Fine Woodworking, Lonnie Bird, SketchUp, SketchUp Illustration
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Pennsylvania Secretary in SketchUp; What I Learned

The image above shows my completed SketchUp model of Lonnie Bird’s Pennsylvania Secretary as seen in Fine Woodworking magazine. The construction steps for this secretary were spread out over three issues of FWW (see them here, here and here). Taking three separate issues to explain the construction of this stunning walnut behemoth provides a hint at how complex it is to build. Making Mr. Bird’s masterpiece in SketchUp was also complex. I learned a few things while drawing it which I want to pass on to those interested.

Ask For Help When You Need It

This project contains a lot of complex curves. The bracket feet have intersecting serpentine shapes and the desk gallery has a variety of head scratching, curved edges. Long ago, I found a way to contact Dave Richards and when I hit a SketchUp road block, I ask Dave for help. He always responds quickly and has a good answer for my problem.

With this secretary, I asked for Dave’s help twice; once for the bracket feet and then again for the gallery “seat board”.

Accurate ogee bracket feet.

Accurate ogee bracket feet.

First, lets look at the feet. When I say accurate ogee bracket feet, that means I imported an image from the FWW magazine article showing the profile of the bracket feet and traced over the image in SketchUp creating a true representation of what Lonnie Bird made in his shop (which I think is pretty cool).

The ogee bracket feet profile magazine screen shot and cropped.

The ogee bracket feet profile magazine screenshot and cropped.

Here, I am about to position the ogee profile for the front of the bracket foot.

Here, I am about to position the ogee profile for the front of the bracket foot.

Once I got a flat version of the bracket foot, I moved to creating the ogee shape along the front face. To accomplish this, I created a ogee “cutter” which I positioned correctly and then intersected it with the flat version, erasing the unwanted shape. I had trouble getting the cutter in the proper position. Dave walked me through the process and the bracket feet were successfully finished.

Bracket feet completed.

Bracket feet completed.

For the gallery seat board, I talked about this in an earlier blog post – making the seat board was such a bear that Dave Richards explained his method in a video (see the video here).

The completed gallery seat board.

The completed gallery seat board.

A gigantic undertaking - the completed gallery.

A gigantic undertaking – the completed gallery.

Close-up: Note the rounded edges on the curved components.

Close-up: Note the rounded edges on the curved components.

In many ways, making the gallery was about the most difficult thing I have done in SketchUp (I still consider this model to be the toughest one I’ve completed).

By the way, look up Dave Richards on Google Plus if you have a SketchUp issue giving you trouble.

Making Better Use of Materials

Finding good images to paint the surfaces of a SketchUp component is a real challenge; a challenge I keep trying to improve upon. Doing this well means making the best use of what you have. One thing that looks odd is painting a large component with a small image. If the image does not repeat well, one way to get a somewhat pleasing look is to enlarge the image until a good look is achieved. But enlarging usually means a wood grain which is not in scale or too large for the component.

An early image of the SketchUp model.

An early image of the SketchUp model.

Note in the image above, a walnut grained image which I have allowed to repeat once in width. My hope was that this would achieve a book matched look and it does, but the image is too large.

A better side.

A better side.

In this image, I divided the cabinet side component face into four equal segments and painted each segment with the same walnut material. I then manipulated each segment to created a “glued-up” look. The result is nondescript vs. the first image which was attention getting in a bad way.

Nice grain on the upper doors.

Nice grain on the upper doors.

When I put this image on Instagram I got a comment that the tombstone doors in the upper cabinet turned out well; specifically the panels in the doors. In Lonnie Bird’s original, these door panels were made with striking walnut burl. I made some attempts to screen capture some similar burl, but I could not manipulate the color to match the other walnut I was using. The image which I did go with has a pleasing look, but no burl.

I like the drawers.

I like the drawers.

The lower cabinet drawer fronts use the same image that was used on tombstone doors. The image was stretched and squeezed to better fit the slender shape of the drawer fronts and as with the original, I flipped every other drawer.

Note the flame grain on the little gallery tombstone door.

Note the flame grain on the little gallery tombstone door.

One last thing – the flame grain on the gallery tombstone door was created by getting a screenshot of a different furniture piece from Lonnie Bird’s website. I was able to crop it, import the image as a material and adjust the color in SketchUp to work well with the walnut color. I’ve never done this before.

A reminder: the video I follow to apply materials is here.

The Take Aways From This Project

  • If you want to improve with SketchUp, push yourself towards more complex models.
  • Seek out someone who can help you when you encounter a problem. Learn from more experienced SketchUp users.
  • Learn all that the move tool will do for you. I often copy components using the move tool. Controlling a component while moving it leads to easier modelling.
  • Use copies where possible. In this model the sides, drawer fronts, gallery drawers, tombstone doors, all start out as a single component or group from which copies are made and moved into place.
  • As in woodworking, doing SketchUp only occasionally invites the possibility of forgetting the correct method for creating difficult components. For example, I made several components twice because I did not follow best practices. Avoid re-making components by following proper methods the first time.
  • If you are following a magazine woodworking plan for a big project, expect that the most important information will be provided, but not all of it. Building the project in SketchUp first enables the woodworker to uncover these hidden details.

This Pennsylvania Secretary is the second model in my series of seeking out stunning furniture projects to make in SketchUp. The first was Ron Layport’s Open Hutch (see it by scrolling down on my SketchUp models blog page). My next SketchUp project will be a new woodworking plan for a double dresser. I am already well underway with the SketchUp model for this new plan.

Bonussee a video at FWW.com about the hidden gallery compartments.

* * * * *

Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).

6 Comments

    • Hey Dennis, yes the rear foot has a flat surface facing the back. The front foot has the profile on the two outer faces. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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