Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp – Review

Article - August 17, 2010

lang_sketchAfter a little discussion in the forum about SketchUp and seeing Bob Lang’s post about said forum thread, I decided it was time to buckle down and get to know my trusty pal SketchUp a little better. I am pretty much a hack with the program, but I only use it for proportions and joinery details. If I become faster and more efficient, I can start modeling more details and perhaps even entire projects. Having a working archive of your own projects is a pretty appealing concept! And not to mention, its nice being able to distribute these projects to my readers and viewers. So I do believe its time for stage two of my SketchUp journey. And it all starts with Bob Lang’s Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp.

The guide is Bob’s self-published interactive PDF book. If you’ve never seen something like this, you’re in for a treat. The PDF opens up with a convenient index at the left. You can use this to jump around the document with a single click. Like any good woodworking book, each section features text and images. But this PDF book does something a traditional book could never do: it provides video clips. So as you are reading along, Bob has short narrated video clips that he uses to hammer home a particular point. This format is particularly effective since SketchUp isn’t something you learn by simply reading or watching. If you open SketchUp in another window, you now have the perfect storm for learning: text, pictures, video, and a testing ground. To get the most out of this experience, I recommend doing EVERYTHING Bob recommends. The only way to understand and retain this information is to practice. Repetition is what makes you fast and speed is what makes this program practical.

The book is 184 pages and I don’t think it can be gobbled up in one sitting. There’s just too much here. I broke it up into two sessions. For me, there was a natural break point right before Bob gets into the advanced stuff. This gave my brain a little time to recuperate and allowed me the opportunity to forget and then re-learn a few details the next day. Once again, repetition and practice.


Day 1:

I have to admit that I was tempted to skim through the intro and early chapters. Boy am I glad I didn’t! As someone who used SketchUp well before Google owned it, I am pretty familiar with the interface and basic functions. But just like in woodworking, its very easy to develop bad habits over time. And usually you don’t even know how bad they are until someone points them out. I knew I had some bad habits that needed breaking and the early chapters of this book nipped them in the bud. With the slate clean, I was now able to approach the rest of the book with an open mind and as a complete SketchUp noob.

In the first half of the book, Bob reviews all of the tools and their functions. I tried to replicate the things I saw in the pictures and videos as I went along which really helped me commit the details to memory. He then moves into creating objects, moving/copying/rotating, and into the use of groups and components. By this time, your head will be reeling with all the ways you can use these simple tools to design your next project. Just to give you a frame of reference, by the end of the first half of this book, I was able to construct a table of any size (legs, aprons, mortise & tenon joints), within minutes. And the best part is because everything was done properly, any part of the table can be modified readily. Want a larger top? Shorter tenons? Tapers on the legs? A deeper reveal? No problem.

Now I could have made a similar table prior to Bob’s video in about the same time. But should I need to modify anything or make any adjustments, I would be up a creek without a paddle. And with practice, using the proper methods will be MUCH faster. I am just new to some of this so it takes me a bit longer. Think of it like learning how to type. When you initially learn the method, you are probably faster hunting and pecking. But once you get some practice, suddenly your fingers are flying and it becomes second nature. Same thing with SketchUp. I felt very accomplished after Day 1 and I am excited to see what the second half will bring. Total time investment for day 1 was roughly 2 hours.


Day 2:

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. Bob covers curves, circles, cope and stick door frames, as well as other helpful details on manipulating, modifying, and presenting your SketchUp models. This is definitely more than I want to digest in a single evening. And many of these advanced lessons will be much more useful when I have a practical need for it. So when the time comes, I’ll be jumping right back into the PDF. Total time investment for Day 2 was another two hours. But I could have easily spent more if I went through each part and replicated each lesson.

One thing is abundantly clear: if you learn the system, you open a lot of doors for yourself. Lang’s interactive book is, simply put, a full course on SketchUp. And the best part of all is that its taught from a woodworker’s perspective. So you won’t be wasting your time with architectural details and things that you will never use. Bob’s teaching style is straight forward and the lessons are easy to follow. If you are trying to break into SketchUp and all you’ve done so far is draw pretty little squares, I highly recommend you give this book a shot.

Now many of you may be wondering how this book differs from the recently-released SketchUp For Woodworkers video series. Here’s a comment from Bob himself,

“It?s hard to say which is ?better?, that depends on what you?re looking for, and what your learning style is. If you catch on from watching the video that?s probably all you need. I usually explain the difference like this; the videos are like watching my presentation at Woodworking in America. It?s a couple hours of watching me run SketchUp while I explain verbally what I’m doing. The book is more like taking a week-long class from me – more time for explanations, and I think having the material presented in text and in video makes it easier to sink in initially and to go back to refresh your memory.”

I am currently reviewing the SketchUp for Woodworkers video series and I will report back to you on that.

If you are interested in picking up Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp, or even the video series I just mentioned, use the links below. We are now an affiliate with the Woodworker’s Book Shop so all sales will help support TheWoodWhisperer.com.


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