Woodworking Plans in Progress
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The Modern Kitchen Cupboard – The Making of Page 26

When I begin creating a new woodworking plan, each page usually goes through an exhaustive multi-step process before I call it finished and begin thinking about the next page. This is the reason a single plan can take two or three months to complete. For my current plan, You Can Build a Modern Kitchen Cupboard, I’m in my third month; but it will soon be finished. I try to make each page look different which means each page is a new page layout exercise. Exercise is a good way to describe the process because I normally make multiple changes to a page design as the page comes to life. Key among the decisions I make are those impacting the ability of the reader to easily understand the construction process described.

Take page 26 of You Can Make a Modern Kitchen Cupboard for example. Since I am on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina (see the awesome image above – Craggy Gardens along the Blue Ridge Parkway), I have committed some of my free time to this project with the goal of making big progress. I have just finished page 26 and thought I’d chronicle the design and communication considerations used to complete just this one page. First, let’s take a look at the SketchUp model…

Front, right 3/4 view.

Note the top has curved edges which overhang the sides. At this point in the woodworking plan, I have explained the construction process leading up to adding this curved edge top. The slender molding seen under the top will be added after the top goes on.

Page 26, Image 26A

As I begin thinking of what page 26 will look like, I’m considering two images, one showing the profile of the top, and a second, larger image which shows the method for attaching it to the cupboard. Most all images in my plans are numbered and in general advance in number from left to right across the page. The first image will be illustration 26A.

Adding the profile of the cupboard top.

The text shown above is dummy text pulled from the previous page. I use it to help visualize the possible arrangement of the page elements (other page elements are simply left overs from the previous page and are of no consequence at this point). Already, I am not happy with the look. The profile of the top is too small (the dimension showing the depth of the curve is not clear) and enlarging it will encroach on the space I envision for the second, larger image.

So, I begin thinking about showing just the right side of the top, focusing on the curved edge. Here is what I came up with next.

Page 26 with a partial profile of the cupboard top.

This look shows promise, but I still am not happy how the dimension portrays the depth of the curve; I’m not sure I am effectively communicating the 7/8″ extension caused by the curve. For this image, I exported a PNG file from SketchUp selecting transparent background prior to exporting. I then import the image into Photoshop and add the gradient on the left side of the image which helps explain that the rest of the top has faded from view. I keep thinking how I can make this image better…

Blue helps highlight the area to be cut away.

I decide this is the look I need to best communicate what should happen to the top; the woodworker simply cuts away the area highlighted in blue. And, I like the location of the dimension. By the way, I use “Dodger Blue”, a standard SketchUp color, to help highlight certain components when making plans. Here is what the top image looks like in 3D…

3D view of the image used for the top.

Moving on to Illustration 26B

This image will be more complex. I always begin a new image from a master SketchUp model of the project and save each new image I create as a separate SketchUp file. Often, I’ll see the need for a design change as I move through a plan and these changes are always made on the master SketchUp model (currently, this plan has more than 130 SketchUp files). For image 26B I want to be able to see through the top showing the wood screws needed to attach the top. Initially, I create the image below…

The top in place; note blue screws and the blue molding under the top.

Image 26B in place, but there is one big problem.

For the top, I have created a new material which is set to 50% opacity making the top see-through. My first thought was to create an image which can show the top going on and the addition of molding which goes directly under the top and wraps the cupboard on three sides. Sort of combine two steps in one image. What I see from this image are wood screws colored Dodger Blue as well as the molding (also blue) are not very visible. Also, there is one big problem with this image – it is facing the wrong way. I always create images which face the center of the page. This image faces away from the center of the page. So, this image is trash; I decide to remove the molding, turn the image facing inward and mull ways to make the blue screws more prominent.

New illustration 26B; no screws.

A separate image showing tiny screws highlighted in blue.

My Photoshop skills are pretty weak, but I can lay one image on top of another and adjust how they relate to each other. The second image above is placed on top of the first. A couple of notes here – the second image has a transparent background and I have turned off the edges in SketchUp prior to exporting. By removing the edges which show as black lines, the blue color in the screws is more visible. I adjust the opacity of the second image and since it does not have a background, the screws can easily be made more or less prominent.

Page 26 final.

Here, I have added the updated illustration 26B, updated the text and added identifiers for the parts. One thing I have not talked about is the shadow seen to the right and below in 26B. More than 2/3 through making this plan, I decided to add this shadow feature to the images within a box. I like the look and am slowly going back through the plan and updating boxed images (and adding a light grey background).

A Work in Progress

And I do mean work. I go through this multiple step process with almost every page, and there are currently 26 pages, so a lot of work and brainpower goes into each plan I make. This is still a work in progress, but click the link below for the still incomplete and slightly rough You Can Build a Modern Kitchen Cupboard

UPDATE 08/01/17: The plan is now completed – see it here.

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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).


  1. I’m always impressed by the level of detail you put into your plans Jeff. I don’t think most folks realize how much work goes into even a single illustration. This post gives a bit of a peek behind the curtain.

    • Thanks Greg. At some point, I’d like to actually add some hand drawn elements to these images. Your illustrations look great.

  2. Jane says

    Very nice! Keep pushing those skills, Jeff. What a portfolio you are assembling! 🙂

  3. Jeff thanks a bunch for your post I’m amazed at your skill level wish I could master SketchUp l took a class but walked away more confused the presenter just couldn’t get her points across to the class. I once had a math teacher the same way.

    • Thank you. I lead a SketchUp workshop at the Alabama Woodworkers Guild and I’m concerned with the same thing, that what I am saying is hard to teach. If everyone had a laptop they could bring, teaching would be more effective. Is there anything I can help you with?


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