I’ll admit that I tend to woodwork by the seat of my pants to a certain extent, I may draw templates, I may work out what pieces I need, but I’m open to making modifications along the way so that everything fits together as it should. No set of plans ever goes together exactly as the creator intended. Woodworking is organic that way. However, there are a lot of people who are designing projects in Google’s Sketchup and while I’ve spent a while playing with it, I find that it really doesn’t do a good job translating bits and bytes into useful and usable information for the shop.
I ran into this problem recently when I was sent a sketchup file for a very intricate jig that I wanted to build, made of 40-50 parts, all with very exacting specifications. It really isn’t worth much just as a picture, even in an exploded view, even one that has all the dimensions listed. What would be perfect is if you could just take a 3D Sketchup image and have it automatically translate it into a printable 2D template that you can print, stick to wood and cut out. So far as I can find out though, it cannot do that, at least not natively, and I don’t know that anyone has made an extension that does it either.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted Sketchup to do is be more like Pepakura. Pepakura is a papercraft design program, much unlike Sketchup, but it is designed for printing the 3D model on paper or cardstock so that the in-computer model can be easily reproduced in the real world. It doesn’t require jumping through hoops, as pretty much everything in Sketchup does, you just size your project and hit print. Out come a bunch of papers with alignment marks so you can tape them all back together, then separate the individual pieces and reconstruct the original model.
So why doesn’t Sketchup do this? It seems like a no-brainer, but what do I know? Oh sure, I could manually disassemble the 3D model, convert it all to 2D and place the pieces for template printing, but isn’t the job of the software to make my job easier, not harder? It can’t be that hard to lay out all of the pieces, which are all built individually anyhow, on a flat plane for template printing. Put in dashed lines for things that aren’t visible from the top side. Heck, give the option to print six views of every piece, one from every side. It can’t be that difficult, can it?
So now I have to decide how I’m going to handle this project. Do I spend a while laying out the pieces individually in Layout so I get my template, probably fuming the whole while because I shouldn’t have to do it? Or do I go old-school and take each individual part on-screen and use the measurements to build each part? Isn’t technological advancement supposed to make life easier? Or is there something in Sketchup that I’m missing? Anyone with the answers, please let me know.