Various Panel Options

Drafting in the Digital Age

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — Benjamin Franklin

When it comes to design and drafting old Ben’s quote rings as today as it did in the 1700s. A good design and a clear set of plans can spare you from a lot of unnecessary frustration or wasted material. When I went to High School in the 1990’s I had the opportunity to take classes in traditional drafting on paper and using AutoCAD on old DOS based PCs that were old even at the time. The computer was viewed as the future, but the extra time for smaller projects and prices/availability of good software was a hindrance. For the sake of expediency and my wallet I generally broke out the drawing board when I needed to make a set of plans.

Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective
Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective

Years later when I went to the North Bennet Street School they also espoused the use of traditional drafting with leads and full size drawings. No messing with expensive computers and ever-changing software. This works great for chairs and pieces with lots of complex curves. But for timber frames and buildings, often with many repeating elements a small change in the design could literally send you back to the drawing board for hours.

Workshop Shutters
Workshop Shutters

I recently got a copy of SketchUp and around the holidays found a real good deal on Robert Lang’s SketchUp for Woodworkers Shop Class on Demand Videos and watched them around Christmas. SketchUp took a bit of getting used to compared to my old AutoCAD days, but after watching Bob’s videos, and with my background as a software engineer and traditional draftsman I got up to speed quickly. (You may have noticed a proliferation in some computer generated renderings in recent posts) Bob Lang’s videos start with simple projects and tools and increase in complexity. I recommend getting both videos as the second video (‘Advanced Techniques’) was the most interesting to me wherein he shows the user how to create dovetails, work in the round, layout the model for printing dimensioned renderings etc.

Shutters Workshop
Hand Drawn Shutters

Save a Tree, Burn some Pixels

About a year ago I designed some traditional interior shutters for my workshop — I started out drafting them by hand. The plans sat on my TODO list for a few months and now with SketchUp in hand I decided to explore some other design possibilities with the raised panels.

Various Panel Options
Various Panel Options

Design Options Explored (Colors added for easier reference here, I’m not planning to build any shutters for a circus):

  1. Red — Raised, Sunk Fielded Panel
  2. Orange — Raised and Fielded Panel
  3. Green — Raised and Fielded Panel (rounded fielding)
  4. Brown — Flat Panel
  5. Purple — Raised Panel
  6. Blue — Bead and Butt
Panel Details
Panel Details

In the end I settled on #1 above which was part of my original design, but this software saved me from having to experiment with a few test panels to see how things looked from different angles — a nice time and effort saver which offset the perceived longer time it took me to draft this project in SketchUp in the first place. Each project I get a little faster with SketchUp and I think part of why I feel like it takes longer is you generally need to complete your model in most if not all details as opposed to some shortcuts I can take when drafting by hand. (Though I think I am getting a bit OCD as I created all the mortises, draw bored pins etc in full 3D)

Dimensioned Shutters in Color -- Rittenhouse Blue
Dimensioned Shutters in Color — Rittenhouse Blue

With SketchUp you can also experiment with colors and textures. Above you can see my shutters in Rittenhouse Blue to match my existing trim out in the shop. For other projects I’ve used actual textures which help give you a feel for how a surface would look with real wood grain etc.

Exploded View
Exploded View

The other big time saver is how fast you can generate other views — beyond top, bottom, front and back you can quickly generate an exploded view….

Section View
Section View

Or a section view…

Molding Details Dimensioned
Molding Details Dimensioned

or a dimensioned detail view. The dimensioning goes in quickly and the model can be probed in the future if you missed a dimension and want to see exactly how big a part or detail should be. All of these views help me create additional visual aids for this blog and for my teaching as I think a lot of woodworkers are visual learners. You can also share your models with other users or download thousands of models from the 3D Warehouse to save you some time.

I also like the fact that I can draft from the couch in front of the TV at night when I am too tired to be out in the shop and don’t want to be in another room hunched over the drafting board. If you have been waiting for a good reason to try out SketchUp, or draft something new you have no excuse — if you are reading this blog you are likely on a device that can be used to run SketchUp.  🙂

I look forward to seeing some of your new creations and hearing what others think about using the program.

Take care,

P.S. If you’d like to build one of these shutters with me in person, there are still 1 or 2 seats left in my upcoming workshop at NBSS on this very topic. You can find more details here.
P.P.S. If you’d liked to check out Robert Lang’s SketchUp For Woodworker’s Shop Class on Demand Videos or DVDs  I bought my copies from here. (I don’t get any sort of kickback for this, just recommending a good resource)

8 thoughts on “Drafting in the Digital Age”

  1. Great post.

    In my 27 years in a career as a draftsman. I’ve seen technology expand from pencils, to CADD to 3D. But when it comes to drawing for my woodworking. The pencil let’s the creative juices flow. Just like when rubbing your hands over a rough piece of wood. Holding that pencil in your hand excites the right sign of the brain. Letting the artisan appear.

    1. I agree, I don’t think the machines will ever completely replace the traditional ways — much as there is still a good market for hand tools — they both have their place. The drawing board is still my first stop for design work, especially when fitting complex curves or full scale work (such as a chair). I view the CAD programs as a tool to help me visualize variations in design, save on repetition or projects that are changing a lot or to aid in generation of visual aids for my teaching and/or blogging. Thanks for the note.
      Take care,

  2. I’ve used sketchup here and there for school when I went for drafting but autocad was the number one with revit hot on its heals. Later in my work I was tossed into a crazy amount of learning of cad programs. I think I’m up to being decent in about 5 different cad programs from revit structure to autocad civil 3-D. I watched Clark Bremer do a presentation on sketchup for timber frame design which was amazing. The amount he could do with it was crazy. It made me a bit upset that I dumped $3000 on Archicad a few years back, which is my primary timber frame design software now. But even with all the technology there’s nothing I enjoy more than busting out some vellum and hand drafting.

    1. I agree. I do most of my initial design work by hand on paper or vellum — I feel I can get the initial idea out faster that way. Then if the work warrants it I translate it into SketchUp and work out and fine details. I like how SketchUp (and similar CAD programs) allow you to get more exacting results — rather than limiting my accuracy to the sharpness of my leads and accuracy with a scale. I feel that this has helped me work faster. With a hand drawn image there are some very tiny dimensions I am working out as the piece is put together, with a digital model I have more accurate final size info and can get closer to that final size to start thus saving some hand work.
      I held off on AutoCAD and SketchUpPro as I didn’t want to make a big investment in software I would only be using occasionally.
      I had an old (early 2000s) version of AutoCAD I used for a while but found myself going to hand drawings most of the time. In recent years the proliferation of SketchUp training for woodworkers and a large free model warehouse I think has moved it over the hump into a more approachable and mainstream tool. They also offer a generous free 1 year license to folks working in academia which is what tipped me over the edge to give it a more earnest try. . Thanks for the note. Take care — Bill

  3. Bill, I agree with your pencil & paper then SketchUp approach.

    In the multi-colored illustration, even under extreme magnification, I see no difference between panels 1, 2, or 3. Yet when I examined the Section View, the panel appears as a Simple Raised Panel.

    What is the difference between the “Field” and the “Panel” and how is the Field considered “Sunk”? I have no architectural training, so I would deeply appreciate your edification.

    Also, could you provide the URL for SketchUp’s “large free model warehouse”, particularly the source of textures like “real wood grain” & the color “Rittenhouse Blue”?

    Thank You! for a great post.

    1. Thank you for the note.

      I updated the post with a new image captioned as ‘Panel Details’ which should give you a better view of the various profile options I explored.

      There is a nice explanation/chart of panel types which you can find in section 6.31 of this doc:

      The 3D model warehouse is accessed inside of the SketchUp application via the following menu:
      File-> 3D Warehouse -> Get Models
      It looks like a mini hosted version of Google inside the app.

      The best site I found for wood textures in sketchup is from WOOD magazine here:

      Rittenhouse Blue is the color of Old Village brand paints I used on the trim in my workshop. By customizing the colors in the paint tool in sketchup I picked the closest approximation I could find. You can learn more about Old Village Paints here:

      I hope this helps.

      Take care,

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