The Paulk Workbench: a SketchUp story
Thanks for joining us Ron, we’ve been fans of your work for some time.
Thank you, I certainly have been a fan of SketchUp for a long time. It’s the heart and soul of everything I do.
That’s great to hear, how did that come about?
I’ve been a licensed contractor since 1990, and a carpenter before that. Early on I was building homes based on someone else's plans, but I kept getting more requests for changes and details. That led me to remodels and eventually to designing and building everything, from lot to finished house. I was designing work and drawing plans in other software when a friend introduced me to SketchUp. This was in the early days, version 2, I think, and I just loved the way it worked. Later I attended the very first Basecamp, where the prototype of LayOut was introduced; it was code named “Grizzly” I think. I’ve been using SketchUp and LayOut ever since.
So you design all your houses in SketchUp?
I did, but now I’ve shifted to focus on just remodels. I can go take some dimensions and pictures, draw up all the changes in SketchUp, throw it into LayOut to export some PDFs, and it works great for my clients. Having a variety of styles is really important, I start with more sketchy styles early in the project and use cleaner styles as the design evolves so the client feels comfortable with the progression. Doing these remodels, I use 3D Warehouse all the time, finding cabinets, sinks, appliances, you name it. It’s tremendously powerful.
Sounds like you had a pretty solid future in home building, how did the famous Paulk Workbench come about then?
“Famous” huh? Hahaha. Well, it was sort of by accident. I had built version 1 just as a mobile workbench to help me in the field with the remodel work. I didn’t think about sharing it with other carpenters. On one job, I was doing some very high end trim carpentry for a client, and despite the expensive hardwood and precision I was incorporating into her house, she was most fascinated by my plywood workbench. I thought, huh, well I’ll make a short video on it and just put it out in the world for anyone that might be interested.
I could not have imagined the response, which was amazingly overwhelming. I started getting comments and emails, first a few dozen, then hundreds, then thousands. A very common request was for plans to build it. I thought I might just put out some simple plans, but the SketchUp model I built was just a simple reference for myself, so I started over, making it very detailed and accurate. I put a lot of time into creating the plans, so decided to sell them at an affordable rate just as a way to help recoup the cost. The idea has been adapted many times over, and I love to see all the variations that have been created over the years.
For our readers who have not heard of your bench, can you describe the primary features?
Of course. It’s designed around my experience as a carpenter, the need to accommodate many tools on any site condition, and still be easy to set up by just one person. The top is made of two boxes that align perfectly to make a large surface for working on full sheets of plywood.
The top has holes drilled every four inches to allow for easy clamping anywhere, and the width of the box top allows for all my hand tools to be easily stored out of the way of the working surface. I ran integrated pipes down the length of the boxes to hold a portable table saw flush with the top, and in version 2 I also incorporated a router table and fence.
Right, on your website I see plans for the Paulk Workbench version 2, as well as other designs and plans. So the original bench and the original plans wasn’t the end of the story?
No, not at all. Again, the reaction surprised me, and the questions and suggestions continued to pour in, so I started posting regular videos on YouTube to help answer the questions, show how to build the workbench and begin work on other designs based on suggestions and my own experience. Now I have version 2 available, a compact version of the bench, a portable miter stand, total station, standing desk and I’ve also been fortunate to partner with FastCap to provide the workbench completely built and shipped.
We hear you have been working on something new as well, any glimpse into what’s next?
Actually, I’ve just finished the plans for a project I’ve called A.R.T. : The “Awesome Rolling Toolbox”.
Hold on, are you serious?
Oh ya, and it is awesome. The history of ART actually goes back further than the workbench. I’ve gone through many different trucks and trailers, customizing the inside spaces into mobile workshops.
Through each iteration I’ve learned and evolved the designs, which led to the version I call ART. I put up some videos on it, and again got a lot of requests for more information and plans. It’s a lot more detailed than the workbench, so it took a lot of work in SketchUp and LayOut, but I finally got the plans finished and actually just released them. Now I’m working on a 2nd iteration I’m calling SMART.
Wait, wait, I want to guess… Um, Super Massively Awesome Rolling Toolbox?
Haha, well that’s certainly going to be the name now. But actually it’s Small Mobile Awesome Rolling Toolbox. It’s designed for a smaller trailer, incorporates lots of the ideas from ART, and it’s in the design phase now, so we’ll see how it works out.
This is a great story Ron, we are thrilled not just for your success, but you’ve clearly created something that really resonates with builders all over the world, and makes their lives better as well. As a way to wrap up this interview, do you have any SketchUp tips to make the lives of our readers better?
I would guess there isn’t much I can contribute to your readers, I’m still learning new tricks. One thing though that I really love about SketchUp is that you can just muscle your way through a problem. I might find a more efficient way to work later, and this is why I continue to love learning, but when you need to just 'get it done’, SketchUp will power through most obstacles. I tell people often who are just learning SketchUp, to just jump in and start with a project, and when they get stuck, pause, solve just that one problem, and move forward. It’s worked for me.