Lessons in Teaching SketchUp to Woodworkers

comments (12) March 12th, 2009 in blogs

Killenwood Tim Killen, contributor
thumbs up 15 users recommend

Over the past couple years in this blog, I've reported on my experiences teaching SketchUp to woodworking students. This entry follows in that tradition.

This week I finished another 3-session SketchUp for Woodworkers course at Mt. Diablo Adult Education in Pleasant Hill, CA. Each session was conducted in the evening for three hours, each one week apart. Here are lessons as discussed with the group of 15 students on the last evening:

1. I used a new drawing and model for the training - a 17th C footstool with six unique components including turned legs. This model was used throughout the training from the beginning steps to the final session. This model, though small and straightforward, allowed us to start with basic drawing skills and move up to more complex procedures such as creation of moldings, turnings, and developing a drawing package.  The students appreciated the continuity of working with one model while progressing through the exercises.

2. In the first session we concentrated on the use of basic drawing tools, staying on axis, and mastering pan, zoom, and orbit. At the end of the first session, students were able to draw and push-pull rough component shapes for the table. This included drawing to length.

3. The second session moved on to joinery (mortise and tenon) which required use and placement of guidelines. We worked on assembly of components with the move tool, precisely connecting parts of the table. This also required copying and flipping. We touched on using the arc tool and Follow Me to create molded edges on rails and the table top. Also we covered the making of Scenes to help with  organizing a drawing package for the shop. This included use of parallel projection and making of full-size templates.

Students let me know that we had reached overload in amount of information.

4. The next week was devoted primarily to review of the material already covered. I asked students to let me know questions, issues, and problems during the week and we listed these on the board. This resulted in a list of about twelve subjects to review from beginning steps to more complex operations. Here are some of the areas of review identified:
 a. How to set up the toolbars and dialog boxes
 b. How to draw a line to exact length
 c. How to draw components in close proximity without items way off in space
 d. How to precisely connect the parts of the table
 e. Review on how to place guidelines
 f. How to work the Flip along procedure
 g. A review of Follow me to make the molded edge on the table top
 h. How to import and set up a picture for tracing over
 i. How to make the turned leg
 j. How to make the molding shape with the arc tool
 k. How to print a full-size template
 l. Exact positioning of tenons

5. Final student feedback on the course included:
 a. Need more time spent on basics, e.g. setup, moving around the model, drawing to length, and staying on axis.
 b. Would like to have more sessions, perhaps double or more in length
 c. Need hand-outs on step-by-step instructions on use of various tools and procedures
 d. Need hard copy material for reference when having problems. Too difficult to remember all the steps involved.



posted in: blogs

Comments (12)

DaveRichards DaveRichards writes: Nollie, I'll try to get something for you this weekend.
Posted: 9:28 am on June 9th

Nollie Nollie writes: Yes Dave that is the apholstered seat cushion . It is for the drop-in seat for my dining side chair
Posted: 2:25 pm on June 8th

DaveRichards DaveRichards writes: Nollie, glad to help. Are you thinking of an upholstered seat cushion? Dave
Posted: 4:19 pm on June 7th

Nollie Nollie writes: Hi Dave
Thanks again for that leg indent tutorial. Is it possable to show how to do a "pillowed" drop-in seat for the chair i designed with the Blacker leg indent. The seat will be narrower at the back and wider in the front.
Posted: 12:46 pm on June 7th

Killenwood Killenwood writes: To hbowern: you can do all the very complex modeling of furniture in the free version. You can also create the shop drawing package in the free SketchUp. You need Pro when exchanging file formats with other applications. Also Pro comes with Layout that provides a much more robust way of making and distributing the drawing package.

Posted: 8:28 pm on May 27th

hbowern hbowern writes: Is it necessary to get the full blown pro version of Sketchup or can most things be done with the free version?

Posted: 7:05 pm on May 27th

DaveRichards DaveRichards writes: Nollie, I did a thing on that awhile back. I'll see if I can find it and post it.

Posted: 7:00 pm on May 27th

Nollie Nollie writes: Hi,

I am drwawing in the Greene & Greene style and would like to know how to draw the Blacker chair leg indent. Is it possable to show how to
Regards Nollie
Posted: 1:45 pm on May 27th

Killenwood Killenwood writes: Jay, I would Like more information on your request for an oval table. Have you a specific piece in mind? What kind and size table? Do you have a SketchUp design started that you could share via email? What specifically in SketchUp are you having trouble with?

Posted: 4:29 pm on May 25th

JayArmon JayArmon writes: Hello out there
Would like to know please to design an Ovale table top.

Posted: 12:44 pm on May 25th

Killenwood Killenwood writes: Ken, I think we should be able to get you over the issue with drawing to length. My next blog entry will show details.
However, I want to check with you on your method of using the mouse. Occasionally I find that students have problems with drawing to length as a result of holding down the left mouse button. In SketchUp, problems are caused by holding the mouse button while drawing. When starting a line click with the left mouse button but immediately release, start to move the mouse down the red (or whatever) axis, then type the exact length, e.g., 2 1/4 and hit your enter key. That is all there is to it, but you must be tapping the left mouse button, not holding.

Posted: 8:47 pm on March 14th

kenrosenberg1 kenrosenberg1 writes: I have tried to learn to use SketchUp, but have been frustrated, particularly by the inability to draw a line to length. Sounds like the students had the same problem. Recently Dave Richards kindly responded to my request as to how to make an ellipse on Sketchup, I was completely unable to reproduce his results. As a consequence, I am still making hardboard mockups and trial-and-error templates. Sure wish I could figure out SketchUp!
Posted: 10:23 am on March 14th

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