Probably the most frequent question I get is "What program do you use to design plans?"
I'm so thrilled to tell you that I use Google Sketchup, a free program that is powerful and easy to use. In step 1, I give directions on downloading.
And then that question is usually followed by how can I learn to use Google Sketchup? There are thousands of tutorials and videos online to help you learn, and I hope you take a second to browse through these tutorials. But I wanted to put together a super simple tutorial that can take someone from not knowing what program I use to designing a simple plan in the shortest amount of time. I hope this tutorial accomplishes just that.
Step 1: Download Google Sketchup
Google Sketchup is a free CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) program that is both easy to use and amazingly powerful. I downloaded Sketchup for the first time last year and am still learning new things about it. Go to http://sketchup.google.com/intl/en/download/ and click the big blue button and download Sketchup 8. Extract and install Google Sketchup on your hard drive. Open up Sketchup 8.
Step 2: Choose a Template
This step isn't super important, but you want to make sure that you are working in the correct dimensional system. Click on Choose Template. Select Plan View - Feet and Inches. Click on Start Using Sketchup. Later on, we'll discuss customizing the template to fit your needs. But I'm just going to get you drawing in this tutorial. NOTE: If you are in the metric system, you will need to select Millimeters and adjust my instructions accordingly.
Step 3: Tweaking the Template
Now we gotta get the work environment set up for drawing. From the drop down menu at the top, select Window > Model Info
Still part of Tweaking the Template
Select Units from the left menu, and then select Fractional from the Format Menu. Close the window, and you are now drawing in inches.
Speaking of which . . . what should we draw? How about this one? Simple enough.
Step 4: Drawing a Rectangle
The default view is the top view, so we are looking down on the project. After examining the desired project, it looks like it's made of 1x12s and is 36" high. Think like you are building the furniture for reals and draw in those same steps. So let's start with the sides. Click the Rectangle Tool (shortcut is to hit the R key). Then click the rectangle tool on the crosshairs in the center of the program. Expand the rectangle out, but don't click. Instead, type your dimensions, followed by enter. Dimensions should be typed comma seperated, no space between dimensions. You can either use decimal (.75,11.5) or fractional (3/4,11 1/2). Notice with fractional, there is a space between whole numbers and fractions.
Step 5: Pulling a Rectangle into a Board
We've got the board end, now we just need to make that board the desired length. This is a really cool feature of Google Sketchup. Select the Push/Pull tool or Press P for the short key. Click on the face of the rectangle and pull it toward you. Don't click. Instead, type in the number 36 and hit enter. Now you have a 1x12 that is 36" long!
Step 6: Orbit Project
The orbit tool (circled above) is a tool that will turn your 3D project in all directions. Click on it and turn your project so that you are looking at it straight on instead of a top view. You can orbit your project at any time, and zoom in and out by scrolling your mouse or clicking on the magnifying glass. The shortkey for orbit is the O key.
Step 7: Making the Board a Component
Each board in your project needs to be a component. If not, Sketchup thinks you are still editing the board, and will merge boards and things get messy. Don't worry, you can still edit components by double clicking them. So press the space bar to get back to your selector tool. With an arrow for you pointer, double click the board until all sides are selected, as shown in the diagram above. Hit the G key and press enter. NOTE: You can name your component, for example, this one might be named 1x12 side board. Now your board is it's own component.
That wasn't so bad, eh? Now we just gotta draw the shelves in the same manner. Start by drawing a rectangle (R Key) starting at the bottom corner of the side board that is 11 1/2" x 3/4", and draw the rectangle on the shelf, not on the ground beside the shelf. Then pull (P Key) that rectangle out 40.5 and press enter. Then double click the shelf until all edges are selected and make it a component (G Key). Shelf is done!
Something I've learned is it's best to not redraw components, because if you copy components, when you edit one of the components, all of the copies are also edited. Since the sides are identical in this project, Press the Space Bar to get the selector tool and Click on the Side to select it. Press CTRL-C to copy the side and CTRL-V to paste it. When you paste, you will automatically toggle to the Move tool. Move the second side in place, snapping to the corner of the bottom. If you don't get it on the first try, don't despair, you can move again. You can even orbit and zoom in, then toggle back to the select tool and select the side, toggle to the move tool and move the side in place. Take your time, the only super important part is making sure your corners are lined up right (just like you need to do when building).
Copy and paste the bottom shelf to the top as shown in the diagram. For the middle shelf, you will need to place it in the center. Select the Tape Tool (T Key) and use it just like a tape measure. Click on the bottom inside corner of the side as shown above and measure upward along the side of the board in a straight line. Don't click. Instead, type 17 5/8 and press enter. You should see a guide point. Copy and paste a shelf to this guide point.
In the same way as you drew the sides and shelves, draw a cubby divider, make it a component, and place it inside the shelves. Copy and paste three more as shown above. The dividers will be spaced 13" apart. CHEAT: Draw a cubby by drawing a rectangle on the inside of the side, between the shelves. Then pull that rectangle out 3/4 to get your divider. Make it a component and select the move tool. Move the component along the shelf, but don't click or press enter. Instead, type in 13 and press enter.
TIP: You can select more than one shelf at a time by holding down the Shift Key as you select.
Step 12: Drawing Trim
Now draw a 1x2 as shown above and make it a component. Copy and paste the rest of the trim in place.
Step 13: Hiding Guide Points and Axes
Now let's make it pretty. Simply select View and click Axes and Guides to uncheck and the guide points and Axes will disappear.
Step 14: Materials and Color
You can easily color each component by selecting the bucket tool (B Key). The materials menu will automatically appear, or you can select Windows > Materials and the Materials Menu will appear. Select the desired color from the menu and then click on the component to fill it.
Step 15: Dimensions
You can find dimensions for building by simply selecting the Dimension Tool from the Tools Menu or pressing the D Shortkey. You can delete dimensions by pressing the space bar to get to the selector tool, selecting the dimensions and pressing delete.
Now that you've drawn your project, you might want to print it out or export it as a graphic to share with others. You can publish your plans directly to Ana White.com using this easy form. Size your window and zoom and orbit your project to what you want exported. Google Sketchup is going to export what you see in the window, so size appropriately. You can select File > Export > 2D Graphic for a image graphic or you can Print to take the project to your saw.
If you would like to separate out your steps into individual drawings, you can build your project in layers, and then simple hide and display layers. For a small simple project like this one, I simply save it, then delete boards. Then I go CTRL-Z to undo the deletes after exporting the graphics. Not the right way, but sometimes it just makes sense to not deal with layers.
I hope you have fun with Google Sketchup. But most of all, I hope you take an opportunity to share your plans with others. It is true, giving is better than getting, and I can promise, the joy of seeing my hard work help others is worth more than what I might ever have made trying to sell plans. Can't wait to see your designs, and please, make some noise if you want to see more Sketchup Tutorials. We've only barely touched on what you can do in Sketchup.