The Value of Details in SketchUp

Add mortise and tenon to a SketchUp model.

Adding details to a SketchUp model doesn’t take long. Tenons can become mortises in seconds.

If you build furniture, there are a bunch of steps that have to take place, whether you like it or not. The parts need to go from rough lumber to finished size, and those parts have to connect with the other parts. For every step there are a number of decisions to make: What size does this need to be to fit into that? How far away from that edge does this hole need to be? And so on. Woodworking is about 90%  problem solving. The other 10% is cutting to a line and recovery after you miss a line.

If you’re goal is to actually build something, and get it completed in your own lifetime, you can’t afford to fool around with the process. When I’m in the shop I want to get in the rhythm of building and concentrate on hitting the line, I don’t want to be making design and engineering decisions. The examples on this page are typical scenarios. I can’t cut to the lines until they are in place, and I need to know where the lines go. If I wait until I’m in the shop to figure that out, I’m making a bad choice. In the shop, the consequences of a bad decision are costly; wasted material and wasted time. If I solve the problem in SketchUp, I can “Undo”, the materials don’t cost anything and I can turn one half of a joint into the matching half.

Half blind dovetails in SketchUp

In real life you lay out the pins from the tails. In SketchUp, you make the pins from the tails.

Those who criticize adding details to a SketchUp model usually argue that it takes longer to model the joints than it would take to make the real thing. SketchUp is a lot like playing the guitar. You can pick a guitar up, learn a few chords, play some songs and think you’re a musician, but you’re just scratching the surface. In SketchUp you can learn a few tools and their operations and think you’ve gone as far as you need to.

If you practice, and practice good technique, it doesn’t take that long to really make progress. When you really get what SketchUp can do you spend very little time drawing, you know how to leverage what you already have and the power of copying and modifying what already exists. Then you can reap the benefits and add useful details with a few clicks of the mouse. The time you spend modeling saves you time when you build. When you become adept at SketchUp you head out to the shop fully prepared to build. You’ll know what goes where, how this connects to that, and the sequence of the job at hand. You’ll be free to worry about hitting the line and what to do if you just happen to miss it.

— Bob Lang

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The Value of Details in SketchUp — 6 Comments

  1. Hi Bob,
    I’m new to the blog but a long time fan (since the pie safe at least.) I have tried sketchup several times, get frustrated with what appears to be a steep learning curve. There’s usually a new version with different screens by the time I come back to it- and I come back because I know I need it. Have you, or anyone you respect, written anything on the learning process? I’ve had books- the missing manual series- and tried online sequences. But that’s tough with one computer. Could you or anyone who reads this point me in a direction? Always ready to give it another shot.

    • Hi George,

      At the risk of sounding like a complete shill, you should take a look at

        “Building Blocks of SketchUp”

      It was written to give guys like you a firm foundation of how SketchUp works, while addressing the common issues that new SketchUp users stumble on. It isn’t “woodworking specific”, it’s all playing with basic blocks and simple geometric shapes. It’s what we do in the first couple of days in my week-long classes.

      Bob Lang

      • Don’t worry about the shill thing. I’ve learned a ton from your books and almost have a quartersawn oak kitchen to send you pics of. I’ll check it out and when you have a 2015 class schedule I’d love to attend one.

    • Dennis,
      My name is Alwyn from Namibia. I share your frustration. When I first started with SU, version 6 I must admit, I had the same problem. Nowadays it’s a piece of cake.

      You must check out Bob’s books on SketchUp for Woodworkers as well as visit Joe Zeh’s website. What I’ve learned from Chiefwoodworker is still of value today for me.

      Greetings from Dark Africa.

      • I have lots of Bob’s books and I’ve seen the Joe’ ads. Who is Chiefwoodworker? and Greetings from Denver, Colorado

        • Joe also calls himself “Chiefwoodworker”.

          I’ve learned a ton from his videos. I was trained in the traditional 2D paper drafting, so the switch was difficult for me.

          Greetings from Dark Africa