SketchUp is a powerful 3D modeling tool that you can get and use for free. This page provides references and links to make getting it and using it easy.
When your woodworking expands beyond the simplest projects, SketchUp can become an indispensable tool. It makes the design clear so that you can tell if the design makes sense—or if it even looks good—before you build it. It keeps track of dimensions. It can show you when parts don’t fit correctly or interfere with each other.
SketchUp has two built-in templates dedicated to woodworking. One template uses inches. The other uses millimeters. Just tell SketchUp what you want to use the first time you use it and you’re all set. You can change your choice at any time.
SketchUp Isn’t Hard to Use!
Learning to use SketchUp might seem daunting at first. After all, it looks very complicated when you open it for the first time. Don’t be fooled! It will quickly begin to make sense once you’ve had some of those things explained for you. This page points you to places that explain how to use SketchUp.
You can download and install a 64-bit version of SketchUp on your 64-bit computer by visiting this page. Be sure to download SketchUp Make 2017. It's free! All other available versions are paid versions. You don’t need the paid versions. The free SketchUp Make is a powerful tool.
Once you’ve downloaded the installation file, double-click to install it. It should put an icon on your desktop. A couple of other new icons will appear also but you can ignore those or drag them to the Recycle bin.
Starting SketchUp for the First Time
- Double-click the SketchUp icon to start it. A welcome window will appear.
- Click the Choose Template button near the top-right of the window. A dialog will open.
- Scroll down to find Woodworking – Inches or Woodworking – Millimeters.
- Click on your preference.
- Click Start using SketchUp.
If you’ve never used SketchUp before, this is the place where things might begin to seem overwhelming. Not to worry! Just follow along as described below.
Setting Up SketchUp
I'm going to explain how I like SketchUp to be set up. You might discover that you have different preferences. But start with what I explain here. This procedure will begin your exposure to the SketchUp environment. And it will arm you with the ability to select different preferences if you decide to do that later.
- Click on the Window menu.
- Hover your mouse over Default Tray.
- Make sure that only these items are selected:
- Entity Info
- Deselect all other choices
You should now see these items on the right side of the SketchUp window:
If the items are not in the order shown, click and drag them up or down until they’re in this order.
- Click on the View menu and be sure only these items are selected:
- Click on the View menu again.
- Click on Toolbars… and be sure only these checked items are selected:
- Click Close.
- Be sure the toolbars are arranged as shown here. You can simply drag the drag bar of each toolbar to move it into position as shown here:
Finally, SketchUp has many built-in keyboard shortcuts. They’re great time savers that you will want to use. But you’ll be glad to have 3 additional keyboard shortcuts. Here’s how to set them up.
- Click the Window menu and select Preferences.
- Select Shortcuts in the left window.
- Scroll down the Function window and select Edit/Hide.
- Enter “X” (without the quotes) into the Add Shortcut window and then click “+” next to that window. ("H" can't be used for "Hide" since it's assigned to "Pan".)
- Scroll down the Function window and select Edit/Unhide/All.
- Enter “U” (without the quotes) into the Add Shortcut window and then click “+” next to that window.
- Scroll down the Function window and select Tools/Dimensions.
- Enter “D” (without the quotes) into the Add Shortcut window and then click “+” next to that window.
Steps 11-12 arm you with the ability to hide an object by simply clicking on it and then pressing the X key. The shortcut lets you hide objects without opening the Edit menu to do it.
Steps 13-14 arm you with the ability unhide all hidden items by simply pressing the U key. The shortcut lets you unhide all objects without opening the Edit menu to do it.
Finally, steps 15-16 arm you with the ability to enable dimensioning by simply pressing the D key. You can avoid clicking on the Dimension icon in the Large Tool Set.
These shortcuts might not make much sense right now but TRY TO REMEMBER THESE SHORTCUTS. Use them whenever possible to avoid going to a menu. They can make your SketchUp experience much simpler and more enjoyable.
Ready to Go!
You are now ready to begin using SketchUp. If you find out later that you don’t like my preferred setup, the information provided above should give you enough knowledge to do things differently.
Starting to Use SketchUp
So how is SketchUp used? Here are some references and links to get you started.
The first reference was my introduction to SketchUp. I learned a lot from it and recommend it very highly. The DVD shows the beginner how to use many of the tools in SketchUp. And it explains how to use SketchUp in some very clever and useful ways. As an added bonus, it contains a Cheat Sheet of keyboard shortcuts. You will have a very solid grounding in SketchUp when you finish this 1 hour, 7 minute DVD. It’s available from Amazon.com:
Two books are useful as look-up references, though the second one is not aimed specifically at woodworkers. Each is also available from Amazon.com:
Finally, a DVD is also available from Amazon.com that you might like as a word-search look-up reference:
MY STRONG RECOMMENDATION: Begin with the DVD with Dave Richards. Watch and listen to the entire DVD. Follow along through the step-by-step lessons. You will amass a set of important and useful SketchUp skills. It will equip you to do original woodworking designs.
Use YouTube to Learn to use SketchUp Like an Expert
These are some links that you might find helpful. For beginners, you might try this series:
SketchUp Woodworking Tutorial for Beginners - Part 1
SketchUp Woodworking Tutorial for Beginners Part 2
Jay Bates is an accomplished woodworker who can be found on many YouTube woodworking videos. He sometimes creates videos that show his use of SketchUp. He talks a little fast but he does real things with his SketchUp designs, so what he does is of practical use. If you feel that you’re getting past the beginner stage, take a look at a couple of his videos:
Here’s a beginning SketchUp video from Jay Bates:
Familiarize Yourself With SketchUp
This is a simple table design by Jay Bates. Notice his clever but simple techniques. He makes things even simpler by stressing “never draw what you can copy.” He can talk fast, so pay attention. There’s a lot of useful information in this single video:
SketchUp - Sofa Table With Hidden Storage
This page provides a foundation for getting, installing, and using free SketchUp Make in your woodworking projects. There is a lot of other information and tutorials available on the internet. Be sure to search the internet and YouTube for more hints and techniques.
Also, be sure to visit my SketchUp ‘Cut List 4.1' Supplement page for an app that can help to make your SketchUp and woodworking experience even easier.
Good luck, and keep on using SketchUp!