SketchUp is a great tool to quickly draw parts for furniture and cabinet projects. Even better is the fact that if you know how to organize all the bits and pieces of the model you hardly need to draw at all. If you make things like kitchen cabinets for example, you can build one stock cabinet, save the parts and create complex models from those parts. It’s an incredibly efficient way to work, but you need to have a strategic workflow. The key to that is components.
I make loose edges and faces into components as soon as they are recognizable as a three-dimensional object. Even if I know I will be adding details or additional objects, working with components keeps things from sticking to other things. To change a component, it needs to be “opened for editing”.
Opening a component is as simple as double-clicking with the cursor over the component, or you can right-click over the component and select “Edit Component” from the menu. There are a couple of other methods, but those are the quick and easy ones. The good thing about working with components is that when one component is open for editing, that is the only part of the model that can be changed. Every thing else is off limits, so you don’t have to worry about breaking one thing while you fix another.
The other great feature about components is that when you edit one, all of the other components in the model that have the same name also change. If we go back to our example of kitchen cabinets, changing the depth or height of one base cabinet side will change all the others. There are still other parts that will need to be adjusted, but a last minute change doesn’t mean starting over.
In addition to making every part that would be a distinct piece in real life a component, I also combine individual components into a parent component. In the picture above, the paneled side of the cabinet is one component. At right, I’ve made a copy of that panel component out in space and opened it for editing. Within the panel component are five individual components, the parts that would be in a panel in the real world. There are two stiles (the skinny up and down pieces), two rails (the horizontal parts of the frame) and one panel.
With the “panel assembly” component open, I can move the individual components around, but to change the size of any of the nested components I need to open them for editing. When a component is open, it is surrounded by a box of dotted lines and the rest of the model dims. In this case the main component is open and so is the rail component. The two rails are instances of the same component, so changing the top one will also change the one on the bottom.
Having sub-assemblies combined into components saves a lot of time, especially if you’re working on something complex with many similar parts. You could draw every piece from scratch, but why do all that repetitious work when you can copy?
When I made this model, I didn’t add details that don’t show from the outside. When it comes time to build, I’ll want to add those details so I can generate an accurate and detailed parts list. With components that contain nested parts, I can make a copy of the door component where I have room to work, add the details I need and the doors that are in place in the model will also change.
As with many things in SketchUp, there is a window to help keep track of all these pieces. In this case there are two windows that will show all the components in a model, the Components window and the Outliner window.
One of the cool features of the Outliner window is that it shows the components in the way that they are organized. If you see a plus (+) sign next to a component’s name, a click on that will expand the list to show the child components and the plus sign changes to a minus (-) sign. If you only see an icon of four small squares, you know that there are no other components nested inside. If you click on the name of a component in the Outliner window, that component will be highlighted in the model.
There are a bunch of ways you can use this information and of course there are also a bunch of things you can do to make this information more useful. One thing I do is to give the component the name I would give it in a real-life parts list and if there is a convenient way to designate the size, material or other special feature of a component I try to work it into the name.
One of the ways to get good at using SketchUp is to pretend you’re out in the shop working on real parts. If you make each part a component as soon as you can, and group things like doors, drawers and panels into nested components your modeling will be more efficient and you’ll be out in your real shop making stuff sooner. That’s the whole idea of learning and using SketchUp, it’s the best tool I’ve seen for figuring things out so I can concentrate on building when it’s time to build.