SketchList 3D – A Process for Woodworking Design

Woodworking Design is the beginning of anything you make

In the last several trainings that I’ve done with new users there’s a bit of a pause at the beginning of the design process. I used to think that that was just a matter of becoming familiar with the screen of SketchList 3D and its functions. My last online training caused me to think that there’s a bit more than becoming familiar involved with that initial pause.  There’s more to it than that.
I remember a comment someone wrote about SketchList 3D maybe seven or eight years ago. He said something like “At first SketchList 3D was frustrating. I thought it was hard to use. But then I realized process makes me think about how I’m going to build what I’m designing —  as I design it.” That basic idea sort of gets lost in the rush to get the design finished and at the same time evaluate SketchList 3D.  The software requires you to think about the design as you are creating.


wall unit drawing
When you design with pencil and paper there’s a connection between your eye, the pencil, and the pad of paper. Your drawing boxes without too much thought or concern over the exact size, location, relationship to other boxes in your drawing, or how you might actually put this piece of work together in your shop. The result of your line drawing, if you’re successful, is a visual representation of your idea. in the back of your mind you start to develop some strategies for how to build what you’re building – most of which is really product for result of your experience.
wall unit

With the software your design exists in the hierarchy. This means that things belong to each other in a definite top down structure. The highest level is the project, and into that project we insert assemblies. In assemblies we insert boards, doors, drawers, or hardware. Boards can also be inserted into doors, drawers, or hardware.
The first step in designing with SketchList 3D is determining what size to make the project. Project can be a house, a room, a wall, or a piece of furniture or cabinetry. When I’m working online with someone to set up a project I ask what is the size of the project. Sometimes people will answer quickly and sometimes they really need to think about how big it is.  It’s not just that this person did not go to the job site with his or her tape measure, but they start thinking about the overall size of the project.  In the project in the image above, the question was to include an indent on the left side – needed to go over a heat pipe. A question might be ”

should the project be this big on the left but on the right has to be shorter because of the soffit. So the users engaged with the process.
And then we start inserting assemblies into that project box. Again sometimes it’s really simple. An entertainment center consisting of two bookcases and a small box between them to hold the television is generally three assemblies: left, center, right. But then maybe the left and right assemblies have two different structures or sizes. There might be a top of the depth of say 12 inches. And there might be a bottom with a depth say of 24 inches. So now our project contains five assemblies: two to the left, one in the center, one to the right. This is very easy to do with pencil and paper. Your drawing five rectangles with some lines to represent the shelves. But you’re not really sizing things or planning things when you do that.
Another level of planning or consideration that goes on with SketchList 3D is the thinking behind how you’re going to use assemblies. For example with the entertainment center mentioned above maybe you insert the lower left assembly at 24 inches as a box or carcass. And you size and design that carcass as necessary – maybe 24 inches deep 36 inches tall and 48 inches wide. Now you can make a copy – clone – of that lower unit and change its depth 24 to 12 inches. Place that 12 inch assembly on top of the 24 inch assembly and you have your left side cabinet constructed. Perhaps then you merge these two assemblies together – or maybe not. In either case you can clone the left side design and move it to the right and you have four elements of the design. So in addition to creating the assembly space for planning purposes there’s a bit of a strategy going on as to how you’re going to most quickly create the design.
Now maybe this process doesn’t translate well into text description. But it is a very real example of the kind of thinking that is integral to the design process when using SketchList 3D. It seems at first to add time proposal or plan preparation. I expect it does. But I know that with experience in practice the amount of time added becomes insignificant. Besides you need to think these things through at some point in your process. It’s much better to think through the details on the computer screen then it is in your shop, or in the worst case on the job site.

The other result of the time you invest in thinking the project through at the design/planning level is that your reports are created and updated every time you enter or modify some element of your design. So in addition to thinking things through while creating your design, your shop drawing, parts/cut list, and optimize layout diagram are being created and updated in the background. Those reports and drawings will save you hours in the preparation of your proposal/plan.

The bottom line is that we need to spend more time in documentation or training talking about the strategies of how to layout a project and its various elements. Since many projects are just unique, and the way woodworkers go about creating or building projects varies from person to person, it’s difficult to create a one size fits all description of the process. Your ability to structure and plan with SketchList 3D really grows with experience. That is one reason why the online training session is important for new users. We want to get you productive as quickly as possible.

If you have questions or a design you’d like to share, please contact me.