Crafting woodworking projects with Johnny Brooke

November 19, 2019 Cara Bell

Meet YouTube-extraordinaire and woodworking expert, Johnny Brooke. He runs his own YouTube channel, Instagram account, and website, called Crafted Workshop, focused on creating how-to videos on woodworking, DIY and home improvement. He started woodworking about four years ago when he moved into a new house and needed some furniture. He decided to document his build process and the rest is history!


What does a day in the life of Johnny Brooke look like?  

Things tend to be pretty hectic around here, since I try to publish 3-4 videos each month. That means I need to design and build 3-4 finished projects per month, film them being built, edit the footage together into a polished video, then get the video posted to YouTube. After it’s live on YouTube, I need to promote the project on social media and get it up on my website. Oh yea, and produce a set of plans for the project! It’s a lot of work, but it is absolutely worth it, as it enables me to work for myself doing what I love. 

As far as specific project types, for me, every project I build needs to make a good video, first and foremost. That can definitely be a limiting factor sometimes! In general, I try to build things we need around our house, and usually those include furniture pieces, cabinetry, or home improvement projects. My wife and I moved into a new house earlier this year and it has provided a long list of new project ideas, which is great for me. 

I try to provide interesting twists on some of the more typical furniture pieces I build, whether that’s a fresh design, interesting hardware (my lift top coffee table, for example), or some kind of built-in tech (the internet loves wireless charging and LEDs). 

Johnny’s lift top table as shown in SketchUp (top picture) and then in real life (bottom picture).


Do you use SketchUp for your projects? 

Yea, I use SketchUp on basically every project — it’s akin to a woodworking video game for me.

Before I ever step foot into the shop, I model the entire project in SketchUp so I can figure out dimensions, joinery, and what materials I will need to build the project.

This allows me to be extremely efficient once it comes to actually building the project. I usually walk into the shop with a printed cut list in hand generated from SketchUp using the CutList extension. Basically, I have plans for my own project before I actually build it!

I also use SketchUp as a means of showing more complex joinery or assembly in my videos, because sometimes it can be tough to get good shots of these things. For example, if they’re inside a dark cabinet. I use the Animation feature in SketchUp quite a bit for this, as it makes the screen recordings feel much more dynamic. 

Using SketchUp and animations to highlight some hard-to-see joinery in DIY drawers.
 
What do you see as the benefits of SketchUp?
 
I think the biggest thing is the amount of efficiency SketchUp provides for my workflow.
 
I can really minimize any miscut parts due to incorrect math or buying too much extra material, and this all saves me money at the end of the day.
 
Also, using SketchUp to create my plans allows me to really monetize my designs in a way I wouldn't be able to without a program like SketchUp.
 

What does your complete workflow look in SketchUp look like?

I start with a fresh document and will typically roughly model the parts of a project to get an idea for proportion and dimensions. If I have a specific dimension I need to hit, I’ll figure those out at this point as well.

I create components for all of my parts as I model them, so I can adjust multiple parts at once. I also give my components names that make sense as part of the project, as those names are used later when I generate my cut list. 

Once I have the overall size and design of the piece worked out, I will go back and model in any specific joinery, which can have an impact on the sizes of specific parts. 

Once that’s done and everything looks good, I will use the CutList extension to generate a cut list for all of the parts of the project. If I’m using sheet goods or dimensional lumber on the project, CutList will also layout the parts I’m cutting onto the specific material type, so I can use the materials most efficiently. This isn’t as useful when I’m working with rough lumber, as that comes in less standardized sizes, but I can still use the cut list to layout the parts on the rough lumber.
 

The bonus room Johnny mocked up before bringing the pieces into the shop.

Do you use any extensions? If so, what are they and how do they help?

As I mentioned above, CutList is by far my most used extension. I actually have a video on how I use CutList on my channel. I’ve also been experimenting with some SVG plugins to allow me to easily export the parts of my model as SVG files, for use with my CNC. 

Johnny breaks down how he (and how you) should use CutList in SketchUp.
 
What are some tips or best practices you try to follow when you start a woodworking project?
 

The most critical piece of knowledge when it comes to modeling woodworking projects in SketchUp, in my opinion, is to make sure you’re creating components for all of your parts.

This will allow you to adjust the size of your parts much more easily if needed and is also the only way you can work with the CutList extension effectively.

 

What are some of your favorite projects and why?

That’s a pretty tough one, as I’m usually excited about most of my projects. I’ll pick three that I really dig:

I’m really proud of the home bar project I finished recently, as it was by far my largest project to date, with tons of cabinetry, glass inset doors, and a butcher block countertop. I’m a cocktail, craft beer, and whiskey nerd, so this project gets quite a bit of use. 

Secondly, I really love the battery-powered Bluetooth speaker I built, as it was my first time soldering and doing electronics work in general. The speaker sounds great, looks gorgeous, and has ridiculously good battery life to boot. 

Last, I’m really proud of the crib I built before our son was born. He’s yet to break anything on it (knock on wood) and I think it looks so much higher quality than your typical store-bought crib. I know that’s a piece that will be passed down in our family, which is pretty awesome. 

One of Johnny’s favorite projects, the home bar. Can we get a craft beer, please? (SketchUp in the first image and real-life in the second image)

What are some tools you use that you could not live without?

I’d say the big three for me would be the table saw, jointer, and planer. These three tools combined allow me to work with rough lumber, which is something from which I get a ton of joy. Obviously, I’d be hard-pressed to do what I do without sanders, routers, and other similar tools, but my big stationary tools are some of my most used for sure. 

You have a very large following, how do you pick projects to showcase that will relate to your audience?

First of all, I know I don’t always do this successfully! It’s a really hard line to walk on YouTube, as most people want to see the most basic version of things, using the most simplified tools. I knew very early on that I wasn’t going to feel fulfilled building projects in this way, so I kind of went the opposite direction and built up what would be considered a “dream” shop by most people, myself included.

This can be a bit discouraging to some people, and I certainly get plenty of comments complaining about the tools I use, but I still think there are always techniques that can be learned, regardless of the tools you own. I know I watched The New Yankee Workshop with my dad growing up and he had an insane shop, but there was still a ton to take away from that show, even as a hobbyist woodworker. 

Getting his dream shop started…(Psst: this is just part 1!)

Do you see any upcoming trends in the woodworking space? 

Things seem to move pretty quickly in this space, but I would say rustic is well on its way out and modern is the hot thing right now. Epoxy had its moment, but I think that is waning. Personally, I think well-made furniture with clean lines will never be out of style, or at least I hope not. Home improvement projects also seem to be doing well, which is great as I have a bunch of them on my to-do list!

 

What’s trending now? Clean lines and a modern feel for this Adirondack chair. Now, just kick back and relax...

What is your favorite SketchUp command?

That’s a tough one, there are so many! One of my favorite features is the tape measure, as I can easily go back and see exactly where I started that taper on a particular piece, for example. It’s super useful when it comes time to actually build a project, or for a sanity check before making a cut on any expensive piece of wood!

 
 

About the Author

Cara Bell

When she's not writing copy or learning about customer workflows, you can find her on top of a 14,000 ft mountain, hitting up those Colorado ski slopes, or binging Netflix shows on her couch.

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