Introduction: Cheap and Easy Desktop Electric Outlet

Picture of Cheap and Easy Desktop Electric Outlet

I use an old corner unit computer desk as a workbench for computers and other things that people make me fix. I got tired of climbing under the desk to plug and unplug tools and other things that I was working on. I am also a neat-freak and didn't want a power-strip/surge-protector cluttering up my desktop. My solution was to actually install 2 electrical outlets near the rear of the work area and try not to start a fire.

I am not an electrician, so I headed to Home Depot with an idea and some questions. (Home Depot employees have all the answers.) The part-time employee assured me that my idea would work and not start a fire. I rejoiced, built two of them that worked like charms, and decided to share the process.

Here is a step-by-step of how to make easy and safe desktop outlets.

Step 1: Collect Your Materials.

Picture of Collect Your Materials.

There is a relatively short materials list for this project. All you need is:
1 - outlet
1 - face plate
1 - electrical cord with ground wire and plug.
1 - plastic outlet box (I am not sure what these are called. They have plastic tabs that fold out and can be tightened with screws to hold them to the wall, or in this case, the desk.)

You are also going to need a drill, a screwdriver, and a saw of some sort.

Step 2: Cut the Hole in the Desk.

Picture of Cut the Hole in the Desk.

I used a Sharpie to draw out where I would need to cut through the desk. I used the box as a template of sorts.
Then I used my Dremel tool to cut out the chunk of wood.

Step 3: Making More Holes in Things.

Picture of Making More Holes in Things.

We have to drill a hole in the box for the electrical cord to go in. I made the hole large enough to accommodate the cord, but snug enough that the cord would not slide around.
Then I threaded the cord into the box.

Step 4: Wire Up the Outlet.

Picture of Wire Up the Outlet.

Strip the wires enough to work with. Then wire them to the electrical outlet. The outlet will have directions on which wire to hook up to where. There are screws on the outlet that you wrap the wires around then tighten down. Easy work.

Step 5: Test the Outlet.

Picture of Test the Outlet.

Plug something into the newly wired outlet, then plug the business end of the wire into the wall. Switch on the thing you plugged in. If it turns on, then you have done well.

~Please be careful. While the back of the outlet is exposed, it is really easy to shock yourself and death may occur.~


Step 6: Secure Cable in Box.

Picture of Secure Cable in Box.

I attached a zip-tie to the cable about 4 inches down from the outlet. The zip-tie prevents the cable from pulling from the outside of the box and putting stress on the connections to the outlet.

(Side note - The uses of zip-ties are immeasurable.)

Step 7: Secure It All in the Hole and Cover.

Picture of Secure It All in the Hole and Cover.

Thread the plug end of the cord through the hole in the desk. Then place the box into the hole and secure it in place by tightening the screws attached to the tabs.

Screw the outlet into the box.

Screw the face-plate over the outlet.


Step 8: Plug in and Use.

Picture of Plug in and Use.

Plug into the wall and you are ready to go. Remember not to overtax an outlet with a lot of items plugged into it. I have two of these outlets on my desk and they are both plugged into the same wall outlet. I do not split anymore off of that wall outlet, nor do I put any sort of splitters on the desk plugs.

I have had these for a few months now and they have spoiled me. The day after I did this project, I added a 3 port ethernet outlet onto my desk with a hidden switch underneath. I will make an instructable out of that as well.

All the best.


JoeH83 (author)2016-01-16

In case nobody said it.... you're using that box completely wrong. Right below (technically to the back of the box) there are four tabs. Those are meant to open up a bit and push the wire through. It will clamp down enough so that the wire won't around also. I think doing it your way is against code.

SRDGadgetRepair made it! (author)2015-01-25

what a fab idea. im from Uk so worked out a little expensive. £20 sockets but with 2 USB Ports included i couldnt comlplain..Thanks for the idea

LloydL9 (author)SRDGadgetRepair2015-12-03

I like that idea but I have never seen any panel like that before. What type is it that is something I would like to build.

SRDGadgetRepair (author)LloydL92015-12-03

Sorry what are you referring to with your comment meaning panel?
If you mean the USB Double Socket Facia. I picked that up from a local D.I.Y store. Works fab. Sorry if I'm not understanding you.

paganwonder (author)2008-11-06

A power strip is much safer.

tyler9613 (author)paganwonder2009-07-18

This is just as safe, if not safer than a power strip. Would you rather assemble something yourself, and know that you did it correctly, or buy something that was made in china by mindless factory workers?? And, most (all, from what I've seen) power strips do not feature GFCI protection, but if you build it yourself, you can incorporate that. The only difference is that this won't have surge protection, but, you don't need it unless you're using delicate electronics such as a computer...and I'm sure someone could figure out a way to incorporate a surge protector in with a relay or something that would make it just as good as a power strip... Just my two cents...

RobertC2 (author)tyler96132015-04-03

Since this outlet is used mostly for temporary connections, there are probably other, more permanent items on the desk that require power. A power strip with surge protection mounted behind or under the desk would be required for those connections anyway... Plug this extra outlet in the power strip and Voilà! --you have surge protection!

arlene.puentes.5 (author)2015-02-21

Very nice. I'm going to make one. I'm going to plug mine into GFCI outlet because I'm a klutz and am worried about spilled drinks. Also, there are thingys for lamp wiring that are called "strain relief" that can be used for the extension cord instead of a zip tie. Zip ties tend to deteriorate after a couple of years.



Thank you! Best regards, Arlene

bellyr68 (author)2013-11-27

There are cheap usb controlled power strips, If you add USB outlet interface, it's perfect! Get more information

aloew (author)2013-03-17

I just finished upgrading my nightstand using your instructable. I used a steel box (plastic isn't up to code) and a 2-plug, 2-USB outlet instead.

D Jason Payne (author)aloew2013-03-17

I like it! I'd do it, but my night stands are glass topped. :-(

aloew (author)D Jason Payne2013-03-17

The one time buying IKEA furniture has paid off, I guess. I would do it to my desk, but it's got such a nice wood top that I'd hate to ruin it, and getting it down to my workspace would be awful

anvil_man (author)2013-02-01

I would use a outlet type that uses wire clamping screws when your using stranded wire.
if you look close at the outlets (receptacles) there different grades. I would use a Commercial or a Industrial better contacts.
FYI. my studio is wired with stranded wire. in conduit.
that is why I like the clamping type Terminal screws.

Good idea .

Mpgervace (author)2012-08-27

I have a question. I just came across your project. So you're saying that taking an extension cord, splicing it from a 3 pronged outlet and jumpering it to another outlet (to make desk outlet hot) is safe?
I would think the "house" wiring behind walls, is not the same as extension cord wire... How has this worked out for you?

silliou (author)2008-07-23

Might be worth noting that at least in Australia you are not legally allowed to do electrical work like this by yourself. That being said I still say awesome instructable, well done.

jongscx (author)silliou2008-08-14

Really? Even if it's not part of the internal house wiring? I'm in Athens, Georgia, USA and we're legally able to work on ANY and ALL Parts of our home so long as they meet the requirements ("to code") and are inspected by the county. I did all the wiring in an 800 sq ft deck, all the way to the junction box myself, and I'm not licensed to do it.

nathandance1996 (author)jongscx2011-11-14

In the uk, i think were allowed to modify electrics as long as it plug in to a wall outlet, thats why i've exploited it by putting pretty much everything in an extension lead (don't worry about overloading, the fuses in the uk are in the plug itself)
if im not allowed to do that then, oh well, it's already installed.
silly health and saftey laws are whats killing the country.
i am only 15 and haven't been killed by home electrics, how hard can people find it?

crache (author)jongscx2008-08-23

I've heard that australian law requires something as simple as changing light bulbs to be done by a certified professional.

kickasssloth (author)crache2011-05-06

no, we are aloud to do that, your not ment to but you can get around doing things like this instructable, but im 16 ran down to a home depo type store and did it in an afternoon,we just have strict laws due to people, oh i dont know, DIEING! lol

SplatU (author)crache2011-01-27

LOL How many of them does it take??

domgiovanni (author)crache2008-08-30

Autralians get the laws they didn't plan for because a socialist system is so important to them that, like Americans, they're too reluctant to vote the bad blokes out. What a shock!!

hcold (author)domgiovanni2008-09-11

Socialism is economic. You're associating it with nanny-state like laws. You're wrong.

DustySeven7 (author)2011-08-19

I have a friend that works with wiring and the slots are either or. If you leave them they act as a cable snag to hold the wires. You can also remove them.

hairyyy0 (author)2011-08-17

I go to a new technical college in Wichita Kansas and all the desk in any computer lab and the auditorium have desk with built in power and Ethernet just like your instructable. I tend to be reminded of this every time I see one of those tables. You are on the leading edge sir!

Eigtball (author)2011-04-28

Exactly what I was looking for!!

cfishy (author)2008-07-07

Which wire goes where? (also, maybe you can use something other than live power to do testing before hooking it up.)

RetroPlayer (author)cfishy2008-07-07

I'm not sure this is true for every outlet, but all of the ones I have worked with have colored screws. Green for ground, silver for white, and usually a darker metal for the black. Most outlets also have spring clips in the back that you can simply push the wire into, instead of the screws on the sides. Those are usually labeled, as well.

altontoth (author)RetroPlayer2010-09-16

Absolutely right, however, those stab holes aren't meant for stranded wire. This is a pretty nice instructable though. Simple, easy, and to the point.

RetroPlayer (author)altontoth2011-01-13

You really shouldn't be using stranded wire for something like this anyway. Just dangerous.

ajmontag (author)2008-07-08

that blue box is called a post construction electrical box

rangeside (author)ajmontag2009-09-29

thanks for your comment...makes me look less foolish asking for a plastic eletical box at home depot, lol

Sandisk1duo (author)2008-07-08

HA-HA Emachine! i had one of those, it broke....

So did mine. :-(

yeah, they suck

aandre (author)2009-07-18

I finally did it! I also put a switch for my 2 pedant lamps with 42 watt CFLs (blindingly bright). As for my questionable way of making the whole in my desk, don't ask. The good part is that the whole room is GFCI protected, so I don't have to worry about water getting on the outlets.

D Jason Payne (author)aandre2009-08-10

Awsome work!

jmacfarlane823 (author)2009-08-10

Nice! I'm going to try this both with the outlets, and another one with multiple USB cables to make a hub. five stars and fav'd :)

Thanks! I did the same thing with 3 ethernet plugs and switch that I screwed underneath my desk. I may throw that up as an instructable as well.

tigerdog330 (author)2008-11-06

hey i love this idea and i did something very similar recently.. but when my dad came home and saw it, he said that it was against code... idk about where you guys live, but here in new york you might not want to do this.. ya know.. just in case some under riter guy comes to inspect your house

tyler9613 (author)tigerdog3302009-07-18

Your dads wrong, this is the exact same wiring that your house uses, just with a plug on the end so that you can plug it into an outlet. As long as you correctly ground it, it is up to code just as much as your whole house is. The only part that could be questionable by code is the fact that the wire could be pulled out of the back of the box because someone tripped on it or something. If this is a concern, use a metal box that you can buy clamps for, and clamp the wire down so that it won't pull out of the back of the box. Just make sure to split off another ground wire to ground the metal box.

tigerdog330 (author)tyler96132009-07-21

no i checked and its against code. i know how electricity works just as much as anyone else and i know this is exactly like having it hardwired and in the wall in theory, but it isnt in the wall or hardwired, and its against code and my dads not wrong about this sort of stuff.. hes an electrician

tyler9613 (author)tigerdog3302009-07-21

No disrespect, but can you give me your source where it says that its against the NFPA electrical code?? What chapter/section?? I am curious about it...

tigerdog330 (author)tyler96132009-07-22

i cant remember.. i looked it up in november when i first commented here i remember from it though that this is against code in a residential setting, but not in an industrial one. if you go into home depot, youll see those big retractable cords hanging from the ceiling with 2 dual gang outlets in a j-box on the end thats hanging. this is the same thing, but thats in an industrial setting, and this is a residential one.

aandre (author)2009-06-28

I was actually thinking about doing this for a while now and when i saw this instructable, i rejoiced that my idea was not silly after all. I was going to install a surface mount junction box, however, so that any liquid spills would be OK. But now i realize that i can actually embed the box in my equally thick desk. I think I'll put a GFCI outlet, though, for added safety. Loved the instructable!

BlackHatCracker (author)2009-04-11

It is AC current, so as a norm it really wont matter unless you are wiring a house... But yes RetroPlayer, you have it completely correct.

ascii (author)2008-09-10

I don't think they're punch-outs - they're like a friction clamp. You push the wire through and it won't come back.

BlackHatCracker (author)ascii2009-04-11

Your correct... They are friction tabs... They keep the wire in place... once it is in there then it is there, not turning back unless you wanna try to get there and not cut the wire trying to release the tension on there.

equinox55 (author)2009-01-31

You can also tie a note in the cord so that it can not be pulled out or use a groumet

pudicobar (author)2008-11-15

Just my 2c... I have this kind of thing for yrs. What do I do: I build an extension cord (male plug outside) and attach the outlet to the other end. Then I fix my outlet on the SIDE of the desk/table/bench, so my outlet works like an extension cord/appliance (I'm always soldering, droping screws etc...). If I decide to move my desk, I can go anywhere close to a wall outlet. And probably this is not forbidden by local laws (at least here in BRazil, AFAIK). Just take care to hide the cord and don't destroy the male that's plugged to the wall pushing the desk, whatsoever.

FreedomFighter617 (author)2008-09-26

Quick safety tip: you should always wrap the plug with electrical tape to prevent shorts. Otherwise, this was quite the educational Instructable.

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