In this Instructable, I’ll show you how I use SketchUp to design and build furniture out of melamine.
I recently moved to a new house where I needed to build some custom furniture to fit the space so I resorted to using melamine as a really cheap material. To make sure that I get all of the dimensions right I made a model of it in SketchUp for the first time and found out that the software is not difficult to use at all. Inspired from that success, I’ve decided to make this Instructable where I’ll guide you how you can do the same.
As an example we will draw a side table piece that I’m planning to build for my son to go next to his desk.
Step 1: Select Your Template
To start, it is crucial that you select the right template when starting SketchUp. Since I’m based in Europe I’m using the woodworking template with dimensions in millimeters but you can adjust accordingly.
Step 2: Know Your Material
Before we start drawing, one important measure that we need to know is the material thickness that we gonna use. In my case, since I’ll be using melamine, the material thickness is 16 mm. You would want to keep this dimension uniform though the design so at the end, all panels and sides of the furniture piece will come out straight.
Step 3: Drawing Rectangles
At the base of every operation, the drawing starts with a rectangle. To help me with the placement, I’ve put a marker on the red axis at the final width of the side table. Once I took my model to the right orientation, I can start drawing a rectangle by clicking on the rectangle tool from the side menu or by pressing R on the keyboard. To start drawing you press once with the mouse at the desired start position and then start moving the cursor away in the direction where you want to draw the rectangle.
To size it precisely, drawing just with the mouse is usually very difficult. Instead, once you start moving, you’ll notice in the right bottom corner there is a text field where you get the current dimensions. Without clicking anywhere, just start typing, making sure to keep the order of the sides as given initially by SketchUp.
Step 4: Make Panels
This initial rectangle is just 2 dimensional now, so to convert it to a 3D panel, we use the Push/Pull tool. Click on the face of the rectangle, and start dragging to the direction that you want the panel to go. Again as with the rectangle, if you type the actual depth, the panel will be created with perfect dimensions.
In this state, each of the faces and edges of the panel can be selected and edited separately so to make it as a group we click on the object 3 times so it can be selected entirely. By right clicking with the mouse, we get the helper menu where we can then choose to make the object a component.
Step 5: Using Components
Components are a special objects within SketchUp where if you choose to make copies of it and change one component to be a different length for example, all of the component copies will be updated as well.
To make a copy of the side we just created, we can select the Move tool in Copy mode and select the right bottom corner as our origin point. By moving with the mouse we can then snap to the marker that we set at the beginning at the final width of the side table.
Step 6: Finish Your Furniture Piece
The bottom panel can be easily drawn again with a rectangle that we gonna place in between the two side panels. Since we don’t know the width of it yet, we can move the mouse to the second panel and in the dimensions box in the bottom right corner we gonna get the exact width. Use this and your material thickness to again size the panel precisely by typing the dimensions.
The push tool will then allow us to set the depth, but this time since we already have a reference point how deep it should be, we can just snap it to the back edge of the side components. To make it a single piece, we right click and select to make it a group. Similar to components, groups are objects that you can create but they don’t auto update all of the copies.
At the front of the side table there will be a stretcher that we can easily draw by drawing a rectangle on one of the sides. This rectangle will then be pulled to the entire width in between the two side panels.
Keep in mind to always make your panel pieces into groups as if you don’t do that, crossing lines will be treated as different surfaces. If you try to use the push/pull tool on those you can get weird results.
Step 7: Add Doors
The doors are drawn in a similar fashion, where I first draw one of them to the half way of the element and pull it to the right thickness. Then using the push tool, I reduce 2mm from the edge to give enough clearance for them to be able to open and close properly. In my case, the final width of the door will be 298 mm. Then, I copy this to create the other one using the top right corner as the origin. This origin can then be aligned with the top right corner of the body of the element so they are properly spaced in the front.
Step 8: Add Top and Back
The top is drawn using the same technique but we now choose to extend it over the doors as well. Since this surface will be visible in this side table I don’t want to have the doors visible from the top. If this was a hanged cabinet, then this piece could have been made same as the bottom.
As a backer board, I’ll use 3 mm fiberboard and to also hide it from view from top, I’ll extend the top to cover it with the push/pull tool.
Step 9: Add Shelves
The final piece will be to add one horizontal divider so we can get more usable space inside. To do that, we first need to hide the doors from display by selecting them and selecting hide from the helper menu on the right click with the mouse.
The shelf is started at the midpoint of the side panel where we can draw a rectangle to the back edge and pull it all the way to the right side. To prevent any issues with the doors closing, we need to push the front edge, 2 cm inward so there is some clearance.
Step 10: Start Building!
That concludes our model so we can now easily get all of the dimensions and assembly instructions for our piece. I usually use a plugin called CutList that will then export me all the individual pieces so I can order them and have them pre-cut. I have covered the assembly process in a different video so go and check it out.