Workshop drawing tools: SketchUp

3rd Nov 2013
Tags: costs,  design

When thinking about how to design my workshop I did a cursory search into DIY design software and found most  looked at were either expensive or rather clunky. Then I had a thought – surely this is something that Google will have sorted out by now? And it turns out that they’d had a hand in doing just that – enter stage right, Sketchup.

Sketchup was acquired by Google in 2006 when they were still a small startup without many customers but an excellent product. Google immediately made a version of the software available for free (for non-commercial use), and over the following 6 years established a user base of ~100M. They finally sold it to Trimble last year.

As part of the deal, Google and Trimble went on to jointly develop an online repository of free to download sketchup models – where you will can find some extraordinary things – and also agreed that the software would remain free for non-commercial use (although see important limitation below).

What is it? It is a general purpose tool for creating 3D drawings. Why is it cool? Because it is brilliantly simple: the drawing package consists of few familiar tools: pencil, protractor, tape measure and crayons. And, because the tools are already familiar, the software is very straightforward to learn.

It also has two very neat tricks up its sleeve :

  • it is possible to draw a shape in 2D and then ‘pull’ the surface of the shape to create a 3D object
  • once you have built your 3D objects you can ‘slice’ through them to create sections. These sections can then be ‘flattened’ in order to create the plan and section views that you need for your shed drawings (you can save the various views as part of the model).

This is important because there is a companion program called layout (also deceptively simple with an even smaller set of tools: pencil and tape measure)  that allows you to add dimensions to the drawings.

This is where the licensing limitations occur.  The layout tool costs several hundred pounds to buy, unless you are lucky enough to be a student, in which case it can be had for about 40 quid. Luckily for me, my other half is in the Open University and was prepared to feign a temporary interest in sheds for long enough to buy me a copy.


The software really is good, but it is a bit hard to explain, and I am glossing over much of the really clever stuff. I have created a video to try and show the model I made a bit more clearly – it is not a ‘howto’ but you can see how the model is built up in layers.

Making this video involved two firsts for me:

  1. Youtubing
  2. video editing

I do not think a career in hollywood beckons.

This exercise also involved an entertaining skirmish into the world of royalty free music, courtesy of the rather excellent

I think I may have too much time on my hands.




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