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Tips for Creating Custom Project Plans

A common question we hear is, “What computer software do you use to create project plans?” In this edition of Kreg Plus, we’ll discuss a popular software that makes it easy. We’ll also share tips that will help you design and “build” your own projects before you pick up a tool.

Designers at our sister site, BuildSomething, create illustrations for project plans using a paid software called SketchUp Pro. Luckily, you can get a very capable design program without paying a dime: SketchUp Make has become very popular with DIYers and woodworkers, and it includes almost all of the same features as Pro. Download it free here.

The Right Scale

SketchUp comes with templates that help you get started with your design. What is handy about the templates is that they’re already set up at the right scale for a variety of projects. The default template is for architectural-scale projects, but there’s also a woodworking template more appropriate for shop-sized projects. Woodworking Template

No Sawdust Required

With SketchUp, you can design a project very much like you would build it in your garage or shop. After creating each project piece at your desired size, you can “drill” holes, “chop” mortises, and “form” tenons right on the screen.

For example, to make a table model, you’ll want to start with the legs. First, draw a flat, two-dimensional square to represent the outside dimensions. Then, “pull” the length of the leg out of the flat square to make a three-dimensional shape.
Woodworking Template

Push or Pull

One of the things that makes SketchUp so easy and quick to use is the Push/Pull tool. You simply click on a shape and “stretch” it. It’s great for making mortises and tenons. After drawing the size of the tenon on the end, use the Push/Pull tool to establish the tenon length.

Using the Push/Pull tool can be similar to working in the shop. To drill a hole, you draw a circle on the face of the object. Then you push the circle in to drill a hole.
Mortise and Tenon


SketchUp is great for creating design concepts and not having to worry about dimensions. While you’re designing, you can type in the dimensions you want. This makes it easy to draw pieces to an exact size. With SketchUp’s dimensioning tool, you can dimension to the nearest 1/64". Even better yet, dimensions automatically update when you move or resize a feature.


Layout Lines

Another handy feature is that you can drop in “construction lines” to help with the layout and design of your project. They’re like pencil lines that you can erase at any time. For example, use them to lay out tenons, like the one shown in the drawing. You can draw the width and thickness of a tenon on the end of a workpiece before lengthening it. Layout Lines

Smart Assembly

SketchUp is smart enough to figure out how to align objects as you move them into position. In this view, parts are in transparent mode. Thanks to this feature, you can “assemble” your projects to ensure that they go together right. That way, when you get to the shop, all of your project parts should come out in perfect alignment. Smart Assembly

From Screen to Shop

While the design elements are great, the true advantage of SketchUp is how it will help you in the shop. It lets you generate all of the working drawings you will need to build the project, including exploded views, details, and section views.

Once you create your first project plan, or if you already have some to share, upload them to to inspire others and show off your work! You’ll receive a free BuildSomething T-shirt when you upload your first plan!
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From Kreg and Woodsmith Magazine
©2016 Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc.

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