Dimensioning with SketchUp: Deck Project

In deck construction, we often are removing an old structure and replacing it with a comparable structure made from new material. Older outdoor woods are pretty much shot after 20-30 years. We usually start with an as-built drawing and estimate our materials and labor from there. Here’s a case study in deck as-built drawings using SketchUp.


This is the top view after some edits. The best way I’ve found so far to make a proper blueprint from a sketchup drawing is to export a 2d graphic and pull it into GIMP. Use the color selection tool with a low threshold value to select the background color and delete it. You can add architectural textures in SketchUp to identify different components. Here, for example, there’s a concrete pad under the deck that I differentiate in the print with diagonal hatching.

There are also options for correcting your dimensioning; you’re not stuck with the tiny font that’s the default. Open Entity Info, go to dimensioning, then there are a lot of nice options you can play with. Here’s the edited image:

Partial view at 100%:

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.42.56 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.40.47 AM

zupan dimensions pdf

You’ll notice the finished drawing is much easier to read!

Deck dimensioning zupan iso5 bump out R zupan iso 3 -- framing zupan iso2 zupan isometric zupan right

SketchUp will generate 2d exports from standard camera views that are essentially like CAD patterns on steroids. From this point, I can add photo textures of the client’s material choice, model their house and lot and drop it into place, have a very accurate material list, and dimension anything I’m missing by inferring it from its relationship to the other components. I can troubleshoot problem areas, estimate cost, and send this to everyone working on the job so they have it on their tablets to reference as work proceeds. It’s a great way to build rapport with local building inspectors too!

Hico miter saw stand end caps

I bought the HICO UWC4000 miter saw stand thinking it would be a great, cheap stand to use my Hitachi C10FS dual bevel sliding compound miter saw (oldie but goodie!) on the jobsite. It worked reasonably well, and at $70, who can complain? The nearest comparable stands are $150+.


The weak link in this stand is the way the attach the material supports–the foundation of any decent miter stand. The chose to make a load-bearing piece out of cheap nylon plastic. Mine broke within a week! Now the supports won’t sit flat. Luckily, this is an easy fix. I drafted the part in SketchUp and produced a flat pattern. I ordered some flat aluminum bar stock. I chose 6061 due to its excellent machinability, light weight, and affordable price tag. Here are specs on 6061 aluminum:

Ultimate Tensile Strength, psi 45,000
Yield Strength, psi 40,000
Brinell Hardness 95
Rockwell Hardness B60
Chemistry Aluminum (Al) 95.8 – 98.6%
Chromium (Cr) 0.04 – 0.35%
Copper (Cu) 0.15 – 0.40%
Iron (Fe) 0.70%
Magnesium (Mg) 0.8 – 1.2%
Manganese (Mn) 0.15% max
Silicon (Si) 0.4 – 0.8%
Zinc (Zn) 0.25% 

As soon as it comes in, I’ll mill the piece and post pics. If you’re having the same issue with your UWC4000, here are plans to make your own or have someone make them for you!  The part is a mirror image of itself on both sides, so the pattern works for right or left brackets.

Hico endcap pattern

Oilcloth tote bag




Oilcloth has a long and fascinating history that is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that it makes good canvas into great canvas, and makes a water resistant product from what is essentially a sponge. I bought this tote bag from Amazon.com for $41.

41xBvz078hLI then warmed 3 parts beeswax, one part boiled linseed oil, one part pine tar, and one part turpentine in a double boiler and brushed it in with a disposable brush. I used a heat gun to make sure it penetrated it the cloth thoroughly, let it dry, and scraped the excess with a razor blade. Now, it’s super durable and waterproof! The closest commercially-available product is about $120…



Curved ramp design

Framing square can be complicated enough. In this case, a client asked me to build a ramp with a modest radius to make it easier to access in their golden years. I laid it out like a parabola, first on draft paper, then creating a grid on a 2×12″ board and transferring the proportions. A thin strip of decking pin-nailed onto the face helped create a smooth, even line.

Pin nail a scrap 1" piece of decking to the board to create a smooth arc

Pin nail a scrap 1″ piece of decking to the board to create a smooth arc

Next, I cut this piece with a jigsaw and used it as a template to make a total of 6 joists. These were then clamped up with pipe clamps and planed/sanded flat and perfect. The back (deck edge) was cut flush using a circular saw after being marked up while clamped, and the blocking was added, nailed through the sides when possible and toenailed otherwise.

Block the joists and touch up the radius with a block plane

Block the joists and touch up the radius with a block plane

The final piece was mounted into place with ledger locks, stair strapping, and corner brackets for a hold that will last a lifetime!

Attached and waiting for decking!

Attached and waiting for decking!

Now if that extra decking will finally be delivered, I’ll finish up!

Business of Buildiing: Gazebo bid

I get questions sometimes about the business side of building. How do you prepare a bid? What drawings do you show a client? What does a materials list look like? Here’s an example that I produced for a client:

SketchUp rendering of a quick gazebo model

SketchUp rendering of a quick gazebo model

Costs for a project like this not including labor of about 80 hrs total:


Bill of Materials

price ea. qty total cost
4 in. x 6 in. x 8 ft. Rough Green Western Red Cedar Appearance Lumber 30.72 16 $491.52
Top Choice Standard Rough Cedar Lumber (Common: 2-in x 4-in x 10-ft; Actual: 1-11/16-in x 3-11/16-in x 10-ft) 9.92 8 $79.36
Quikrete 80# concrete mix 4.10 16 $65.60
ABA 4×6 ZMAX Galvanized Adjustable Post Base 15.74 8 $125.92
Strong-Drive 10d x 1-1/2 in. SCN Smooth-Shank Connector Nail Hot-Dip Galvanized (5 lb.) 16.81 1 $16.81
48 in. x 96 in. x 1/8 in. Acrylic Sheet 97.96 5 $489.80
1-in x 4-in x 12-ft Kiln-Dried Cedar Board 11.76 16 $188.16
1 in. x 8 in. x 10 ft. Common Board 15.98 30 $479.40
Alex Plus 10.1 oz. Clear Acrylic Latex Caulk Plus Silicone(12-Pack) 23.88 1 $23.88
8 in. x 10 ft. Galvanized Steel Drip Edge Flashing 10.52 1 $10.52
#12 1 in. External Hex Flange Hex-Head Self-Drilling Screws (100-Pack) 4.98 1 $4.98
delivery 79.00 1 $79.00

Everyday Carry: Carpenter.


left to right from top:

1. powdered drink tabs 2. contour gauge 3. folding multi-tool 4. lineman’s pliers 5. craftsman crescent wrench 6. timber framing chisel 7. lufkin 6′ folding rule 8. wire strippers 8. irwin strait-line chalk line 9. stanley fat max 40′ tape measure 10. harbor freight small toolbox 11. speed square 12. empire bevel gauge 13. stanley torpedo level 14. ACE flat & phillips screwdrivers 16. dial caliper 17. carpenter’s pencil (spare) 18. sharpie 19. stanley cat’s paw 20. magnetic carpenter’s pencil holder 21. 100′ string line 22. swanson 12″ combination square 23. stanley bevel gauge 24. dividers 25. empire 6″ combination square 26. vintage keen kutter scissors 27. electrical tape.  Not pictured: dasco scratch awl, generic 1/2″ chisel, stanley fat max razor knife.