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.

Leave a Reply

3 Responses to “CabWriter: A SketchUp Extension for Custom Cabinet Design”


  1. William Babb says:

    The only way that video could be more impressive is by showing the parts going together as designed. I would guess the actual running time was at least an hour maybe even two hours. The design work leading up to the processing would also be interesting. Good show, troops!


  2. Keith Feldhaus says:

    Is your cabwriter ruby available? I purchased all of your other sketchup classes and would like to further my skills. I am super interested in this, not just as for my own personal use or hobby, but also because I have moved in the direction and taken steps to start up my own cabinet shop. Something I have been dreaming of for some time now…


  3. Joe says:

    Hi Keith,

    Yes, it is available in a Beta release. You have to go to http://www.cabwritersoftware.com and sign up to be a beta user. I sent you a link this morning.

    Joe…