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Making an Exploded View Using SketchUp

When I open the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine, not only do I look at the various articles and their authors, I also pay attention to the illustrations and who created them. A typical issue of FWW will utilize illustrations from a number of artists; my favorite being John Hartman. He is a true illustrator. For my woodworking plans, I simply use SketchUp and a little bit of Photoshop. I’m not an illustrator; John Hartman is. His work in Fine Woodworking is what I use as inspiration for the images you see in my plans (check out John’s website for more of his work).

As an online member at Fine Woodworking.com, I can search for just about any article from the library of past Fine Woodworking issues. When looking for inspiration for my upcoming woodworking plan, I searched for Matt Kenney’s updated Enfield cupboard (see the article here, membership required). It is somewhat similar in shape to my kitchen cupboard design, so when contemplating how to make the exploded view, I looked at the illustration in this article. John Hartman made the illustration and it is excellent (see the image at the top of this post).

Since I rely on SketchUp for all my images (I don’t do any hand drawn or digital illustration, for now), it is very difficult to replicate what Mr. Hartman and the other illustrators create. Also, because my images need to fit one page, I can’t spread them across two pages as is regularly done in a FWW article. My first attempt at an exploded view for the kitchen cupboard is below…

First attempt at a proper exploded view.

Firstly, the amount of information I add to my exploded views are miniscule compared to what you would see in a magazine. Making all the needed information fit on a single 11 x 8.5″ page is extremely difficult and since this is not a magazine plan, I can simply spread this information out over additional pages. In this image, I am combining two images from SketchUp. Note the right face frame stile is see through enabling the mortise and tenon joinery to be seen. Also, the three drawers inside the cupboard are see through so the drawer guides can be seen. I don’t like this image. I don’t like the shadows seen in this exploded view and I don’t like how the components are spread so far apart.

Since the image John Hartman created is spread across two pages, I wondered how I could do the same. I decided to show most of the kitchen cupboard in an exploded view on page 4, then show an exploded view of a door and a drawer on page 5…

New exploded view, page 4.

I like this. I adjusted the shadows to sit more underneath the SketchUp model and with fewer components to show in a single image, I could get a better angle on the model and zoom in tighter. This image is a keeper, although I am thinking about fine tuning the blue highlights showing joinery.

For page 5, I did not want an image with a lot of white space in the background, so my thinking was have the cupboard in the image and then pull a single door and drawer forward and explode the components. I did want to de-emphasize the cupboard and make the exploded parts stand out. My first attempt at this was to blur just the cupboard (in the image below, I have not yet added text and leaders).

Page 5 showing a blur technique on the cupboard.

I exported an image with just the cupboard which I added a Photoshopped blur effect and then added a layer with the door and drawer components without a blur. This is pretty cool, but I felt the cupboard is still too pronounced; but this is a technique I’d like to explore further.

For my next attempt at this image, I relied on a trick I developed many years ago in which I place a large rectangle between the cupboard and the door and drawers…

Note the rectangle.

I then created a custom material in which I took white and adjusted the opacity to 40%; I then applied this material to the rectangle. This allows the cupboard to be de-emphasized and I can adjust the opacity to suit my taste. In Photoshop, I erased unwanted lines. The result…

New page 5.

This image is a keeper. Note I have added blue highlights showing joinery in the door. I did not do this in the first version of page 5 and the blue was added in a different way than what you see on page 4. So I may go back and do page 4 over using the same technique just so they look the same.

Here is the plan as it currently exists, click the link to view…

Modern Kitchen Cupboard 0051317

I do want to add a more hand drawn look to my images. For that I’ll have to become more of a real illustrator; something I can do. Just wished I had more time to develop my Photoshop skills and even some hand drawn techniques.

CONCERNING MY WORKBENCH PROJECT – I have all the hardware purchased, but not a single stick of lumber. I’ll begin buying lumber next week and hopefully start building the workbench very soon.

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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).

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Changes for The Modern Kitchen Cupboard

I like the design I developed for my next woodworking plan (shown above). I am calling this piece of furniture the Modern Kitchen Cupboard. I like the overall shape, I like the gray paint and birdseye maple combination, the sweeping curves to the top; the modern door/drawer pulls. Pretty much all of it, except one thing.

When designing in SketchUp, I have learned the hard way to never rely just on your 3D model for a final design. Always draw it full size to confirm you like it; confirm there are no surprises (make a full size model if possible like this one). So, I bought some poster board and taped several sheets together and did just that; draw the Modern Kitchen Cupboard full size. I quickly discovered a design flaw. The cupboard is simply too short. In the image at the top of this post, I have added a scale figure which shows what I am talking about. The cupboard height is around this guy’s elbow. When I stretched out my tape measure while drawing the full size image, I thought: “Really, that is how tall this cupboard is?”

I knew instantly a significant design change was needed. But I was also disappointed because I had come to like the elbow height design. I also had to think back to the starting point of this process and wondered why I would draw the cupboard that short to begin with. I always need a starting point; some shape to work from. This is usually a 3D rectangle, then the design takes off from there. The object I used for inspiration was Chris Schwarz’ aumbry as seen in Popular Woodworking magazine. The Schwarz aumbry is a killer design and I like knowing there is a little Chris Schwarz aumbry in the Modern Kitchen Cupboard’s DNA. As luck would have it, there is a SketchUp model of this aumbry available for download (see it here). I downloaded the model and began my design process…

With the Chris Schwarz aumbry in the background, I began my design work.

But, I never really paid attention to the aumbry’s height. While creating my own design, I did raise the height on the cupboard’s top; did this to get more vertical shape to the doors, but not because I thought the design was short. And I never did anything to add some scale, even though I knew doing so was important.

While drawing the cupboard full size in my workshop, I played around with various heights and settled on 56 inches as an appropriate height allowing for some item to be displayed on the cupboard’s top (family photos, a radio or TV, dirty dishes, etc.).

New design with new drawers.

More height means more room for additional drawers. The new design shows two additional drawers and the drawer depth has increased by one inch. I played around with the idea of introducing a curve to the base of the cupboard, but I haven’t found a curve I like better than the simplistic straight look of the bottom face frame rail. Part of design is knowing when to stop.

New design, taller, additional drawers.

Front, right 3/4 view.

I still need to make some minor changes to the inside of the cabinet since it is now taller, but I think this design is about 99% final. Soon, I’ll get to work on the new woodworking plan. A plan which will be much more compact than the expansive 34 pages of my last plan.

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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).

Planning For My Moravian Workbench

After taking a short break from woodworking, mostly so I can get my yard in some sort of presentable shape (and I’m not finished with the yard, more work to do, sigh), I am starting to seriously think about my next project, a new workbench. In typical fashion, I have been on a super slow shop renovation that will mostly conclude with this new workbench. Past shop updates include a new router table and a new miter saw stand both from 2013, a removable panelled shop wall which serves as a backdrop for my woodworking photos completed in the Spring of 2014, and then the recently completed tool cabinet. Other projects have been completed (like this one and this one) as this series of shop updates have come to fruition which has impacted by shop upgrade schedule.

Finally though, this project is at hand. I say “finally” because I first announced my desire for a new bench in 2014; see the post here and the follow-up post here. In these two posts, I discuss Roubo and Nicholson bench designs. But it is the second post where I discover the Moravian workbench. I attribute Chris Schwarz with bringing this design to my attention. At his blog, he featured a Moravian workbench built by Will Myers; a design which immediately caught my attention (see the Lost Art Press blog post here). I like this design because it is historic; at six feet in length it is smallish, perfectly fitting my available workshop space. And it is also moderately easy to build, but does have through tenons and dovetail joinery in the legs; joinery I have not attempted in a long time.

My version of Myer’s Moravian design will differ in a few ways…

  • No leg vise; a metal front vise will take its place
  • No tool tray in the bench top; I will use a split top design
  • No wagon vise; I’ll use a modern Veritas inset vise
  • I’ll add storage via a modern looking cabinet

The image above shows the working design which has been in place for a number of years. But with final planning comes changes. I have begun to source the workbench accessories: the front vise, end vise and at least one hold-down. I want to do this to ensure what has been designed in SketchUp is in fact doable and proper in the real world. For example, I think I have allowed enough room for the vises and enough space between the bench top and the tool cabinet for the hold fast. To make certain these items will work as designed, I prefer to have them in hand so I can verify my design will work.

I purchased a Veritas Hold-Down at my local Woodcraft store, the first item purchased for this bench. I have also purchased the Veritas Inset Vise. I have yet to purchase the front vise due to the cost of my preferred option: a Veritas Quick-Release Front Vise. With the hold-down and inset vise purchased, I have already racked up about $200.00 in cost. The front vise has a price tag of $319.00. So, if I go with that option, the initial cost of the workbench will be more than $500.00 without me buying a single piece of lumber. When I told my wife how much the front vise costs, I got a strong comment in reply; something I won’t share here. 😮

There are less expensive options for a front vise. I have looked at the Woodcraft 10 inch Quick Release Vise (similar to this one) which is on sale for $119.00; a good option and I like the idea of supporting my local Woodcraft when I can, but I really want all my bench hardware to be Veritas.

Here is the current design...

The bench shown in red oak (base) and ash (bench top).

Top down view shows the split top.

The drawer depth will be half the cabinet depth. Back view shows six additional drawers.

The Veritas Inset Vise. Dog hole spacing is an estimate for now.

Open cabinet doors reveals extra deep storage space.

I will have to modify the design of the “gap stop” which is the item in the middle of the workbench top. The front vise will interfere with the left opening of the gap stop, so I suspect, I’ll just fill the first opening with wood.

I still don’t have the wood selection finalized. The illustrations above show an ash bench top and a base made of red oak. The cabinet will be plywood. Ash and red oak was suggested by David Traylor, owner of City Hardwoods in Birmingham. Red oak for weight and ash since it is durable and according to David, easy to work with. But, this lumber choice will likely be too expensive. The Will Myers Moravian workbench was made of what appears to be pine for the base and a second wood for the top which looks like a slab of cherry. I am thinking that the base will be pine and the top will be a wood of contrasting color. Money is an issue now since we are in the early stages of a major master bath renovation which will cost thousands of dollars. So I’m not sure how the cost of lumber will be worked out.

Also not decided is the front vise. I am still thinking about the Veritas Quick Release Front Vise, but the cost is high and the Woodcraft 10 inch front vise is on sale. We will see.

The goal this coming week will be to make the vise selection and choose the lumber species. Construction is still two weeks away since next weekend Jeff Miller will be teaching a chair making class at the Alabama Woodworker’s Guild, an all-weekend class. So a lot going on, but I am excited to say that construction on the workbench is getting close. 🙂