If you’re still designing your woodworking projects with old-fashioned pencil and paper, it’s time to get with the 21st century. There are a number of digital programs that can allow you to create virtual pieces before you even decide what wood to use.

One of the most user-friendly programs out there is SketchUp , and best of all, there’s a free version for hobby enthusiasts. The program is also quite customizable with plugins to adapt to your own particular style and interests.

Using a new software program can seem very overwhelming at first, but there are many tutorials and videos available for new SketchUp users. With practice, you’ll find the program draws so quickly that you’ll wonder how you ever managed to draw everything by hand. Here are some tips to get the hang of it.

Don’t Be Intimidated

While the program has countless features that can be used to mock up complex projects or even entire homes, you don’t need to get too crazy with it right away. Forget about making the perfect piece from the start - just take some time to just play with the software. Start drawing a simple box. Once you have your box, you can add elements, and push and pull the surface to create something more elaborate. Take some time to use the 3D controls and explore your object from all sides. You’ll soon understand the advantages of the program in being able to see your work from every angle, and quickly notice any mistakes you made in calculations.

Don’t Try to Freehand Everything

It would be a mistake to try to draw your boards to exact specifications when the computer can do it for you. Draw a simple rectangle, and then punch in the numbers of your dimensions. The program will automatically adjust the size and shape of your piece. If you need more than one of an object - for example, a table leg - you can copy and paste the element rather than needing to draw each leg from scratch.

Find Your Perfect Plugin

SketchUp has more widespread uses than just woodworking, so you may need to customize the program to your own particular style and project. There are many plugins available to add to the software which can do things like:
  • Add texture or wood grain
  • Create curves on the surfaces of objects
  • Make a printable list of the wood cuts that you need
  • Import projects from other websites
  • Share projects with other users
  • Animate objects
Many of the extensions are available for free or at a low cost.

Get Tips from Other SketchUp Users

SketchUp has an active community of involved users, many of whom are also woodworking enthusiasts. If you find yourself getting stuck in the program, chances are that there’s someone else who has been there and found a solution. Check out the forums at the official SketchUp website , and at Woodworking Talk for tips and ideas.

It’s Not All or Nothing

If you’re used to sketching your ideas on paper, the idea of abandoning that for a software program may be unsettling. Fortunately, you don’t have to! Since SketchUp has a free version , you have nothing to lose by exploring it and enjoying the features that are most useful to you. You might start out with paper, and then migrate to the computer, or get some ideas on paper and other ideas in the software. With a little practice, you may create a totally new work system that’s just right for your projects.

Have you tried using SketchUp? What tips would you give to beginners?