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  • Greg Redden

HOW TO: Design a teardrop using SketchUp

Editors Note: This article was first published in the May/June 2015 issue of Cool Tears. It received great feed back as many readers chose to utilize the steps shown to design their own trailer. If you have used SketchUp be sure to email with your plans and finished product for us to share in a coming issue!

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“Measure twice cut once” – still good advice for anyone undertaking a camper build. However, with the availability of 3D modelling free-ware, like SKETCHUP, you can plan your next design move, change your mind, and start over without ruining a piece of expensive construction material.

Certainly, there are some basic skills that make using 3D modelling software more enjoyable, and feel less like you are in a fight between the design vision in your head and the image on the screen in front of you. Your skills will build with time and practice, and will develop into a more fluid and intuitive design process that will actually unlock design possibilities that you would not have imagined otherwise. Consider the time required in trying to fix a design error, or design change, or the cost of possibly making an irreversible error, as you are physically constructing your camper. That time might have been better spent learning from a free on-line 3D modelling tutorial and virtually building your camper.

​​SKETCHUP MAKE is the free-ware version of SKETCHUP PRO and is perfectly suitable for personal use as a design tool for any building project. You can approach your project as you would an actual build with actual materials. For instance, if you are using 4x8 sheets of plywood as the camper body, draw the 4x8 sheet of plywood as you first design move – it’s a rectangle, an easy 2D drawing. The difference between 2D and 3D is simply the thickness of that rectangle, the third dimension. SKETCHUP works best as an extrusion of shapes to create a model. Draw any shape you want with the available tools, as a 2D surface, and use the PUSH/PULL tool to extrude that shape into the piece of the design you need. If that piece of virtual plywood is to be used as the side of your camper, then use the rotate tool to flip it 90 degrees and orient it vertically. Once you have multiple parts modelled you will have to start using the ORBIT tool to change the vantage point of your view of the model – like in real life, the pieces get in the way and you need to walk around and poke your head in to take a closer look. Always be sure to make the individual pieces of the model a GROUP, or COMPONENT, that keeps the individual surfaces of the pieces as one entity that can easily be isolated and manipulated as the design progresses.

Referring to the 4x8 plywood that was drawn first, assuming that it will be cut into as the side profile for your camper, layout the shape using the various drawing tools, arcs, lines, circles, polygons, and discover the camper profile that you think looks best. Like a pencil line on the actual plywood, “cut-out” the shape by extruding the waste pieces so they have a zero thickness and they will disappear. If there are multiple similar pieces of the design, copy the one you have drawn multiple times and drag them into the correct position. As you start to accumulate various pieces, and the model starts to take shape, try exploring SKETCHUP’s, 3D WAREHOUSE. The WAHRHOUSE is an open source library that might already have some of the components that you want in your mode, like a utility trailer, for example. When considering the materials and finishes for your camper design, use the MARTIALS WINDOW to apply the various materials, textures and colours to your model. As you become more comfortable with your modelling skills, explore the SCENES WINDOW and learn how to make an animated video of your final design.

Now you are ready to go to your local building materials supplier and buy your materials. As the piles of sawdust accumulate on the floor, or driveway, you can refer to, or modify, your computer model for dimensions and anticipate your next moves.

Greg built this design and has a fantastic Instagram feed which you can see here

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