How to read this Instructable: (A) Read the titles of Introduction #1 and Introduction #2. (B) Choose either #1 or #2 to read in its entirety, depending on your local conditions. (C) Or read them both. (D) Proceed to step 1.


I built a folding desk, out of wood, which folds flat (standing) to an unobtrusive package ~7 inches deep, 30 inches tall, and 5 feet wide, and opens up to a 24 inch deep by 5 feet wide work area. It works. Please have a look by passing directly to step 1.


Scenario the first, wherein we consider those times we lacked a folding desk, and so we suffered a set-back

How often has it happened to you, that you stumbled across a Situation for which if only you had had a folding desk, benefits would have fallen into your lap like ripe fruit plucked just in time and washed in the sparkling waters of deep-woods Maine once held sacred by pre-European natives and polished against the soft thighs (the entirely proper upper frontal portions thereof) of vestal virgins (of whatever sex and gender pleases you most)? Picture this:

Yeah, I'd hire you right now on the spot for this creative job of planning a multi-generational, interstellar coloniza-tion voyage, and pay you tons of money with full medical benefits and weeks of paid vacation per year, IF ONLY you had brought your own desk with you to the interview, because, as you see, we're short on desks.

Wicked bummer, as they say in my native Massachusetts. You need to carry a folding desk in your vehicle.

Scenario the second, during which inspiration came, then went: went so bad it done gone

On a deserted volcanic island just south of the Philippines, the tropical vines brush your cheeks as you push through the jungle, up the peak. The sweat has been washed from you in one of those sudden showers that sweep through like vague curtains. Ahead, a cliff wall still dripping from the shower seems to glow as the sun emerges and electrifies the clinging droplets, and then....you see the work of a human hand! Initials emerge, 'A.S.' followed by an arrow, and the arrow points into a cave concealed by the angle of buttress-like rock. Your pace quickens, the razor grass rasps your bare shins, leaves red lines that weep their own little glistening droplets, but no matter -- there's a skeleton before you, reclining on a ledge in the cave, and a few rusted masses of steel that were once implements, and one piece of shining gold that once covered the face of a watch. You pick up the gold watch, open its cover like a doctor examining under ban-dages, and there it is, an inscription -- this is the watch of Arne Saknussemm!

It hits you like a flash of tropical sun spearing through the squall -- Verne was writing geography, not fiction. All of a sudden Professor Hartshorn's Geology 106 course -- taken years ago -- all falls into place. He would be so proud of you. A revelation -- you must retrain, re-theorize, offer the world shocking new theories. The slopes of the volcano drift under you in your sliding, tumbling, careening return voyage to the tourist camp. You must start now, a PhD dissertation hovers at the edge of cognition, no, two PhD dissertations, one for Geology, and one for Comparative Literature, since Verne too must be re-visioned.

You arrive at the camp, bruised and disheveled. Fellow adventure tourists offer you bottled flavored water, iced delicacies from the cooler, barbecued exotica carried up the slope by the guides for lunch. The helicopter turbine spools up to whisk you back to the resort (the guides must walk) in time for cocktails, but no, no, you reject this foolishness, you despise a life spent in wanton, arrogant pleasures. You must write, you must start now, but all is lost. You can't start. It is gone. You need a desk to organize your project and map out the location of the cave. You need it now. Where is your folding desk, which can be carried anywhere? You never built it. You n-e-v-e-r built it.

Scenario the third -- a True Story

Your friend works for a very real, innovative high school. They are what the future of urban education should be. They do many things well, but of course, they have no money. Educating teenagers is not considered a valuable enough of an occupation to warrant any attention from the powerful. Classes are small, true, your colleagues are agreeable and full of hope; you could get education done in such a place, but.... teachers don't have their own desks. There's no room besides no money. They migrate from class to class, bringing their stuff with them. Your friend needs a folding desk that would store right under the chalk tray of the blackboard when not used, and quickly fold out to spread out and correct those essays, and just as quickly fold down again to travel to whatever new location the small school will offer next. She needs one, and you build it. For real. It works. Please have a look.

-- photo, completed desk in classroom

Footnote: I just discovered that Automater built something of similar design. Go see: https://www.instructables.com/id/Collapsable-Hobby-Bench/

Step 1: Materials and Design Paradigms

TOOLS: cross-cut saw, electric or hand-drill, screw driver (I also used bit-and-brace with screwdriver bit; much cooler than battery driven screwdrivers; I bought this at an antique shop and just used it because it was still strong), block plane or radius tool to break sharp edges, pencil, measuring thingies, sanding thingies, clamps, and a counter-sink tool.

MATERIALS: 1 x 4 or 1 x 3 pine boards, laminated table-top available at most commercial home improvement stores. A few screws, glue, four small hinges, one long piano hinge, optional chair/table leg-bottom plastic protective thingies.

MY DESIGN -- Three components: (1) support stand: a standing structure like a book case with-out the shelves (but wait! You can also build a bookcase and add a desk top over its front: just make sure you store books there not often used). (2) Fold-outs that will fold out and support the desk top. (3) The desktop hinged in some way to the front edge of the bookcase-like skeleton.

Subsidary structures in include diagonal bracing on the back of the support stand. How can you get there? Here's how: (A) Follow this instructable slavishly, or (B) follow my less proscriptive design paradigm below (Eternal Rights to the Paradigm granted to Instructables):

Design Paradigm Stage 1 -- Perform ergonomic thought experiments to decide the dimensions needed for your folding desk. English teachers need a minimum of 5 foot desk top width and 24 inch depth or we lose our minds. Generally 28 to 30 inch height works best for the Standard Human but feel free to vary that as needed. Just sit somewhere, pile your usual stuff around you, and move around in typical ways. Take notes about the things that fall off the table, the things that you bump with your elbow, the things your forehead hits when you pass out from exhaustion and collapse forward onto the desk.

From these notes you will grow a basic ergonomic schematic. All good things flow from this spiritual engineering.

Design Paradigm Stage 2 -- Think really really hard about how you will locate your folding desk, thus:

Must it be stored in a high traffic area such that you don't stumble against it? (as at the front of a crowded classroom, thus setting a thinness parameter; if not, you can relax that parameter and make it bigger in folded down condition so you can add features such as storage areas or draws on it).

Will it need to travel in a vehicle often? (if so, will it fit in your car? what parts will be scraped and what parts will scrape your car, thus how shall you round off edges and protect it from scuffs and so on? mine fit in my Ford Focus hatchback with a little slow fitting and push-ing).

Will it need to be nomadic once in a building? (put plastic slidy things on the bottom, or use wheels that contact ground when you tilt one end up to tow -- see my 'toolbox/workbench' instructable).
I absolutely love this! This is exactly what I need for homeschool. I will try to make 3. Two for the kids 1 for me. It would make the moving and setting up at the homestead so much easier.
<p>Thank you! I hope they work out.</p>
Any idea how much this cost total? <br>
The cost was in the tens of dollars. Cheap lumber bought at a big-box store, pre-laminated pine shelving (the quality of the laminated panels has been overtly going down at Home Depot, bad on them). Probably under $50.00. More like $35? I do forget.
Good one, durable. Thanks for sharing...
Ok, female question here...where did you purchase the slender green and pink containers under your desk? Are they plastic or metal?
My friend bought those. That is her classroom. They are plastic. She shops a lot at Office Depot, or Staples, and scavenges when possible. They are kind of interesting aren't they, those 'truncated' milkcrate thingies?
Hi,Wade. Thanks for your reply. I'll see if I can track down a few, not that I NEED them (Ha!)
For a nomad dining table, you can just duplicate the hinge on the other side and make it expand twice. <br> <br>They were selling a similar table at Crate &amp; Barrel for like 350.
Yes, good idea! I'm not that smart. I never think of these things! No, really :-)
Great work, I'm modifying your design for my own ends, thanks for the great write up!<br><br>btw, I find it hard to believe that you're a blogger (yes, this is sarcasm) - Very entertaining read!
This would be a cool way to add workspace to a compact or space-challenged workshop.
I agree about the writing (awesome).&nbsp; I am totally going to incorporate &quot;Wicked Bummer&quot; into my vernacular.<br />
nice writing ! too bad there is no patch for that! thanks buddy
always wanted a folding desk - great space saver
very sharp. is there a reason you chose to mount the top to sit above the top of the frame instead of mounting the hinge so it would sit flush?
Good question. I keep asking it myself, "Wade, what was your reason?" I'm not being sarcastic; I sometimes do really stupid things, indicative of a brain glitch of some sort, which I only discover later, despite 'measure twice, cut once' proverbs. So, I was wrestling with that hinge, putting it here, putting it there, wondering what would be the lowest profile, how it would bend, and where would the screws go. I arrived at the configuration you see mostly because the counter-sinking on the metal hinge holes did not well allow for the size of the screw heads, so that a flush mount would have not looked very flush, if that makes any sense. I opted to place the hinge so that there would be no interference from slightly protruding screw heads -- very slightly protruding, but just enough to irritate. But I do not totally falsify the glitch hypothesis!
For those not grading english papers on it, one could probably just mount the piano hing on the underside of the table and not have to worry about not so countersunk screws or tilting table tops. On the other hand, if you wanted a collapsible drafting table this would be a great design, just make the gate legs a little shorter so you get the tilt you need.
Nice work, good inspiration. Buy yourself a router, you have demonstrated the skills and talent and have the need - tell the wife I said its OK
Thanks. I do have a router, and now that I also have an ex-wife, I can buy any tool that MasterCard says I can, such as the rabbet plane I just got in a 'mythical' anticipation of building a lapstrake boat ;-) but I do not use the router much; I confess it scares the shit out of me. I imagine its 20,000 rpm blade catching on something (or me doing something stupid) and jumping out to raise havoc on my body, though I do use it on occasion, and on my next project -- a desk with niches -- I will again (stay tuned). (Oddly enough though, my ex-wife would not have been pleased if I had bought a router, though she would have liked the things I would have made with it. Nothing really has to make any sense, does it, as long the law of physics still does? ;-)
For something like this a table router would be good as well and wouldn't risk any nasty bumping jumping power tools. Just find a suitable workbench (or plywood and saw horses) and bolt it to it. For work pieces like the parts you do on this desk it works great. I've made blank necks for cigar box guitars in much the same way. Beats the pants off using a rasp to shape the whole thing.
Actually, the drill press is more likely to "throw you" or catch your sleeve than a router. My nemesis was a flimsy "table saw" (at th time) mounted on the floor when it sliced neatly through a couple of my fingers (put back on at the hospital). I have had a drill press throw a few more things at me than my various table saws, but can't recall the router hurting anything but its own power cord when it dropped out of the table - cause I failed to tighten a nut. When your ard can do it, go for the 3.5 HP Porter Cable or equivalent, Its beefier and powerful enough to serve as a shaper and heavy and stable for hand-held routing. Enjoy the creativity!
I agree about the drill press. I was hurriedly making canoe parts a couple of years ago to get to the water, and a one inch forstner bit caught my fore finger; luckily the rotation direction kicked my finger out again. I am staring at the massive scar right now! I have learned a little to work slowly and if I am in a rush, it is a bad time to be working. Actually, my worst cut is from a Japanese double-edged hand-saw. Years ago I was not yet used to a pull-saw and 'forgot' the saw had teeth on the upper side as I tilted it and neatly sawed right down to the bone with surgical speed!
"Wicked bummer." I love it! I'm from upstate NY, and when I throw one of those sayings out down here in the South, the looks of bewilderment are priceless. Back to the desk, this would also work great for centers in an elementary classroom where space is tight. At home, I really need to make an eating area that folds down, and with a few adjustments, this would work. My daughter and I just moved into a studio apartment, so the 4-6 seater is a little bit too big. By the way, reading through your comments is very entertaining!
Yes, this is a perfect desk for a studio apartment. In fact, you can establish a theme (or whatever they call it in interior decoration trade: a motif?) and built two or three of these exactly where you need them. To save money, they need not be freestanding but rather you could screw the hinge board to the wall. If your landlord might discover that, then, you can still build a free standing version. I am happy you properly interpretered the 'wicked bummer' phrase. That is how I test for people's home regions ;-)
Oh, those are DASHES, not hyphens!
Yes indeed, dashes. The &quot;double-hyphen = a dash&quot; comes from the typewriter days, when it was the accepted and easy way to get a dash or a hyphen out of one mechanical key. The convention continued into the early word-processing days when &quot;insert special symbol&quot; menus (or anymenu at all!) were not available, or you had to key in macro-codes just to get a printer's dash. Now of course with the desk-top revolution (a revolution old enough now that most of you are too young to really know what that was and meant) you can insert 2-em and 3-em dashes (short dash, longer dash) and so on. I still use the double-hyphen as a quick way to make a dash while typing. However, that shows my age (almost 50); younger folk growing up post-Macintosh-era are sometimes confused about hyphens and double-dashes. yes, this is a nerdy conversation, but if you are ever feeling in a nerdy mood, talk to older folk who are printers or writers and listen to their pre-desk-top-revolution tales! They will sound as strange as fairy tales -- perhaps their tales will recount the sound and smell of a waxing machine and rub-on symbol pages and evoke a horror as sublime as Bluebeard's forbidden room! ;-) <br/>
Oh boy, this really takes me back! Mdash, ndash, hyphen... *nostalgic sigh* I'm sorry to see them going. Even I've fallen victim to the common bastardized ellipsis.<br/><br/>By the way, I really like your table design. I've got limited space -- a studio apt. -- and folding the table away when done with it is a great idea. I don't know why I didn't even think of it before now. It's not like my dining table is an old drop-leaf, or that my couch has fold-away armrests, or that I haven't become the queen of storage remedies since moving here. Silly me! I'm going to go through my scrap wood pile later on and see if I can put one of these together, just on a smaller scale. If I'm successful, I'll post a photo.<br/>
Did you ever get to it? Such a project is made simpler by the cheap and ready-made laminated 'tops' sold at Home Depot. They have sizes such as 2 x 6 feet, 2 x 4 feet, 18 inches by 4/6 feet. In fact, if you bought two, you have all the wood you need for the top and the sides, and a few simple saw cuts, and some hinges, completes the project. Good luck.
The folding table surface looks like it angles downward with a slight tilt. Was that intentional? If it wasn't, I was thinking if you could cut a small triangular shim to mount on the underside of the table, it could let the legs slide up and you could raise the horizontal surface so the whole table is level and still have a stable surface. If the center section of the fold out sags, next time you could split the piano hinge in the middle and make a slider that swings out to support the underside of the center as well. The piano hinge is probably sturdy enough though. Great idea, entertaining instructable. (-:
The tilt was intentional to the extent that (1) I knew it would be there, and (2) it is a convenient tilt angle for an English teacher correcting losts of essays. It is not convenient for other things such as (1) aesthetics and (2) serving food on, which I am told it was used for last night by school staff during parent meetings. Yes, I can spacer-it-up-level by simply addinglittle blocks to the tops of the foldout legs (or the gate-legs, as I am told by Isloan is the proper terminology. My friend is using the table, and at some point I will ask her what she would like to change about it, and I will make the changes -- the joy of wood, and of being the builder of a thing!
I like the idea. Never before has an Instructable made such good use of the hyphen.
I'm glad you like the hyphens. It's hard finding a person nowadays who appreciates this undeservedly hated punctuation!

About This Instructable




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