Wood design software meshes the 5 steps in woodworking

Wood Design Software – More than Reports

For some people, the advantage of using the SketchList 3D carpentry software is the ability to see the design in three dimensions and generate cultists or part lists when finished. For others, it’s the ability to have high-quality 3D renderings to replace their lower quality, time-consuming pencil and paper sketching efforts.  However, as we continue our Tuesday at Wednesday evening classes about using the woodworking software, I am starting to see there’s a definite advantage in the process itself. Perhaps this is what some users mean by “like the process”  with our woodwork software.

Image of computer used for woodworking design

To understand the differences in the flow between the real-world design and building the shop approach and that of the virtual approach, I think you have to go back to the basic cycle of steps in the real world way. I’ve researched how different authors and woodworking teachers describe the process of making something in wood. I like the article Basics of Woodworking: A Step by Step Process by the Tool Guy.  He lays out the steps to building in wood.


                    1. Planning
                    2. Gathering materials.
                    3. Measuring and cutting
                    4. Fitting
                    5. Gluing and nailing


Now it might seem like a relatively simplistic view of the process, especially for experienced woodworkers. But if you want to understand something,  break it down to its simplest steps.

Physical approach

We look at the – let’s call it – the physical way of doing this with the wood guys five steps. You see that it’s very sequential.  one step follows the other you couldn’t fit the parts before you cut them, and you can’t cut them before you gather the materials .  and you can but probably shouldn’t gather materials before you finish your plan. The other thing you might notice about these five steps is that the steps tend to be, let’s say, done in batches. Pretty much, it doesn’t make sense to do a dry fit of the parts until you’ve gotten some minimal number of pieces set aside that you can indeed fit together.

The other thing is in the physical world; you’re depending on the physical structure of what you’re making to be developed before you can finish the drift. For example, it’s hard to put the tabletop in place until the legs and the skirt or framing or whatever you call it is there to hold the legs together.


The problem with the physical approach, and of course we’ve all learned to live with it over the past, is that it is not really sequential.  It does not go from step one to step two and so on. When you are at Step 4, for example, fitting, you may need to go to step one planning.  Indeed, depending on how much cutting you’ve already done, that can become a real costly problem. Not to mention a waste of time.

The other difficulty introduced is a physical separation between steps one and two, planning and material gathering, and the rest. Steps four and five cutting fitting and gluing happened in the shop. So you are back and forth between the shop, and you’re planning station to finish the job. Sometimes more back and forth and you like.

Virtual approach

In contrast, the virtual planning approach offered by woodwork design software has those same steps, but the line between them is not at all hard

Think of it. You get as many do-overs as necessary. Rather than do-overs, which imply you’ve made a mistake, let’s call them revisions. That sounds better.  And beyond revisions, you have as many opportunities to explore alternatives as you want. Usually, after your design is complete, making modifications, such as changing sizes or adding or deleting drawers, takes seconds or minutes.

The virtual approach’s final advantage in wood design software is that these revisions instantly update all reports without any work on your part. Now that’s not true for all would planning software.  We know of products out there that require you to generate the report after doing this design. Changes to the design need retrofitting into the reports.    If you want more information on the usefulness of cut lists see this.

Let’s follow the  Air Tool Guys 5 steps and apply them to a design of a workbench using SketchList 3D wood design software. Furthermore, for those keen on exploring miter saw bench design as an alternative option click here.

Let’s explore an example

The very rough plan is this.  We want to design a bench to build for our shop.  It’ll be made of 2 by 4s, maybe 4 by 4s, and 4 by 8 sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood.  There will be a shelf and a benchtop.  The length of the bench will be 96 inches more or less, the height will be 36 inches, and the depth will be something in the area of 24 inches.  Use a depth that lets you cut two pieces of shelving from one sheet of plywood.

So we have step one planning and step two gathering materials out of the way.  When we go to the physical shop.  Sure we have to make a stop at the physical lumberyard and buy the materials.  But enough of that for now.

With SketchList 3D let’s define a project that is 120 inches wide by 72 inches deep by 48 inches tall. That is roughly the area  where we want to put the table

“Cutting” parts

Next, it’s time to start “cutting parts” from the 4 by 4.  The first part to cut is a table leg which will be 35 inches tall.  Then we put that table leg to the front left 2 inches in from the left and the front of the assembly.  Now I’ll accuse the clone and space function of the SkechList 3D wood design software of making 7 copies of the leg. There will be three across the front for a total of four.  And there will be 4 legs across the back.

Select the 2 by 4s and start to cut parts from them.  At first cut the parts at some arbitrary length, say one foot.  Then  “dry fit” that first frame member 6 inches off the floor and to the left of the first leg I inserted.

Next,  take the right edge of that frame board and drag it to the table leg toward the right.  Then we clone that frame two more times, fitting the clone boards between the other legs.  In another minute or two, we take each of those six frame boards clone and space them, so they’re at the back of the table. Now work on the frames that connect the legs front to back. Then follow the same process “cutting another frame board”.  Use an arbitrary size of 12 inches, “dry fitting” it to the back of the front left leg.  Then dragging the frame to connect to the back leg.  Using the old clone and space trick you can “cut” three more of those short frames and space them between the other three pairs of table legs.

In a few minutes, you can take all of those frames, clone them, and space them so that their tops or at the top of the table legs.

Next, “cut” the surface of the shelving and the tabletop starting with the plywood on the lower shelf left side.  Set the sizes of this part in one or two clicks and keystrokes.

Then clone two copies of the shelf plywood and “dry fit” them as needed on top of the framing. Now repeat with the plywood the process of cloning the left shelf material and moving it upward to rest on top of the upper frame. The second clone copies toward the right, essentially finishing the design.  This example didn’t deal with joinery or cutting out the notches around the table legs. But these take several minutes of work in the wood design software package.


You can adjust and modify all you want because you see the 3D rendering of your idea. Once satisfied, generate the reports, especially the purchase report, drive off to the lumberyard to get my physical material. Go back to the shop where the fun continues.

To summarize, the virtual approach with wood design software offers several advantages beyond simply having excellent drawings and an accurate cut list. Other advantages of using wood design software lie in the process. It’s a dynamic and interactive activity where you can easily explore all the details involved in your project. Mistakes are virtually free. There is zero chance of cutting off a thumb. And you don’t have to worry about sawdust. There might be one disadvantage now that I mentioned sawdust – the virtual approach doesn’t have that pleasant fresh wood aroma. But who knows, we might add that in someday.

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