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Designing Furniture in SketchUp #2

Every now and then, I get an email asking for a SketchUp model to be made to match a photo or a change to one of my woodworking plans. I’ve received two such requests recently. Because these projects can be very, very time intensive, I now only do this on a commission basis, meaning I get paid for the work.

Some of these design projects can be challenging. I’m not only replicating a photo, more importantly I’m determining the best construction methods. Take the dining table shown above. I got an email and a photo which asked for a SketchUp model. I stated my rate which was agreed to and the work began. The photo showed a table which was slightly larger than what the client wanted for his own home. So, the first challenge was presented: how to scale down the table without losing the original look. I think the end result was successful, especially the view of the side. The view from the end, is a little suspect because the side to side measurement is 36 inches. Take 36 inches and subtract for the leg structure and the seating space is impacted, but I think the design still works. And this is what the client wanted. From the very beginning, a lot of thought went into seating space and leg clearance. And a challenging task since an inch here or there can have a significant impact on the overall look and balance of the table.

The Legs

The client and I went through three versions of the leg design. The first attempt at the splay of the legs was at 35 degrees which I thought was close to the original photo. But the client wanted to see a 30 degree splay and ultimately 25 degrees which is what ultimately pleased him. When designing in SketchUp, the “Parallel Projection” camera view is very useful (Camera>Parallel Projection). This type of view is used in the images below.

Legs at a 35 degree splay.

Splay reduced to 30 degrees.

The final design with a 25 degree splay.

Because the legs splay, odd dimensions are created. For example, the length of the 25 degree leg with the angled ends is ~35 43/64″ from point to point. Note the “~” at the beginning of the dimension; in SketchUp, this means “about” 35 43/64. The actual dimension is more precise than a 64th of an inch. If I were to look at a woodworking plan with such detailed dimensions, I would consider the design unreasonable. Part of designing this leg is coming up with a way to reasonably draw the joinery. The leg contains a through mortise which has odd dimensions and there is a notch in the top which when centered on the end of the leg also has odd dimensions. I basically had to move the location of this joinery around until I got at least one dimension to a 16th of an inch.

Then, moving the joinery around meant that I had to consider dimensions of other parts of the table structure…

Note the table top undercarriage and the base structure.

I had to find reasonable dimensions for the framework which forms the table top undercarriage. And the combined end stretchers and center stretcher as well. When, for example, I moved the through mortise in the leg, that impacted the length of the center stretcher which became one of the dreaded odd dimensions. The same was true with the undercarriage. A lot of brain power went into the actual location of the legs and the joinery for the legs so I could call this a reasonable project.

One other thing: the legs in the first example are wider than the final design. The original legs looked too wide. Each time I took some width out of the legs, I had to again deal with odd dimension.

The Center Support Joinery

Take a look at the center, vertical support for the table. It (and the legs) has wedged through mortises. In the case of the joint between the center support and the long, left to right center stretcher, I spent considerable time trying to figure out what I was looking at in the original photo. I had never seen such a joint before. This is basically a knock-down table and this joint is extremely complex.

The center structure; original design.

In the image above, note how there is a left and right horizontal stretcher which is bisected by a vertical support. There is a through tenon in the middle of this joint with a wedge on each side (wedge not yet drawn in this image). As I studied this joint, I realized that it and the whole center structure is like something you would find in a timber framed house. This lead to a little research on various kinds of timber framing. I realized that all three pieces; the left and right horizontal stretchers as well as the vertical center support interacted with each other and the through tenon and wedges were what kept the joint strong. After thinking about this joint for a day or two, I recommended a change to the client.

The newly configured center structure.

I thinking was if this joint was anything less than perfect, the base of the table could sag. And everything depended on the through tenon being tight within the joint and the wedges being tight against the tenon and anything it touched. The second design above, shows a single horizontal stretcher with a center support which rests on the stretcher and a interlocking tenon with the separate arched piece. Still a complex joint, but one which is not so dependant on perfect joinery.

The Table Top

The photo which the client provided showed a table top which was basically constructed like a door. It was frame and panel with a middle horizontal rail. I could see nothing in the design of the top which allowed for seasonal expansion or contraction of the panels. The panels were a glue-up of eight or so boards. In most parts of the USA, wood will expand and contract and in some cases significantly so.

Nice, beefy breadboard ends.

I told the client I would design a table top which allowed for wood movement. I provided two options, one of which was pretty complex and a lot of work. It involved dominos and yes, I drew the dominos in place. The other design is what you see here, a simple breadboard end construction but I did make the breadboard end a little larger than usual. The tongue for the breadboard is 1-1/8″ which I think is considerable in size, but I did think about extending the tongue outward more.

The table top is attached to the the undercarriage by way of connector bolts and anchor nuts. I have drawn these items before so that was not too hard to use in this model, but the point here is that all the screws and bolts needed are included in the SketchUp model.

The Woodworking Plan

When designing for someone else, I have to consider the skill level of the client. In this case, the client is very knowledgeable woodworker. But still, I felt the need to provide at least a little documentation in which he could better see my thought process for building the table. The client asked only for a cut list which is no big deal, but I also provided a three page material cutting diagram and then the steps for construction. In all, the plan ended up being 22 pages in length which includes a cover page.

Cover Page

Page 3 showing the main construction methods.

Page 21, adding the top via connector bolts and anchor nuts.

In the end, everything went well, the client was pleased with my work (he thought all of it was awesome 😎). I made a little money, gained more design experience and made a new woodworking friend as well.

Last night, I completed the other paid project which was for a woodworking teacher who wanted to use one of my plans in his next woodworking class.

My next SketchUp project will be a new woodworking plan for my old tool cabinet.

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A Note About “Cheesy Ads”

I got a negative comment this morning about the ads which appear on my website. I’ll be the first to say that yes the ads are cheesy and in fact are almost intolerable for me.

Plus, I have recently seen ads appear in new places. Those of you who subscribe by email now see advertising in these emails and if you view a post on a cell phone, you will see an ad appear at the top of your browser.

But, right now I am keeping them in place because I am spending at least $100 a year to operate this blog and the software I use for illustration and plans cost an additional $400+ per year and I would like to upgrade the software I use (which will just cost more).

The good news is I am beginning to receive income from selling woodworking plans and I just finished one custom/one-off woodworking plan for a reader and I have another one right behind it. Both of these are projects which I am getting paid to complete.

As soon as I can consistently cover these costs, the first thing I’ll do is remove the ads from my blog. Or if WordPress keeps putting them in additional places I’ll turn them off.

So, I ask for patience and understanding because I am way upside down on the cost of these things, but I am seeing income from other sources.

Quick Project – The Tool Wall

A note from Jeff: See a special message at the end of this post.

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THIS TOOL WALL is proof that I can complete a woodworking project quickly – most of my projects drag on for months and months and months. Call it a Festivus miracle; I completed the tool wall in just three weeks.

I wrote in my last blog post about the Brobdingnagian mess which resulted from emptying out my old tool cabinet. Then I was super blessed to receive a large number of new Woodpeckers tools which needed a home in my workshop. And, while building my new workbench, I acquired several new F-clamps. The F-clamps are what got me thinking about a clamp wall, but all of the above culminated in a need for better storage and organization.

Note the 2 x 4’s highlighted in yellow.

This is basically a sheet and a half of 3/4″ plywood screwed to three 8′ 2 x 4s. I considered anchoring the plywood directly to the concrete block wall, but that seemed to be a lot of trouble. In the end, I decided to attach the 2 x 4’s to the floor joists above using strapping called hurricane ties…

An illustration of the hurricane ties in use.

This method of attachment is simple and very quick. And the wall is easily removable. In fact all of the workshop upgrades (like this and this) I have made are removable.

I used a French cleat and 2 x 4 blocks of wood to hold my clamps in place. Being able to screw these things to my plywood wall means I can change the layout over time, add or delete things and basically do whatever I want. I got the French cleat idea from this article at Fine Woodworking.com.

Blocks used to hang clamps.

Blocks in blue, French cleat in orange and green.

For the long French cleat at the top, I did screw the top cleat in place – I did not like the idea of all the weight from the long pipe clamps just hanging on a French cleat.

Tool wall prior to paint.

And looking all spiffy with some grey paint.

Just a few of the Woodpeckers tools I now have.

So, a quick project completed. I now have improved storage and organization and a better shop environment to work in.

Help a Fellow Woodworker

Think of this: you are a woodworker and tool-maker who makes your living via your home workshop. And a wildfire breaks out and destroys everything you own; your workshop and business, your home, clothes; all your possessions. This is what has happened to Rob Hanson of Evenfall Studios. You can read more about Rob’s situation and donate here. I donated and hope you will donate as well.

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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).