Precise Placement of Panels in SketchUp

Question from a reader:

I’m trying to do a simple paneled door; 2 rails, 2 stiles, and a panel in a groove all the way around. I made stiles no problem, the rails have a groove and a little tenon, but its madness  trying to assemble the pieces. Do you build from the inside (panel) out or connect all the frame then make the panel? I’m inclined to start over from the panel and work out. but is there a conventional order for making even a simple model?

PNL1The way I work in SketchUp is to make assemblies with anything that would be a distinct piece of wood in real life as components. (You can read more about components IN THIS POST and IN THIS OTHER POST) I build the entire model without any joinery, then come back and add details like mortise and tenon joints, grooves, etc.

When you use components there isn’t any need to disturb the placement of the pieces and their relationship to each other. Editing one component changes every other instance of that component in the model. I add the joinery to a copy of the component away from the rest of the model where I have plenty of room to maneuver. In this model, there are a bunch of the vertical stiles. I only had to make one stile, then I placed copies of that stile where I needed them. I made an extra copy of to the side of the model, opened that instance for editing, then I added the groove and the tenons. Those details appeared in all the other instances automagically and when I was finished edited I simply deleted the extra.

PNL2I also model parts in place when I can. In the image above, all of the framework is in place. Even though the panels are larger than the opening to fit in the grooves of the other parts, I begin by snapping from corner to corner of the opening with the Rectangle tool. Then I used Push/Pull to extrude the panel to the width of the groove, in this case 1/4″.

Then I use the Offset tool to create a new face around the extruded face. The grooves are 1/2″ deep, but I made the offset at 7/16″ to leave some room for expansion. That’s what I would do in real life, but in SketchUp it seems as if I don’t have a way to easily put the panel in the groove. I really do have an easy way to do it, I just won’t use the corner of the groove or the panel. I need a different reference.

PNL3But first I need to complete the panel and turn it into a component. I use Push/Pull to extrude the offset face another 1/4″. The completed panel is 1/2″ thick, with a rabbet on the back side. That leaves a tongue that fits in the groove.

Extruding the offset face leaves a recessed inner face. I remove the inner set of lines with the Eraser tool (I could also Select and Delete those lines). That gets rid of that recessed face, but it does leave a short line at each corner. I turn on my X-ray face style to get rid of them.

The geometry of the panel is complete, but it is still loose and sticky. It is also on the outside of the rail and stile frame. Because all of the other parts of the model are components, the panel doesn’t stick to them. I click three times on a face of the panel to select all the geometry, right-click to bring up the context menu and make the panel a component.

PNL5When I teach SketchUp, one of the hardest points to get across is what to do before you move something. A move in SketchUp involves selecting a point to start the move, then clicking on a second point to complete the action. The second click is where the first point lands, so it pays to stop and think about what ends up where before you begin.

The two points needed to make a move can be anywhere in the model. Sometimes it is best to use a precise point, such as a corner. But with this panel, the corners I can see on the outside will be inside the groove when the move is complete. And there is that 1/16″ gap I left between the bottom of the groove and the edge of the panel. Cross the corners off the list of points to use for this particular move.

Often it is easier to move something in two steps, although my brain is telling me to do it in one step. If I stop to think about it, this panel is already where it needs to be in relation to the green and blue axes. All I need to do is move it on the red axis so the outer visible face is even with the groove.

PNL6If I were more inclined to do the math, I would calculate the distance for the move. Then I would select the panel, pick up the Move tool, click once to start the move, slide the cursor in the red direction and enter the distance numerically.

I tend to avoid math, perhaps because my eighth and ninth grade teachers were jerks. Instead, I click on the midpoint of an easy to see edge on the outside of the panel. Then I start the move in the red direction. I hold down the Shift key to keep the move locked in that direction, and to bring up an inference that tells me when the face of the panel is on the face of the rail.

PNL7That’s step one. The panel remains selected and the Move tool is still active. I zoom in to see the joint where the stile and rail intersect. I’ve located the groove where it is easy to see, and where the points are easy to click on.

One click on the outer corner of the rail/stile intersection begins to move the panel. A second click on the inner corner of the groove completes the move. These points aren’t on the panel, but they are a precise reference of how far the panel needs to go in the red direction. My panel is now in place, and if I toggle on my X-ray face style I can see the 1/16″ gap between the panel and the bottom of the groove. (Click here to read about how to set up a shortcut to toggle X-ray vision on and off)

PNL8That may seem like a lot of work, but it only needs to be done on the first panel. The remaining panels can all be copies of the first. As with making a move, it pays to think ahead when making a copy so that a reasonable choice is made regarding where to click.

I look for a visible point that the two panels will have in common when they are both in place. In this case I used the upper right corner of the frame near the panel (and not on the panel itself) to copy the left panel to the right side. This is yet another place where it’s handy to toggle on the X-ray face style. Because the panel is encased inside the groove, you can’t see the highlighted border when the panel is selected.

So when you need to place something in a position that is difficult (or impossible) to see, stop and think before you start clicking. Find points to use that are easy to get to, whether they are on the object or not.

Bob Lang

If I had a marketing department, they would insist that I use this line to plug my SketchUp books. I don’t, and I have faith that you can find the store on your own.


What do you think?