SketchUp
The SketchUp Move Tool
The SketchUp Rotate Tool
The SketchUp Scale Tool

Materials, Colors, and Textures
Applying Wood Grain Skins in SketchUp

Easy Dovetail Joints in SketchUp

Digital Project Plans

Download and modify SketchUp files for select projects from Fine Woodworking. View all.

Top Sellers:
Matt's Monster Workbench
New England Pine Cupboard
Garden Bench

Meet the Authors



I am a Biomedical Equipment Technician. I maintain anesthesia and respiratory equipment for the largest medical facility in southeast Minnesota. I...
view profile

Tim Killen

I am retired from Bechtel Corporation after 36 years in Engineering and IT management. I grew up among woodworking machinery in...
view profile


view profile