Can Sketchup help me?

I am a complete and utter beginner on 3D model design.

I have opted to use Sketchup Web after doing research on the best free packages for my Mac.

I have been commissioned to write a book on (you can laugh), British telegraph poles. I need to model all the components - poles, arms (both in wood), insulators (porcelain) and spindles (iron) plus numerous other components. It’s a bit like a Meccano set. Once I have produced 3D models of all these components I need to be able to put them all together t create my completed pole design and then place it in a photograph. I hope that makes sense.

I have been valiantly trying to acquire the fundamentals of Sketchup free trial for the past three weeks and scoured the internet for tutorials for beginners but they all all pitched (I feel) at someone who has a fundamental understanding of the process - and I don’t.

Can anyone help point me to how I can acquire the knowledge and skills to produce what I need to produce?

I am happy to send some photos of these components so someone can tell me whether what I want to do can actually be done in Sketchup Web, since I will not be able to afford to buy the software.

Any response and help will be so very much appreciated.



You could start with this:

Just a note, though, your use of SketchUp in your work means you would need to use SketchUp Shop or SketchUp Pro.

You may have a problem here. You want to use the software to help write a book. That sounds like commercial use. You cannot use any free version for commercial use.

Having said that, it sounds to me like SU would definitely do what you want. I might even nip out to the bottom of my garden and measure up my own telegraph pole to see how easy it would be to draw the various bits.


Here’s my 2 cents, from a fellow newbie probably only a few weeks ahead of you.

First, forget about your project or being creative for just a bit, a week or so maybe more. And focus on learning SketchUp. It can be very frustrating trying to do anything particular and important when we don’t yet know the tool.

Here’s a place to start:

Justin Geis makes some great tutorials for beginners, imho. If you invest an hour or two in each video, following along and doing what he is doing, by the time you finish the series you should be ready to tackle your project.

This tutorial series is about SketchUp Free. Perhaps this version is not appropriate for your project, but it’s surely appropriate for learning the basics. Once you’ve done that you’ll be in a better position to decide whether you wish to spend money on SketchUp. If you decide yes, SketchUp Shop may be the first place to look.

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Now I’m curious who is hiring people to write books about telephone poles…

Maybe there’s still a chance I can get rich beyond my wildest dreams writing books about how to become a forum blowhard???

Considering how many of those the world has, there must be a lot of people who make their living working with them and need to know about them, and research them. “Zen and the art of telephone pole maintenance…” Everyday objects have a surprising amount of history and science behind them.

There’s a market for just about anything…they are fascinating relics of street art and architecture, however utilitarian their purpose was.



Unfortunately this will not have worldwide appeal: the system and components for constructing telegraph poles here in the UK was exported to some countries (e.g. New Zealand) but not to America for certain.

I would be interested to know from photographs I could send you whether the free version could, at least in theory, create all the components I need to model.



Even without seeing the photographs, I would expect you could model the components you need in SketchUp Free although there are likely to be some things that would be faster/more efficient with the desktop version. With SketchUp Pro you would also have LayOut from which you can export higher quality images. The other thing to consider is that your usage of SketchUp is commercial so for that you need either SketchUp Shop or SketchUp Pro.

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Here’s a quick example of a porcelain insulator from about 1926. I added the straight key for scale.

This was modeled in SketchUp Pro. I could have done it all in SketchUp Shop but not nearly as easily.

I won’t be able to answer this question but I’m sure others will. Why don’t you go ahead and upload a few photos and we’ll see what happens.

I should like to do that. There are a number of basic classes of component:

  1. Timber: poles, varying length and thickness; tapered (i.e. smaller diameter at the top than bottom) and scarfed at 45 degrees on two opposite faces on the top of the pole. Also arms; again a number of lengths ranging from 3’ to over 7’ all with holes at precise spacing along two of the faces.

  2. Insulators of varying design and dimension but of white porcelain or black composite material.

  3. Spindles, again of varying design but all round steel with threads top and bottom and flanges to bolt against the arms.

  4. Various pieces of steel flatware such as braces, steps and roofs, the former of which have 90 degree twists

  5. Miscellaneous such as nuts, bolts and washers but also a component called a ‘saddle’ that sits on the scarfed top of the pole. That looks particularly tricky.

I shall upload some photos in due course and should like to thank you for your mind interest and willingness to help.



There is nothing there that cannot be done in the Web version, but a few would be easier using an extension or two in the desktop version.

Thank you for such a quick reply. Just out of interest, which are the components that you say would be easier in the desktop version and with extensions (whatever they are!)? Also, once I gave a library of all these components, will SketchUp allow me to bring them all together and place them in a completed models?

Kind regards.


The threads would be easier using an extension that will draw a helix and the flat bar with the twist in the middle could be done using a twisting extension.

Yes, once you have a library of components you can mix and match them in new models to your hearts content.

Speaking as a fellow newbie who also doesn’t know too much, but maybe a bit more than you…

You should probably count on investing some time in this. To me, this doesn’t look like a simple beginner project, though if Box says it can be done he would know.

If it were me, and I was interested in SketchUp only so I could model telephone poles, as a first step I’d be asking myself whether I really needed to do so.

Not trying to discourage you, just suggesting this is unlikely to be a one day project.

Once again, thank you. Presumably these extensions aren’t available with the web version. Do I have to go to the ultimate spec for these, then?

Kind regards.


The web version doesn’t support extensions, at this time, in future it may.
You could use the free 2017 Make version to learn on. as it is the last free desktop version and does support extensions, but as people have mentioned earlier in the thread, the free versions are not licensed for commercial work.

There is a learning curve with either version, so you would need to spend some time learning the software before you would need to have a pro version in which to make your specific components. As a group they are possible to make but are not beginner items.

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Here’s a quick example of what I mean by using an extension that isn’t available in the web version.
Flat twist