Introduction: Nomad Bookshelves Desk

Picture of Nomad Bookshelves Desk
I wanted to build my own desk using the simple college standard of a hollow door. But I didn't want to have just a door on milk crates, I wanted it to look like a desk, like it was meant to be there. While planning furniture I came across Wade Tarzia's essay on nomad furniture and was instantly attracted to the mortise and tenon bookshelves he had built. I also came across Uberwald's desk and thus the idea was born.

  • 1x12 pine boards
  • 2x2 pine boards
  • 28" hollow door
  • Minwax Golden Pecan 245 Stain
  • 4' power strip (from Fry's)
  • Inside corner molding
  • Some screws (none on shelves)
A few notes
Because people look at the oddest things in photos on the internet I feel compelled to make a few notes.
  • There are some visible wires. I am going to use white gaffer's tape to tape them to the white walls, if it ever arrives.
  • Yes, I have a box of speakers as a temporary bedside table.
  • Please feel free to guess as many books as you can.
  • If you wonder about that green thing on the shelf it is one of these.
  • The second monitor and digital photo frame were free, so no questions on those.
Thanks to my dad (who had experience building tenon and wedge shelves) and brother who helped me build the desk. Also thanks to the aforementioned Instructables members for the ideas.

Update (April 2011): Added a few new photos to replace old ones.


zachsoniasummers (author)2011-04-07

Hey Man, thanks for the inspiration. It was a huge influence on a piece I just completed:

I plan to make a step-by-step soon for it.

rush2ady (author)2010-10-17

Thanks for the instructable!! Here is my attempt at a modified version. As an artist, I wanted the extra desk space!
This desk was my first ever carpentry project. It was a great dive-in to learn some basic skills. I got lots of practice using a jigsaw. I also learned which lumber yard to avoid--the wood used for this warped a lot, which caused trouble in fitting the desk together. So, it's not perfect, but still beautiful and functional.
Wanting a natural non-toxic finish, I coated it with a few coats of raw tung oil, then lightly sanded it.

Coryz (author)2009-10-12

Thank you for posting this.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  I'm sitting at my just finished today Nomad Bookcase Desk! 

Well, I still need to stain it, but that may wait until Spring.

Some Notes:
* Material costs were under $100.
* I set my desktop height to 28" for typing/writing
* 13" between top and 2nd from top shelf
* 13" between mid-bottom and middle shelf
* Bottom shelf is < 13" due to wanting desktop height at 28"

I'm not sure if OP locked desktop supporting shelves in with moulding on both sides.  I did this on mine.

This really is a nice sturdy and portable desk unit.  It should survive much better than knock down furniture.

WhyIsThisOpen (author)Coryz2009-10-13

That's great. Thanks for posting! (It's really cool to see that in someone else's backyard.) You seem right on with the numbers. (My shelves range between 11 and 13.5 inches apart and my desk is 30" off the ground.) Also, I did use molding on both sides of the desk. I hope you enjoy it.

mpaula.whelan (author)2015-02-19

What I like best about this desk is that it can easily be converted to be used while standing! I have been thinking about making 'risers' for the legs on my desk but your design might win me over.

sgsidekick (author)2009-10-12

This is the answer to my office problem!  I've tried many different desk setups, but this looks to be the best by far!  Do you have more detailed instructions/guidance on the tenon & wedge, or any helpful hints for someone attempting this for the first time?

WhyIsThisOpen (author)sgsidekick2009-10-13

The basic idea of the tenon and wedge construction is simple: the peg passes through the shelf passes through the side of the bookshelf. The execution requires a lot of patience and a lot of sanding. You should cut the holes a little smaller than they need to be and sand/file them to get a tight fit. The pegs are almost door-stop shaped. (Longer pegs are better.) You will need to use a jigsaw to cut the holes, of course, and that will require care. 

I have sent a few people this file with some more dimensions. I can't guarantee it will be at this location forever, but for now:  .
The first few pages use "idealized dimensions" so they won't fit real lumber. The last page uses the actual dimensions (like I said, plus or minus a hair) used for the ends of the shelf. I made a prototype end piece with those dimensions to make sure they would be sufficient.

Update: As of 12/16/2014 the file is STILL there, saving it to my desktop incase it ever does go down and someone needs it

File is still there. This is perfect for the studio I'm setting up in the spare room. Thanks

Just wanted to say that the file is still there as of 02 APR 2010. Thanks for that file too! If you want, I can throw the file up on my server too if you think that it's going to go away any time soon.

sgsidekick (author)WhyIsThisOpen2009-10-14

Thanks.  The file is still there.  It took me a bit tifigure out the hand-drawn one, but it finally made sense. Theshoulder measurements were written in the "dead space".Doh!  Too early in the a.m., I think, to be looking at plans! *lol*

I look forward to making this real soon, as I need to make sense of thechaos that is my home office.  Thanks for the directions!

CosmicBrambleclaw (author)2014-12-14

This is awesome :D I live in the arts dorm at my college, and this would be a sweet desk to have next year when I room with my buddy :D (the desks we have now are nice and all, but theres no bookshelf space in my room and the desk is a bit small) plus this is portable in a sense (break down and reassemble) so thats even better for travel ^_^ and I have connections to the craft center, so I can easily do this and prep :D and it goes along with the chair I planned on making

Lovely instructable ^_^

static (author)2014-10-20

I have to say the fished product looks amazing. Respectfully I have to also say that this instructable is horrible in the way it's puto together.

Feelthbrz (author)2012-04-13

Thanks for putting this instructable together! Really inspirational! I'll be starting mine soon.

plasticpopcorn4 (author)2012-04-09

what tools did you use to make the holes/ cuts?

You can use a drill to create a pilot hole and then use a jigsaw to cut the slots. You should cut them just slightly too smal and carefully expand the space using sanding/files/dremel so you have a tight fit.

debcut (author)2012-02-23

I have obviously come late to this discussion, but as a "dumpster-diver" I would like to add that if you keep your eyes open you can get materials for very little money. I have found all sorts of wood by the trash cans of much pickier people than I and after a little soap and water and some varnish the result can be beautiful. I recently "found" 2 wooden pieces 6 ft by 3 ft high that look like very long baby gates. I am trying to figure out if I can create shelves with them. From the looks of these items I am saying "yes".

SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-12-25

iI always wanted a customized computer desk...

Now I'll have one thanks to you Sir!!

TY for sharing! :)

phand124 (author)2011-11-01

i really enjoyed this... the way you presented this makes it look like a professional piece of furniture.... i have got to work this into my room ... not enough shelf space on those prefab knock down shelves for college students

mosshorn (author)2011-08-03

I couldn't find any dimensions for this, but how much desk room do you have available with this?

WhyIsThisOpen (author)mosshorn2011-08-14

If you use a standard 80" door you will have approximately 54" of desk space.

arudd (author)2011-08-13

I'm thinking about building one and wanted to know what thickness of wood you used for the bookcases, and how that's held up so far.

WhyIsThisOpen (author)arudd2011-08-14

These are just normal 1" boards (a little less in actual measurements). They have held up fine. Just like any shelves of this thickness they will sag if you put too much weight on them. For novels and decorated shelves they will work well. For the Encyclopedia Britannica you should try thicker shelves.

arudd (author)2011-08-13

I'm about to try to build one to use as my computer desk, and I wanted to know how thick the pine boards used and how its held up so far. I saw another instructable of bookshelves using 2" but it looks like yours aren't as thick.

live_corrugated (author)2011-02-02

Impressive design! Great effect with keyed tennons, and only with a few hand tools!

maddog45 (author)2010-12-17

great desk!! it will be my next project thank you!

just_icarus (author)2010-11-29

could this be modified into a loft bed with bookshelves an a desk? like.. could the bookshelves be expanded horizontally (so they're longer) to support a bed? even with a box spring, would a center support be necessary?

Making a bed won't be possible with this design. The wood is all the wrong dimensions and the stability of the desk is highly dependent on the tightness of the joints which would lessen if subjected to tossing and turning.

bummer. thanks!

wheelbme (author)2010-08-09

I like it! Could you do another instructable, in PDF, for this desk and the carrying device. Or just some more instructions for the carrying device, please.

WhyIsThisOpen (author)wheelbme2010-08-10

Thanks for the comment. The basic dimensions I used are below in other posts and in the pdf linked below. I didn't take many photos along the way and none of them illustrative enough for me to make a set of instructions that I would be happy with. The carrying handle is really simple if you see the whole thing. Basically it is just scrap wood cut so that the two side pieces can only fit though the holes in the shelves one way. Then the small side has an oak dowel though it. (The oak only barely caries that much weight, so I would recommend metal if you have it.) Also, I taped some cloth to the bottom (large ends) of the side beams to prevent the wood from marring the shelves.

makalove (author)WhyIsThisOpen2010-09-02

Perhaps not illustrative enough for you to be happy with them, but when i find an instructable i'd like to use but can't currently (because i live in a very quite apartment building where i can't make that much noise and mess, because i can't afford the materials, etc.), i like to save it in a folder for later use. This is not something i can do with a slideshow.

ExtremeYoshiFan (author)2010-08-06

That is actually an awesome Desk, I may build one at some point to put in my garage to use as a workbench. That is one of the better desk designs I have seen, great work. I could easily fit a Radio and all my tools on there. Actual building instruction would be great, but I know enough about wood to know how to go about building this.

rapidprototyping (author)2010-07-25

your slide show was excellant and the over all out come was impressive this is the kind of desin work that deserves praise but dont rest keep improving it smaller different materials. I have worked in walnut cherry and mahagoney mahagoney was similar to pine in that it was fairly easy to mill without burning and routed and sanded easy. southern yellow pine is my foforite as it has that resenous smell it releases as you mill and sand it. the tenons if it were cherry wood could be smaller but thew cost would be enormous as wide boards sell fro premium. I wanted to post a photo i have of a tressel table but they have server maintence going down today. I love the integerty of the tressel table design. I use two saw horses and solid six panel door for my work bench very stable and portable as well. by the time i add my table top shop tools it's just at the right height. I firmly belive in wipe on poly as finish and for pine one with stain incorporated into it honey pine i think its called. on older recycled souther yellow pine gave it an older then new look

polymeme (author)2010-07-01

I am in love with the carrying rig. Simple, elegant, and genius.

cavedueller (author)2010-01-18

This is a beautiful desk design! Next time I move, I'm not going to bother breaking down and building my disintegrating fiberboard desk; I'll just make one of these when I get there!

Also, a cubbyhole/keyboard drawer slot could easily be added by adding another shelf a few inches below the desktop.

elheffe (author)2009-10-03

the pic with dimensions is hard to discern... is there a way you could put a clearer or higher rez pic up? I am definetly going to build this as my job has me move every three years, more if you count my tours in other countries for extended periods of time within that three years...

WhyIsThisOpen (author)elheffe2009-10-04

Those dimensions are the idealized, not actual, measurements. But I'll PM you something.

bobafonte (author)WhyIsThisOpen2009-10-11

Could you PM me the same something?


Arghus (author)2009-10-01

simple but Genial project

michel moltrum (author)2009-09-17

very nice Instructable, charlie johnson, sketchup is really useful isn't it?

I don't know who Charlie Johnson is. But thanks.

neither do i, but good instructable

Taranach (author)2009-09-18

This is a really cool idea... I love "nomad" furniture due to it's portability and ease of use. I like to design collapsible furniture for primitive camping so that it will fit in a six to eight foot trailer. I even built a 20 x 24 foot tent that uses locking pivot poles for the main uprights. I am now trying to get it so that it only takes two or three people to set up. Great idea and great instructable! Keep up the cool ideas!

Pagan Wizard (author)2009-09-16

It looks great, but where are the instructions on how to make it? We need the dimensions.

beta1072 (author)2009-09-01

Am I the only one who can't see the slideshow? I have tried on 3 different computers.

WhyIsThisOpen (author)beta10722009-09-01

Try now, they got it working.

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