Creating a Woodworking Plan, E-Books, SketchUp
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Creating a Woodworking Plan, Part One: SketchUp

Image of queen size bed

My next project plan: an update for “Making a Queen Size Bed Step-by-Step.”

One of my most popular woodworking plans is the plan centered around the build of what I call “The Tornado Bed”. This was a project completed about a year ago and was donated to disaster recovery following a historic severe weather event. The event: 63 tornadoes struck north Alabama within a 24 hour period on April 27, 2011. Many areas of north Alabama received unbelievable destruction.

A visitor to my blog sent me an email this week which has triggered a major overhaul of this woodworking plan. The visitor, who works at a mattress store, advised me that a queen size bed without a center support could potentially void a mattress warranty. The original design of the Tornado Bed was based on a queen size bed I own and it does not have a center support, but the lack of one could be problematic for the woodworker who downloads this plan, so an update is needed.

I will document the process I use to update the plan which will give some insight on how a woodworking plan comes together.

Updating the model
When I discovered SketchUp, I immediately recognized it as a terribly important software program for my blog. I began using SketchUp to illustrate blog posts. Then when the natural step to woodworking plans presented itself, I continued to learn SketchUp’s vast abilities. It has become my illustration tool of choice – this is important because I have found that an illustration can often communicate more information than a photo can (and in an easier way).

Concerning the SketchUp models I create, my wife once asked me: “How do you know it will work in real life?” I replied, “If it works in SketchUp, it works in real life.” With SketchUp, I can create all the components needed for a project and make sure they fit. The only thing I have to be careful about is creating a model in a way that utilizes real world construction processes. I once created a model in which I later discovered that a different joinery method would have worked better. SketchUp fills several of my needs as a woodworker and a plan creator.

For the New Tornado Bed, the process for adding the center support is pretty simple (click the images for a larger view)…

SketchUp illustration of the new bed components and changes.

This image shows the changes from the old model (some slats have been removed for illustrative clarity).

In the illustration above, the new components are shown in blue and include a center cross slat, hangers for this slat added to the head board and foot board and then two short posts which provide the needed support for the center cross slat.

The red components which support the original slats have been increased in height to align with the center cross slat.

I also took the time to change the model which will simplify the new plan…

Further changes to the old model are highlighted.

Further changes to the old model are highlighted.

In the old plan, all of the parts highlighted above were made from a glue-up of two 1x boards to achieve a 1 1/2″ final thickness. These components were always shown as two boards glued together, not one board. This made for some awkward moments when trying to explain the construction process. In the new plan, these will simply be shown as 1 1/2″ thick boards.

Many people don’t take their SketchUp models to a high level of detail; there simply isn’t the need to do so. But, there are some of us which do. For me, including fasteners and even hidden parts is required for project plans. Even though the needed changes for the center cross support are few, adding all the fasteners and additional hardware is more complicated. Here is what I mean…

All of the pine is now colored to mimic a natural color. The background color is set to white.

During the build, certain parts of the bed are pre-stained. To better communicate this, I create a separate model which shows the pine in a natural color. Most of the components have to be re-colored with a new texture. This isn’t easy since I have to correctly orient the grain on many of the faces. As I work through the construction process, I’ll add color to the pre-stained parts.

The center hanger complete with wood screws.

The center hanger complete with wood screws. The dark color indicates the part is a hardwood.

The center cross slat support complete with a leveler.

A close-up of the center cross slat support. Note the leveler at the bottom.

Note the screws are counter-bored.

Note the screws are counter-bored.

The good part of making these changes is I can think through all the things I have learned about SketchUp and try to make these updates in the most efficient way possible. If I had made all these changes at one time, it would have taking the better part of a day.

Step one completed: update the model with the needed changes and create a second model to help explain the pre-stain process. The next step is to begin updating the plan itself and first on the to-do list will be to update the cut list which I really don’t enjoy doing. That will be the subject of my next post.

Go to Part Two

About my woodworking plans: to see the list of woodworking plans available (some are free), click here.


  1. Many people are not aware of how easy it is to make a high quality bed from scratch with the right plans and information. You can save money while creating a piece that will last for years.

    • Ron, thanks for visiting my blog. Not only can you save money, but you can build a bed that suits your needs in a more exacting way.

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