A step-by-step tutorial to build your very own virtual bird house in SketchUp!
SketchUp is a free and fun program for 3D modeling. You can use SketchUp to design just about anything, from furniture to a dream bedroom to an entire city.
The free, web-based version of SketchUp can be found online here.
When using SketchUp, it’s best to use a three-button, scroll wheel mouse. Use the wheel to zoom in and out, and when you press the wheel as a button while dragging the mouse, you can spin your model around.
In this project we’ll model a basic bird house. (It’s the first step toward learning how to model a real house, after all.)
SketchUp starts in this view, with Helen standing on the ground. She isn’t needed in this model, so press E for the Eraser, and click on any of Helen’s edges.
Press R for the Rectangle tool. Click anywhere for the first corner, then move (don’t drag!) to where you want the second corner.
Click to complete the rectangle.
Then press P for the Push/Pull tool. Click the face of the rectangle, move the mouse up a bit (again, don’t drag), and click again to create the base of the bird house.
To paint the various pieces of this house, open the Materials window by clicking the icon along the right side. You can open the list of material collections with the magnifying glass icon. This example uses solid colors, but you can find wood, glass, or other materials.
Choose your material, then with the Shift key pressed, click any face of the box you’ve made so far. This paints all faces at once.
All good SketchUp modelers use groups (and components) while they’re creating different parts of a model. This “protects” objects from other objects, and makes it easier later to make changes. To make the base into a group, start by pressing the Spacebar for the Select tool. Then triple-click (three times fast) on any face of the base. This selects the entire base at once.
Then right-click on any selected face and choose Make Group.
A group acts like a single object, rather than a collection of edges and faces.
Next we’ll create the back wall. Start another rectangle, with its first corner at the lower left top corner of the base. The second corner should be along the top right edge of the base, like this:
Pull up this wall.
To add the pitched shape at the top of the wall, a line needs to be added. Press L for the Line tool, and for both endpoints of this line, be sure to click when you see the “Midpoint” popup.
With the Select tool, click this small line to select it.
Press M for the Move tool. Click anywhere to start the move, and move straight up so that “On Blue Axis” appears. Click to finish when the roof looks about right.
Paint the faces of this wall, then select the entire wall and make it into a group. Once a group is created, it becomes selected – leave it selected because it needs to be copied.
The front wall will be a copy of the back wall.
With the back wall still selected, press M for Move, then press the Ctrl key (PC) or Option key (Mac). This adds a “plus” sign to the cursor, which means a copy will be created.
Click anywhere to start the copy, move the mouse in the direction toward the front of the house, and click to finish. Leave some room along the base for birds to gather.
The front wall needs something that the back wall doesn’t have – a hole for birds to go in and out. But changes can’t be made to a group unless the group is open for editing. So right-click on the front wall and choose Edit Group.
To create the hole, press C for the Circle tool.
You could place the hole by eye, but it’s always better to use an exact placement when possible. So find the lower midpoint of this wall, and hover your mouse on that point for a few seconds, to “remind” SketchUp of its location.
Move the mouse straight up from that midpoint, and click where you want to place the center of the hole.
To poke the hole through the wall, use Push/Pull. Start by clicking on the circle face itself, and end by clicking any point on the back of the wall.
That’s the only change this wall needs, so right-click in blank space and choose Close Group.
Now for one of the side walls. Draw a rectangle between the front and back walls, push it in a bit, paint the wall, and make it a group. Keep the group selected.
To copy the side wall to the other side, use Move with the Ctrl / Option key again. The first copy point should be a lower inside corner…
…and the second copy point should be on the other side, along the base.
The roof is just a little bit trickier. Starting with a rectangle is hard since the rectangle won’t face the right way. So use the Line tool, and trace around the four corner points. Finish the rectangle with a loop of points: click the first point where you started the rectangle.
Pull out the roof face, then pull out the front and sides as well. The roof should have an overhang along the front, and should hang down past the side of the house.
This roof face needs to be copied to the other side, but first it needs one fix at the top of the house. In order that there will be no gap down the center of the roof, the edge here needs to be vertical. Start a line at the lower point, and press the Up arrow to lock the line to be vertical.
To finish the line, click anywhere along the top diagonal edge of the roof.
One more small line will fill in the triangle here. Then pull back the entire triangle, all the way to the back of the house.
This will produce a few extra edges, which you can leave in place or erase if you like. The half-roof is finished, so paint and group.
Make a copy of the half-roof anywhere in blank space.
With the copied group still selected, press S for the Scale tool. This brings up a set of green drag handles you can use for resizing. The handle we want is indicated here, in the center of the side.
Click that handle, then move the mouse to the right, to turn the face inside-out. Stop when the scale value is -1 (this appears at the lower right corner of the screen).
To get the roof back into place, press M and click one of the corners that will join to another corner.
Click the join point, and the roof is complete.
The only thing left to add is the perch – the small dowel a bird can stand on before entering. Just use a small circle, pull it out, and paint and group.
That’s it – the house is done. But if you’re feeling ambitious, you can add an actual bird. The Components window has a field where you can search for models in SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse. If you search for 3D birds, you’ll get several hits. Try to avoid models that have other objects, such as branches.
Click the thumbnail of a model to bring it in. Keep in mind that any model you bring in this way will probably have to be resized (use the Scale tool), possibly rotated as well, and definitely moved. Both rotating and moving can be done with the Move tool.
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