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Larson Kitchen 1Later this fall I will be releasing an Alpha version of CabWriter. I have been working on this project with Greg Larson, owner of the New England School of Architectural Woodworking (nesaw.com). Greg, you might say, is the architect of CabWriter and I am the coder. The pictures you see here are snapshots I took of Greg’s kitchen – remodeled using CabWriter.

You may have heard bits and pieces of CabWriter if you follow me on my Popular Woodworking blog, or my personal blog or website. Today I want to formally introduce CabWriter and give you a hint of its features and show you some of the results to-date. But first there are two questions I need to answer, even before you ask them: what is an Alpha release and what is CabWriter?

What is an Alpha Release?

Larson Kitchen 1In the software world a new product is sometimes released in what is referred to as an Alpha release. The purpose is primarily to get very early feedback and suggestions. A secondary purpose is to build interest. Alpha releases are almost always free and have the following disclaimers:

  1. Functionality is incomplete or may change in future releases. That is, current functionality may be dropped or new functionality may be added in future releases. A CabWriter specific example is that it only works with inset doors in the Alpha release, but in its first product release will work with inset, overlay and frameless doors.
  2. There may be significant software bugs in an Alpha release. This is a direct tradeoff with the desire to expose a new product early. Users are asked to be patient and to take part in its improvement by reporting bugs to the developer. In the specific case of CabWriter reports should be made to me at : jpz@srww.com .
  3. The user uses an Alpha release at their own risk whether for personal use or commercial use. The very nature of an Alpha release is “use at your own risk”.
  4. Using an Alpha release is not a license to use the product release. You will need to acquire a license after product release.

Larson Kitchen 3So much for disclaimers, here is why I am releasing an Alpha version. I will be looking for help from users who want to design and build kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, and office or library furniture. I want feedback in the form of constructive criticism, bug reports, feature suggestions and training needs. In return, for those who actively participate, you get the first CabWriter product license for free. If you are interested you can contact me via email and ask to be an Alpha user. You don’t have to participate to be an Alpha user, but only active participants will get a free license. I will, of course, be the judge of who has actively participated.

What is CabWriter?

Larson Kitchen Modeled in SketchUpCabWriter is a SketchUp Ruby script extension (formerly called plug-in). As its name implies CabWriter permits automatic and efficient custom cabinet 3D modeling, shop drawing documentation, cut list generation and DXF output that permits CNC milling. CabWriter is tightly connected to CutList Bridge and hence CutList Plus fx for material optimization. CabWriter takes advantage of the powerful Ruby API supported by Trimble SketchUp; its functional code is written in Ruby while the Graphical User Interface in JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

Shop Drawing in LayOut 1There will likely be two or three version with a target range from the hobbyist/weekend warrior to the professional cabinet shop. CabWriter comes with CutList Bridge. So far we have designed, built and installed four custom kitchens and are currently working on the fifth and sixth.

Shop Drawing in LayOut 2The goal of CabWriter is to be able to meet with a client at their residence and within a few hours walk away with a complete 3D design the client can sign off on, including plan and elevation views, cut list and materials list, cost estimate and even DXF output for CNC milling. In the real world of course clients will always want to make changes the next day and for a few weeks later. However, CabWriter makes it possible to complete this entire goal in just a few hours sans further changes. In the next two months we expect to demonstrate this goal including the installation. We will document the entire project from design, through CNC milling to completed installation in a video.

Shop Drawing in LayOut 3Before I show you some of the design output of CabWriter let me list some of its important features:

  1. The entire design file stays with the SketchUp model. While you may export files for Excel, OpenOffice or CutList Plus fx, there is no need to save or archive these files. They can always be reproduced with the SketchUp model file and SketchUp with extensions CabWriter and CutList Bridge.
  2. CabWriter has a large set of defaults all of which can be changed by the user. This makes tailoring CabWriter to a given build methodology relatively easy as well as assigning default material types and names.
  3. CabWriter automatically draws cabinet with any number of boxes, creates and assigns component names, part names and material types and material names. Any attribute that can be specified using CutList Bridge can automatically be assigned using CabWriter.Shop Drawing in LayOut 4
  4. CabWriter permits changing of numerous cabinet and box defaults on a per cabinet and per box basis such as number of doors and drawers.
  5. Cabinets can be edited after they are drawn to change things such as width, height, depth, material, number of doors, drawers etc.
  6. CabWriter Version 1.0 will handle face frame cabinets with inset or overlay doors, or frame-less cabinets.
  7. CabWriter automatically stores CutList Bridge attributes in each component so there is little or no manual entry required.
  8. CabWriter makes plan and elevation views a snap and automatically includes the hatching for material keys.Sheet Optimization in Vectric Aspire
  9. CabWriter is completely functional in the Make version of SketchUp for hobbyists and weekend warriors who wish to design and build their own cabinet. For professionals CabWriter makes integration with LayOut a snap.
  10. CutList Bridge comes with CabWriter and permits near instant cut list generation. Its bridging capability to CutList Plus fx saves material cost with material layout optimization.
  11. CabWriter provides CutList Bridge with the information to automatically create all the DXF files necessary to mill sheet goods on a CNC machine. These DXF file can, for example, can be imported to Vectric Aspire or Vectric Cut2D which will do sheet optimization and output the necessary G code for CNC milling. The DXF files produced by CutList Bridge fx permits use of numerous applications as alternatives to Vectric Aspire (Aspire is the application we are currently using).

Single Sheet Enlargement in Vectric AspireGreg’s kitchen, shown in the previous pictures, and above as a 3D rendering, was drawn entirely in SketchUp using CabWriter. The following images are CabWriter views sent to LayOut. You can see that the drawing set is quite professional and complete. The last two images are the Aspire optimized sheet layout and an enlargement of one sheet. Shortly I will be releasing a training video documenting a complete design. I will announce it and the Alpha release in a newsletter and in my blogs. So stay tuned.

CabWriter to CNC

I would like to end this post with a short video of a CabWriter designed cabinet set cut on a ShopBot CNC machine. CutList Bridge, which is part of CabWriter, produces all the DXF files which are then imported into Vectric’s Aspire or Cut2D which in turn optimizes the sheet layouts and produces the G code necessary to drive the CNC. This video was shot on October 22, 2015 and is the first CabWriter designed cabinet set cut on a CNC machine. Much thanks to Mason Papaport of Rapaport Design (http://rapaportdesigns.com/) for the use of his Shop Bot CNC. Now pop the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy this special feature film.


Greg, on left, and students on installation day.Each year the New England School of Architectural Woodworking (NESAW at www.nesaw.com) runs a five month cabinetmaking course. The purpose of the course is to prepare students for a rewarding career in the field of cabinetmaking. Over 90% of NESAW’s job-seeking graduates find employment at architectural woodworking shops across the United States.

The industry is in dire need of skilled craftspeople, due to the record number of retiring workers and the declining number of vocational programs aimed at cabinetmakers.

NESAW LogoSign up now. Classes begin January 5th and enrollment ends on January 10th. Visit the New England School of Architectural Woodworking for details.

 

NESAW’s program teaches the fundamentals of architectural woodworking and offers students the opportunity to work directly with members of the community to design, build, and install projects. This combination of skills-building and real-world experience makes NESAW’s graduates particularly attractive to employers, since it means a safer employee, less on-the-job training and a better understanding of the entire project lifecycle.

Greg installing a sink.Students who enter the program to improve their woodworking skills or start their own businesses also gain from this approach, as they better understand how to more efficiently design and build a quality product.

The New England School of Architectural Woodworking is owned and operated by Greg and Margaret Larson. I first met Greg in the fall of 2011 through introductions made by a former student of Greg’s and mine. I wrote about NESAW in my December 21st 2011, March 29th and June 11th 2012 Chiefwoodworker’s Newsletters.

Margaret serving cake at graduation celebration.That year I taught a SketchUp class for NESAW students. During this period Greg and I spoke at length about what students were learning and the time consuming aspects of custom cabinetmaking. Out of those discussions came CutList Bridge and later CabWriter. Greg and I have worked closely together ever since our first meeting and I have spent numerous hours at the NESAW shop with his students. Each year I teach a live SketchUp course to the students. I t is with this intimate knowledge that I highly recommend visiting the NESAW website if you are interested in a career in cabinetmaking. You will find no better program or more caring people than NESAW, Greg and Margaret.


CutList Plus fx Preferences/File LocationsIf you use CutList Bridge to export a cut list to import into CutList Plus fx, you need to be sure CutList Plus fx is setup to be compatible with CutList Bridge. This is especially true if you use a non-dollar currency such as the euro. Here is what you need to check.

  1. Open CutList Plus fx.
  2. Choose menu Settings/General Preferences…
  3. Choose the File Locations tab.
  4. Under Export: check “Use Unicode file format when exporting.
  5. Click on the OK button.

If you exported materials.csv files from CutList Plus fx to CutList Bridge prior to performing this procedure you will have to repeat that export/import after this. Consult the CutList Bridge User’s Guide and go to the section called “To Create a List From CutList Plus fx:” for instructions.


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