Introduction: Cheap Office or Room Divider

Picture of Cheap Office or Room Divider

I've recently moved my small company into real office space. With the economy where it is that itself is scary enough without having to buy furniture. So for furnishing I shopped at the local used furniture store and was able to score two work desks and an executive desk for less than $200.

I also needed two space dividers. I've been looking for a long time on the various Internet sites for second hand items but these things don't appear to trade very much, and new they cost upward of $300 for small units. I was in need of 2 panels five by five feet. This was going to be pricey.

Which got me to think about these things for a bit. PVC tubing seemed to be a good material to make the frame out of. The panel it self can be created with a some nice canvas. I was onto something. At the local hardware store I found what I needed at incredible prices! The total cost for this project per panel is $25! On top of that this is a real easy thing to make and all parts are very easy to find.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
Materials for 1 5x5 space divider panel.

  • 3 - 1" x 10 F PVC piping. (or use old pipes,.. be environmentally friendly!)
  • 4 - 1" PVC corner pieces
  • 2 - 1" PVC cross pieces
  • 4 - 1" PVC end caps
  • 1 - PVC glue
  • 1 - can of black plastic spray paint
  • 1 - 5x5 'easy drop canvas'. (you can use any fabric you like as long as it doesn't stretch) I found this in the paint section, this is normally used to cover the floor while painting.
  • 6 - grommets
  • 6 - hooks (5/8")

Hardware used: saw, drill (3/32)

You typically can do the sawing at the hardware store. They tend to have good saws and a good work bench. Then you would not even need the saw.

Step 2: Blueprint

Picture of Blueprint

Here is the blueprint for this project. There are two views, top down on the base and front view for the whole thing. Please note that they are not to scale in any way, they are merely here to illustrate the idea.

Step 3: Creating the Base

Picture of Creating the Base

Saw two of the PVC pipes into four 5F long pieces. Take one of them and saw off two 5" pieces (DO NOT DISCARD, you will use these). Slide the crosses over the now 10" shorter piece and put the 5" pieces on both ends. Measure how much longer the base piece is now than 5F (for me this was 3 1/4"). Take the crosses of and reduce the length of the base to make it 5F (for me 3 1/4"). Slide the crosses and 5" pieces back on and check that the length is now 5F.

Into the crosses we will slide 4 pieces of tubing to hold the frame upright. As you can see in the photo my base has all different lengths. The tubing on side of the base that will be at the doorway I've cut to 5" pieces. The tubing on the wall side is 2F and 1/2F with a cut-out. The cut-out is used to place a desk on top of the tubing to give the room divider some real stability. Be creative and adapt these to your needs.

You will need to glue the base together to make sure that it doesn't twist. Only 2 pieces need to be glued on both ends and those are the 5" tubes that attach the crosses to the corner pieces. Once these are locked the frame will stay upright, yet you can still take the thing apart if needed. Make sure when you glue then that the corner pieces are pointing straight up!

Update: The divider seems to work really well and is very stable, even a baby tugging at it doesn't make it topple over, however I will glue the base together in all spots for extra stability.

Step 4: Canvas Hooks

Picture of Canvas Hooks

In the corner pieces drill 3/32 inch holes then screw in the hooks. See photo. Put the frame together so you can measure the canvas.

Put one grommet in one corner of the canvas. Hook it into the frame and measure where the second grommet should go so that the canvas is nice and tightly stretched in the frame. Place the grommet in the appropriate spot. Repeat this for the other corners. I also placed hooks in the middle to keep the canvas from sagging there. Your choice if you want to do this as well.

By using canvas for the panels your project will have much less impact on the environment than commercially available panels that use a lot of materials like Styrofoam and particle board.

Step 5: Paint (optional)

Picture of Paint (optional)

Now that this is done take the pipes apart and paint them (or leave them as they are). I painted them black.

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Picture of Putting It All Together
Once the pieces are all dry simply slide the frame together hook in the canvas and enjoy you dirt cheap room or space divider!

As you can see I still need to do a little work on getting the canvas to be nice and tight, but other than that I am very happy with the result!

Of course do not throw this away when you need a different size, remember we didn't glue all the joints that means you can take it apart and reconfigure it! Recycle!

Some tips from the comments section:

  • Spray some water on the canvas then use a hair dryer to dry the canvas, this will shrink the material and make the canvas nice and tight.
  • You can also use these as a projector screen, pick some nice white fabric!
  • You could give the panels a nautical look by installing grommets every 3 or 4 inches around the canvas edge and then lashing it onto the frame with thin nylon rope (venetian blind cording would work). This would eliminate the sagging canvas problem.


Angel27551 (author)2016-02-21


quaybusinessoffices (author)2011-12-14

That was awesome and thanks for the download !!

dmlong (author)2010-11-29

Nice project. Do you think that using these dividers would help to contain heat from a portable electric heater with in a small area of the room (like a small area of a freezing garage - lol) ?

aofficefurniture (author)2010-09-28

Good job!! Check out my vid too!

vincentato (author)2009-05-03

Do you guys know where to get big canvas? They are pretty expensive when I browsed for it on the Internet. I'm planning to build a divider that is approximately 120 high and 150 wide.

blodefood (author)vincentato2010-03-20

You might be able to score some large canvas curtains at the thrift stores.  I got  some huge ones at VV to make a parade banner and some regalia for less than $20.

chaignon (author)vincentato2009-06-04

When we did a drama production at our school and bought a large quantity of canvas, one of the volunteers told me we should've bought from a marine supply place because the canvas, she said, would be cheaper.

blodefood (author)2010-03-20

Hey!  Thanks for this fabulous 'ible'!  It will give me some ideas for a project I have in mind!

M4industries (author)2010-02-07

 2nd bullet point..."!"

rcaceres (author)2009-11-05

If I wanted to make a longer frame, say seven or eight feet, would I need to get more of the cross pieces to keep it stable?  What length would you recommend that I cut the longer pieces to make the frame more stable?  Thanks!

lorennr (author)2009-08-15

Q: How long are the 'legs'?

CheapOffice (author)lorennr2009-10-04

I believe the short ones are about a foot and the longer ones are about 3 feet. This will vary with your building materials and surroundings. I was able to keep them short since the desk is sitting on them on one end.

strmrnnr (author)2009-04-20

I did a set of these for my studio apartment one time. I did them in three sections so I didn't have the feet, but had to deal with the hinges and the occasional accident. The sections were norrower though to fit a big roll of paper I had scabbed. Replacement of the paper was cheap at the time.

micheleliz (author)2009-03-30

I have a daycare in my basement and was trying to think of ways to make dividers for the crib area rather than buying the expensive ones. These will work so good, if only I can get my husband to make or help me with them!!!! Thanks for the great idea! Michele

christophor (author)2009-03-19

Great job! Simple and elegant. Photographers could probably use this for a photo-back drop if they painted the fabric neon green or blue. I had a cubicle wall break open one time. The side panels weren't very compliated.The fabric was glued to some cardboard panels that were attached to each other with cardboard spacers kind of like those cheap interior closet doors they sell at the home improvement stores. It wouldn't be hard to make some cardboard side panels. Just get some big corrugate shipping containers like appliances or furniture come in. Cut them into panels. You might want to use 2 layers for each side if you have to tape smaller pieces together to make a large enough panel. Attach the panels to some vertically oriented wood or PVC spacers to keep them from bending in the middle. Attach the fabric to the panels. Secure one edge of the fabric to the panel with glue or tape. Stretch it taught. Secure the center with double sided tape or spray adhesive and glue the opposite edge followed by the remaining sides. The cardboard panels would provide a bit of strength and dampen office noise.It also makes a convenient place to tack up photos, Dilbert comic clippings and 3 year old menus from that restaurant on the corner that changes names every 6 months. If you harvested used shipping containers, you wouldn't be making any new trash, so that's environmentally friendly too. I like yours. This is an inexpensive and creative way to circumvent the system and save some money on decent office decor. I think I'll make some like yours for my workshop so I can keep the dust and debris on my side of the garage. Thanks for sharing. - Chris

FeedTheGrid (author)2009-03-12

Very cool. I dig the black plastic spray; first time I've seen that stuff. I like SuperMonkey's idea about putting some artwork on there. Maybe something like Jackson Pollock! Good work!

3dmuses (author)2009-03-07

This is a cool room divider solution! With the sagging of the canvas the water spray will work If you add a bit of white glue (Elmers, SOBO, etc) AND if the canvas or muslin is 100% cotton. This solution is used in the scene shop all the time to tighten fabric surfaces. It may 'pull' at the attachment points depending on the amount of stretch it has when you start. If something pokes a dimple in the cloth later a simple re-wetting should tighten it right back up. Nice job though.

andygreyrider (author)2009-03-01

Would it not benefit from filling the bottom tubing and feet with sand to give a sturdier feel to it?

I am sure it will benefit from weight in the base, but in my setup the desks are right behind the screens and are sitting on top of the legs holding them very steady. Without the desks stability is pretty good with the 2F pipes. Since the base is not glued together you can experiment with this!

Being an Engineer with doing welding and grinding. This would make an ideal portable screen and the sand would give so much more stability. A gust of wind and it's Kite Time. A brilliant instructable that it is, it has given me an idea for extending my garage entrance without the expensive cost.

dpocius (author)andygreyrider2009-03-05

Or you could purchase (or find/recycle) a length of steel pipe to slide inside the plastic pipe at the bottom to give it some weight on the bottom.

deadbody (author)andygreyrider2009-03-03

you could but I don't think you'd need to unless you need to use it in wind or its going to get knocked around.

11010010110 (author)2009-02-28

to reinforce the canvas stitch a grid of bands of material that does not stretch over it dividing the wall to 4 X 4 squares is about how much i'd go

CheapOffice (author)110100101102009-03-06

It's been up for about 2 weeks now and increasing sagging or stretching is not apparent beyond what you see in the photos in the article. Guess this canvas is pretty good.

11010010110 (author)CheapOffice2009-03-06

you need reinforcement with lower strength or very big canvas. not with this one

agis68 (author)2009-03-01

Very nice and Cute too!!!...An ideal surface for multipurpose performances .Nice done......I will do it... 5/5

CheapOffice (author)agis682009-03-06


kathynv (author)2009-03-01

Wow, what a wonderful idea. I imagine using it to create some privacy for kids who have to share a room. In a tall, narrow version, it could be used as a dressing screen in the corner of a bedroom. Just use floral chintz or polished cotton for the fabric. Fussier types might want to gather the fabric along thin rods which can be mounted in the pipes for a curtained look. If knocking over the screen became a problem (as with a kids' bedroom divider), I'd just pour some sand into the bottom pipes for stability. If noise was a problem in that area, you could reduce it a bit by adding styrofoam or quilt batting between two layers of canvas. If you make the screen totally opaque, the people on either side will be less bothered by noise. There are so many variations to this instructable, it's astonishing. I think I'll make one to hide my laundry area, and another to give me a "room" to sew. Thank you for the wonderful idea!

CheapOffice (author)kathynv2009-03-06

Thanks for the nice comments. I have to say I am very happy with the result myself! I might make one for my home as well.

resilva (author)2009-03-05

You could give the panels a nautical look by installing grommets every 3 or 4 inches around the canvas edge and then lashing it onto the frame with thin nylon rope (venetian blind cording would work). This would eliminate the sagging canvas problem.

CheapOffice (author)resilva2009-03-06

That's a great idea for attaching the canvas! I might post that in the main article.

shamanwhitewolf (author)2009-03-05

This is really cool, and would look good in most offices! Good job. If you want to use this in an area the needs more privacy, there's one change you might add. When you put the grommets in the canvas, you should make a couple of folds for strength. For the added privacy, make the folds in a way that leaves extra canvas sticking out. This can then be wrapped around the frame (tape? glue? pins?).

Thanks! That is a great idea. My canvas actually came precut and folded at 5x5 so no extra cloth to be had.

foober (author)2009-03-05

Great idea!

To make it slightly muffling, you could have two sheets of canvas, and between then put, well, here in the UK they call it "Cavity insulation". ( I don't know what it'd be called in the states.

Basically, it's the same kind of insulation you'd put up in your loft but it's tightly compressed into something rather board like. It's not quite as tough as cardboard, and wouldn't deal with a lot of abuse (that's where the canvas would do the trick), but does a great job of muffling things.

I cut two boards nearly the same size as my front-loading washer and dryer, wrapped them in plastic, and when we do laundry (seemingly always for a family of four) it's a lot quieter, and it cost less than £20!

Especially in a two-plus child bedroom, the acoustic deadening would be *great*.

Best of luck!


CheapOffice (author)foober2009-03-06

Thats a great idea. Wonder what that would be here in the US. I'm originally from Holland now living in the US so I am not all that familiar with the construction terms out there, which makes for fun visits to Home Depot :)

dpocius (author)foober2009-03-05

And, if the canvas sits tightly against the insulation board, you can use it like a corkboard with pushpins and thumbtacks. I was going to do something similar with lumber and pegboard for extra tool storage surfaces in the workshop, but the PVC pipe just might work out better than the 2x4s. I just have to work out a way to neatly attach the pegboard to the pipe frame. Thanx for the inspiration, CheapOffice!

chewingfoil (author)2009-03-05

very nice :) However, I can't help but be distracted by the wrinkles or loose parts of the canvas. If it's still like this (or if it's sagging more, as the hooks pull unevenly on the canvas over time) You can try an old trick--spritz the canvas with water from a spray bottle, well on both sides, and when it drys it will be nice and taut! Great job!

CheapOffice (author)chewingfoil2009-03-06

The Canvas has not sagged more at all. I'll try to tighten the wrinkles a bit. I'll post back as to what happened.

pechka (author)2009-03-05

Terrific project and well-explained! To make a huge mirror, you'll require a certain product, the name of which was burned out of my memory long ago, made of mylar, that is applied to the surface of the screen in small patches, which, when heated (e.g., blow dryer), expand outward and all join together, creating a good quality mirror. This product is probably available at theatrical supply places, or the dance dept of a college would have a lead on this stuff. I apologize for not knowing the name of the product.

DELETED_jorgegunn (author)2009-03-02

i built something very similar except it was a PVC box that hung curtains on 2 sides and it became my room inside the living room when i was in college and had 4 people living in a 2 bedroom house. Yikes, love your idea for free standing that might have worked better and would have been easier to move around. If i ever have too do that again i will reconstruct mine more like this.

supermonkeyballs (author)2009-03-02

I used these when I had an office / apartment, I would suggest painting something on the canvas to make it look even better.

Bobblob (author)2009-03-02

Great idea, nicely illustrated and explained, thanks! For an easy "auto" tightening/aligning method how about attaching the canvas with mini bungee cords or several robust rubber bands ?

Bobblob (author)Bobblob2009-03-02

Opps I missed MasterOfNone's rubber band comment but the mini bungee cord idea may advanced this nice project a little so I'll leave it. Also I was suggesting using the mini bungee cords or robust rubber bands on ALL the attachment points

bustedit (author)2009-02-27

Personally, i think you should replace the canvas with paper, then you can bust thru it like a football team does, to surprise your staff and make sure they're not wasting company time on Instructables, facebook & eBay!

Tommyhzy (author)bustedit2009-03-01


Matt4_16 (author)2009-03-01

good idea for a projector screen!

bloomautomatic (author)2009-02-26

Looks like you could also use this as a projector screen. Multi-function stuff rules.

Yea, that's exactly what I was thinking

Great Idea!

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