Introduction: Desktop Power Outlet

Picture of Desktop Power Outlet

One of the great annoyances of life with electronics is that many of them need to be charged. In a future world maybe we'll have an induction system in our houses and cars that allow these things to run and charge without hassle, but until then we must deal with outlets and power strips.

Often our power outlets are in inconvenient locations. Especially when you have a computer desk and it covers the outlet in your wall. This will definitely make your day when it comes to charging those little electronics we all wander around with, but it could be beefed up and used in your shop and garage for large 20amp outlets, both 120v and 240v.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

You need stuff.*

* Wood
* A power outlet and cover that matches it
* An outlet electrical box
* A wire clamp for that box
* Either a replacement cord for tools or a power cord for a computer or printer that you have lying around

Tools and things.

* A saw of some variety
* Screw driver
* Knife or wire stripper
* Paint, if desired
* A drill and bits
* Wood filler
* Glue
* Finish nails or decorative screws
* Electrical tester
* Sander

If you had a 3D printer, then you'd need much less stuff. Design and print your box and tada. Put a wire and outlet in it and you're off and running. You could even print the outlet cover and maybe even the screw to hold it on. Or just make it snap on to the box. And you'd likely not even have to paint it.

Step 2: Getting Started

Picture of Getting Started

Decide how you want the wire oriented as it comes out of the box you build. I just picked one of the knock-out holes on the back of the electrical box. Coming out of the back this way will let me choose whether I want the box to lay on it's side or stand up.

I choose to use an electrical box inside the wooden box because these things are generally approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) for safety. In the unlikely event that the outlet sparks I'd rather it not be in direct contact with wood.

Step 3: Box Construction

Picture of Box Construction

With the wire clamp protruding out of the back of the electrical box you'll need to compensate for it by making the wooden box deeper than the it protrudes. Once you find that measurement you can mark and cut your wood.

You'll notice in the pictures that I cut my wood with 45 degree angles at the corners. This isn't necessary, but since I have a miter saw I went ahead and did it. You can just as easily cut the pieces straight. It's actually easier to do it like that, but if you want to stain the box it won't look as nice as if you 45 the corners. And it'll impress people with how diligent and thorough you are.

I have an air nail gun, so that's what I used to put mine together. You can just as easily use finish nails or screws. It'll help to pre-drill for both. And just for added strength use some good wood glue in the joints.

You could inset the back of the box, but that would only be necessary if you're going to be staining it and trying to impress people with how diligent and thorough and utterly OCD you are.

Step 4: Shaping and Filling and Finishing

Picture of Shaping and Filling and Finishing

If you're going to do any shaping of the box it's best to do it before filling the holes and gaps. You can use a sander like I did or a router if you have one and are going for a very uniform look. Or a few wood files and sandpaper and the painkiller of your choice for your sore wrists and cramped palms.

If you use a sander you won't get uniform edges. I'm making this for me and will probably be the only one to notice it. I can live with some unevenness.

Use a wood filler that's close in color to your wood. This is really only important if you're stain it though. If you're painting you can use whatever is at hand. Fill the gaps, let it dry, sand it smooth.

Drill the hole for your power cord before finishing the box. If it happens to booger up the wood, you can sand and fill as needed. You'll want to use a bit as close to the size of the cord as possible for a good fit with little wiggle.

Spray paint, hand paint, or stain (if staining coat with a clear sealer).

Step 5: Wiring and Installing

Picture of Wiring and Installing

Compensating for the protruding wire clamp leaves some space at the back of the box. Lucky for me mine happened to be the thickness of the wood I'd used to make the box. So I took a piece of scrap, put a little wood glue on it, and put it inside to fill the gap.

Thread the wire through the hole in the box and then . . . thread the wire through the hole in the box. The other box. Through the wire clamp. Pull out enough so that you can strip the outer black insulation back and expose about 3 inches of the inner wires. Tighten down the wire clamp about a half an inch before the stripped area begins (make sure it clamps down on the black outter insulation). Make it pretty tight so that you don't have to worry about the odd event of something pulling it out.

A lot of people get nervous about wiring electricity. There is really nothing to it. I often tell people that running electric wiring is like running extension cords and the only difference is at the end you have to strip wires and screw them into something.

Here it couldn't be more simpler. All outlets are pretty much the same these days. The brass screw gets the black wire, the silver screw gets the white wire, and the green screw gets the green wire (or in the case of it not being insulated, the bare copper wire).

Once you have the outlet wired, push the electric box into the wooden enclosure and screw it in to secure it. I had to pre-drill a hole for my screw. You might have to as well, but it depends on the kind of electrical box you have.

Now that that's done, screw the outlet into the box and put on your cover.

Step 6: Test and Use and Other Options

Picture of Test and Use and Other Options

All houses should come with an outlet tester. Or at least people should buy one when they go house shopping. Make sure you get the GFCI kind so you can check that GFCI circuits are working too. They are a great thing to have and can be bought for less than $10. To use it, just plug it into your new outlet and check that lights indicate that they are correctly wired. If there is an issue take apart your outlet and check your work. Worst case scenario is that you find out that your wall outlet (and maybe whole house) is wired incorrectly.

You might consider putting little stick-on no-skid feet on your outlet so that it doesn't move too much as you plug things into it. I didn't, but you certainly can. Plug it in, put it in the spot of your choice, and never again have to bend and contort and stretch to find an unfortunately placed electrical outlet.


As several comments point out there are now several makers of power outlets that include USB ports on them (see photo). Be careful what you buy though. If you want to charge an iPad you'll want to get an outlet in which the USB ports are rated for 2.1 amps. This is from the Amazon description of the outlet pictured below:

"The Leviton USB Charger/Tamper-Resistant Receptacle is compatible with a wide range of electronic devices including, but not limited to, the following: iPad, iPhone (including iPhone 5), Kindle Fire HD, iPod, tablets, mobile phones, Blackberry, Android phones, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, Bluetooth headsets, digital cameras, Kindle, Nook e-readers, GPS, and many more. Note: USB Ports are not intended to charge two tablets simultaneously. If the devices' combined power requirements exceed the power capacity of the USB ports, the charger will automatically shut down to protect your devices. To charge two tablets use the high power USB port and the tamper-resistant receptacle."


kqutter12 (author)2016-08-29

I'm going to make that it would be great for my two computers?

dlewisa (author)kqutter122016-08-29

I use mine all of the time. It's handy.

kqutter12 (author)2016-08-29

Oops no question mark I mean period

Bobstars (author)2014-06-21

Great Project. Very simple and strait forward. A great little father's day gift.

kqutter12 (author)Bobstars2016-08-29

Very nics

kqutter12 (author)kqutter122016-08-29

I mean nice I don't know why my auto correction is not working well but anyway very cool

kylegilbert (author)2014-11-23

This is very nice. Nice job! Something like this would be great for my office.

dlewisa (author)kylegilbert2014-11-24

Thanks! It's really quite handy.

essalyn (author)2013-04-04

This is an amazing project. I like it a lot better than power strips. Do you have the dimensions of the wood? I dont have a lot of wood working tools and would have to get it cut at the lumber yard.

dlewisa (author)essalyn2013-04-05

I didn't keep a record of the dimensions. I didn't really measure actually. If you make one of these the wood dimensions will be based on the size of the electric box you choose. They will all be similar, but they all will vary a few fractions of an inch here and there. If you have $15 to $25 you can buy a japanese style hand saw that would do all of the cutting you need. They also may be called fine toothed saws or finish saws.

Maggew (author)2013-03-01

Marvelous share!

jimbarbera (author)2013-02-20

With 2 and 3 gang boxes and Decora faceplates, there are a great number of options:
Tabletop dimmer box.
Wind up timer for soldering irons.
Combo setup with three outlets and 2 USB ports.
Motion sensor light & peripheral controller.
For controlling lights, you can run a zip cord (or several) out the back alongside the main power cord.  Terminate with two prong receptacles into which you plug your lamps.

Putting some grippy feet on the bottom is key to keeping it from scooting around and marring your desktop.

dlewisa (author)jimbarbera2013-02-20

yeah, I'd thought about different switches and things in it. I couldn't think of a reason for me to have a dimmer or power switch for anything at the moment, so I just made power. The timer switch might be a good idea though. It could keep people from spending too much time on their computer. Heh heh.

Lethrwolf (author)2013-02-16

Nice work.
They have different colors of face plates for outlets, and you can also find decorative plates at most home/building supply outlets. You can always hand paint or texture to enhance the stain or paint you used on the cover.

dlewisa (author)Lethrwolf2013-02-16

Very true. I'd considered one that was white and looked like this

gudenuf (author)2013-01-31

Why not simply use a power strip - (the multi socket connector that you can buy for a few bucks?)

Spokehedz (author)gudenuf2013-01-31

We know that products similar to this exist. Sometimes you want to MAKE something to call it your own. It doesn't help anyone to point out that a similar product exists and can be ready made.

dlewisa (author)Spokehedz2013-02-01

You are awesome. Boromir is the sum of all wisdom.

Madrigorne (author)dlewisa2013-02-04

I also heart Boromir.

cupojoe999 (author)gudenuf2013-01-31

Power strips are cool, and I use them all the time when they can be hidden away. Most power strips unfortunately look ugly to me, and I don't want them all over the place. I could see myself putting these all around the house when I need an extra outlet or two. The best part about these is I can make the case blend into what ever its next to. May not be the quickest solution but its a lot more fun than buying a power strip. :)

dlewisa (author)cupojoe9992013-02-01

Absolutely. You can make one of these to match any kind of table and any kind of color scheme in a room.

shannonlove (author)gudenuf2013-01-31

Form factor can be very important.

Power strips are long and wobbly. Worse, overtime their cords twist and start flipping the strip around if it is not anchored. Not a particularly good designs in general and really not suited for a desktop.

You might simply want a two outlet and two outlet power strips are rare to non-existant. 

dlewisa (author)gudenuf2013-01-31

Where's the fun in that?

gudenuf (author)dlewisa2013-01-31

Very true - and compliments on a very well presented instructable!. I think somebody else commented that it might be useful to add a USB socket, so that it is universal.

pmil1197 (author)2013-02-02

do you think you could use an old extension cord??

dlewisa (author)pmil11972013-02-02

Yes, but . . . you'd want it to have the three prong plug on the end of it and you'd want to know the gauge of the wire inside it. The one I used was 16gauge and stated that it was suitable for 13 amps.

penrodja (author)2013-02-02

Brilliant! Simply Brilliant!

mattglas (author)2013-02-02

Wouldn't this overload the original socket and be a fire hazard?

dlewisa (author)mattglas2013-02-02

Only if your wall outlet looks like the mess you see in A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation. As long as you're not trying to run a shop vac or power saw out of the desktop outlet as well as running a table saw out of the wall outlet you'll be fine. Little devices like phones and gizmos don't take that much power.

I guess it would also depend on how much you have loaded on the circuit breaker for the room as well, but again, as long as you're not trying to run 8 televisions you're okay.

Lowriderpr (author)2013-02-02

Fantastico,very nice job :)

rsmaudsley (author)2013-01-31

I did something similar to this many years ago when I was a computer consultant. My client was a lawyer and an absolute minimalist, almost to the point of being an illness.

Any ways, I built an electrical outlet in to the top of his desk using a recessed outlet with spring covers that closed over the sockets when not used.

He would plug his laptop in to it, but when clients came over, he'd put his laptop in the drawer and put a potted plant over the socket so you couldn't see there was anything there.

So why the spring closing doors over the socket, if he's just going to put the potted plant over it, because the potted plant when home with him at night because he only had the one plant. Why have two plants when you can never be in two places at the same time was his I said, almost an illness.

dlewisa (author)rsmaudsley2013-02-01

Wow. That's . . . wow.

I thought about those pop up outlets, but I didn't want to put holes in my counter top. The desk top actually is a laminate counter and I had them give a finished edge to both sides of it in case I scratched up the side nearest to me. Someday I could just turn it around and have a new surface and the rest would be covered by monitors and stuff.

TyrleY (author)2013-02-01

it is beautiful. brilliant idea, and done very aesthetically pleasing / elegant

throbscottle (author)2013-01-31

Neat project. From the cover photo I actually thought you'd re-purposed a PC speaker case for this. I like your way better :)

onemoroni1 (author)2013-01-31

Great idea and instructable.

beingobserver (author)2013-01-31

brilliant idea and execution.. congrats

alanemartin (author)2013-01-31

This is a very well-written Instructable. Great job. I think it's very helpful when authors mention alternatives to design. After all, these are not supposed to be "here's the one correct way to do x," but rather show what's possible and give ideas.

If someone were to decide on staining instead of painting, they could make the back cover smaller to fit inside instead of butting up against the box. That way less end grain would show. Might be nice to make one with dovetails.

ggardner7 (author)2013-01-31

That's awesome I got some power cords dog eat the end off of and this is the perfect project thanx

qkidd (author)2013-01-31

Great idea. A couple of alternatives I can think of would be to use one of the outlets with USB charging ports. Or scale it up with a two gang outlet box.

BeoWulfe (author)2013-01-31

Oooh!! You can make these even more awesome by using the new USB power outlets! That way you can also charge your USB stuff without having to use up a socket. Just Google them. I've seen them going for as high as $40 to as little as <$10. Great work!

dlewisa (author)BeoWulfe2013-01-31

I've seen those too. I didn't think of it as I made this though. Good thinking!

imark77 (author)BeoWulfe2013-01-31

good idea

epsilon222 (author)2013-01-31

I like how the cover outlet extending into the enclosure edges simulates a thinner box.

Sunbringer (author)2013-01-31

Very nice idea!. Thanks.

imark77 (author)2013-01-31

In case anybody runs into "blue, brown, green-yellow".
yet another color-coded standard used in other parts of the world and some computer power cords.

it couldn't be simpler.
The brass screw gets the "H/+" black (brown) wire,
the silver screw gets the "N/-" white (blue) wire,
and the green screw gets the "G" green (green-yellow) wire (or in the case of it not being insulated, the bare copper wire).

I know I am going to get flak for using "+" "-" but for beginners it's fairly easy to understand coming from the DC World.

Wiring Color Codes ( !! could potentially be over the head !! )

I guess I'm willing to take electrical questions if need be.

P.S. I definitely recommend checking your outlet, on your wall. "prior" to testing the newfangled creation. it will save a lot of time and headaches, believe me I've done it multiple times……………………

stereosmiles (author)2013-01-30

I reckon if you managed to cover the front in complementary woodesque sticky wrap, the steampunks would be WELL jealous of this, especially in a hundred years' time when it's considered "Elizabethan". Well written by the way :)

schumi23 (author)stereosmiles2013-01-30

I think this might inspire me...
I would add another double outlet behind... and a big red button... You have to have a big red button... the one Awkward Engineer made could work...
Have that... Make it a rectangular top...
Red LEDs inside...
Have it sustain it self nuclearily... Make it explode if turned the wrong way...

So many ideas!..
Have water being elecrosyised in it onstantly, having it output into a baloon... o completly sealed... JIC there is ever a spark inside...

NOTE: Do not implement most of the ideas on this list. Danger!

dlewisa (author)stereosmiles2013-01-30

That was something I'd thought of. There are plenty of copper and brass plates out there. Buy one and force some aging on it and the box could have been wrapped with copper flashing. Throw some rivets into it.

Gonazar (author)2013-01-29

Great piece of work! But why not use a power bar?

seamus_mf (author)Gonazar2013-01-30


About This Instructable




Bio: I'll try to fix or build anything.
More by dlewisa:Fort & Tent KitStyrofoam Cutting BladeSpicy Relish and Other Pickles
Add instructable to: