I've been a maker of things for about as long as I can remember. Wanting to do something useful with my hands led to a series of interesting-even archaic-occupations, including stints as a cook, a carpenter, and a blacksmith. It also led to degrees in sculpture and architecture (this last, perhaps not as hands-on a profession as I'd like).
Making gear was my introduction to lightweight backpacking, and to Backpacking Light. It was a minor revelation that empty beer cans and a penny made a stove as effective as one from a sporting goods store. And at a weight measured in fractions of an ounce, rather than pounds.
To build that first stove, I followed detailed instructions. But as I saw the range of DIY shelters and backpacks people were creating, I realized designing my own gear could be a rewarding part of making it. I also realized the importance of feedback and insight from more experienced members of the MYOG community.
Traditionally, designers use drawings, models, test pieces and full-scale mockups to solve problems before committing to a prototype. All these methods play a role in my design process. I believe designers who envision a physical product abandon physical methods at their peril, especially when they plan to make the product themselves.
But digital design tools also have a place. Producing many variations of an initial idea is an important part of design development; using digital tools can facilitate this. Digital tools can create clear, readable images of proposed designs, which are ideal for online sharing and feedback.
One of the best digital tools I've found for MYOG design is Google SketchUp, a free, easy-to-learn 3D modeling program. SketchUp's simple interface makes it accessible to casual users, yet it has proved useful across professional design fields.
I've been a SketchUp user for 6 years, and offer SketchUp instruction as part of the university courses I teach. When I began making my own ultralight gear, I incorporated SketchUp into the process. I'm not alone in this. SketchUp has become a common tool in the MYOG community, at least judging by threads on the BPL forums. But to date, information about its use has been piecemeal.
- SketchUp Modeling Process for Shelter Design
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