Picture of Pack Flat Plywood Desk
Recently I was in the market for a new desk.

I wanted to make a desk that was able to be disassembled and packed flat, made from few and easily obtainable supplies with simple tools.

The desk can be created from the following supplies:
1 4'x8'x3/4" A-1 plywood sheet
2 4' 3/8" steel rod
2 3/8" nuts
2 3/8" wingnuts
8 washers
8 screws
Some woodglue

You will need the following tools:
Tape measure
Circular saw (or other saw for making large cuts in the plywood)
Coping saw (for cutting the notches)
Several clamps

I also recommend a squaring device such as a speed square.

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Step 1: Create the tops and the sides

Picture of Create the tops and the sides
Divide the plywood into 4 pieces measuring 2'x4'. You could have the lumber yard do this for you, or use your own tools.

Two of these will be for the top and bottom of the desk and two will be for the sides. I recommend using the smoothest and most regular surface for the top of the desk.

Step 2: Cut notches into the sides of the top and bottom pieces

Picture of Cut notches into the sides of the top and bottom pieces
There needs to be a notch in the top and bottom of the sandwich you will build. Measure out a notch that is 6 inches from the front and the back of the desk and 1 1/2" deep. Use your coping saw to cut this. Repeat until both the top and the bottom of the sandwich have the notches cut on both sides. You will have cut four notches when this is complete.

Step 3: Cut the tabs in the legs

Picture of Cut the tabs in the legs
Measure and cut out two of the corners of each leg. Since I'm using 3" high boards for the sandwich and the top and bottom of the sandwich are 3/4" thick I need the depth to be at least 4 1/2". I wanted to be sure things fit snugly and didn't mind the overhang so I made mine 5 1/2" deep. The width of each cut should be 6". This makes the tab match up with the notch you cut in step 2.
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B52Gunner1 year ago
My son and I made this desk so he could take it back to college. Very easy to build and a great design. We've gotten quite a few compliments on it. This is my favorite instructable so far.
milkbarn4 years ago
Your boards of canada reference is great.
I had a desk like this but it started bending after 2 years wih a 17 inch old school monitor on it.
drocko (author)  DIYhomecenter7 years ago
I think it's unlikely that the top of the desk will bend under weight-- there's a lot of wood and structure there. The legs I could see bending over time. I've been using the desk since I finished it in December and have had no problems with stability or bending.
Hows it holding up now?
why not real wood why not a tressel design table either coffee table or desk
drocko (author)  rapidprototyping4 years ago
Why don't you do this and post an Instructable about it?
nice.  now shove some shallow drawers into those spaces for better storage and to cover the edges.  and you wouldn't have to worry about your pencils rolling away. 
wow very nice and simple
acornman6 years ago
Carry the box - tab idea further... make another box section exactly the same as the desk top but a third of the depth (narrower) .cut a tab to the width of the new box at the bottom rear of both side legs with spacing either side . The sides are then dropped into the new box at the back.Now you have tied the sides together without the rods and provided a foot rest at the same time, also assembly and disassembly now require no tools!
You know, if you're having a problem filing, you may want to invest in some quality files. I used a set of stanley's for years, then I use a friends Rockley's, and it was like a torch through butter.
you were talking about the pain of filing... would a belt sander help here to grind away that excess from the cut?
drocko (author)  neuralstatic6 years ago
I'm sure it would. Don't have one though!
ursus577 years ago
Great quick and storable item-some one will steal this and patent it. Will build, for the grand brats.
csmithblues7 years ago
my only question is this: is there any advantage to having the leg tabs "hover" over the surface of the desk? Fantastic instructable by the way.
drocko (author)  csmithblues7 years ago
Thanks! There's really no reason for the legs to hover over the top of the desk. I did it because I wanted to be able to have a functioning desk even if my cuts were not super accurate. I suppose I could cut it down now, but then all my pencils would roll off it.
Amir7 years ago
Before I saw this, I thought that I had a desk that couldn't be improved on. -It's a piece of melamine spanning a gap between two small filing cabinets. but not only does yours look really cool, it's got storage. I love it.
macdadyabc7 years ago
thats a pretty good design. i did a project like this a month ago, but instead, i mounted a peice of mdf to a wall with hinges, and two legs on hinges as well. so i just lift it up, and it only sticks out about an inch or two. its nice to see other ways of thinking
drocko (author)  macdadyabc7 years ago
I saw something like you described on the Cool Tools blog a few weeks ago. Are you describing something like this?.
more or less, yah. mine has two legs ,though, instead of a drawbridge-type- suspension. same basic idea
Xamu7 years ago
I have a recommendation or 2 which will make your desk very much more stable.

1) Instead of using a nut and washer on the threaded rod in between the legs to hold the legs apart, carefully measure the distance between the legs for each rod and cut a piece of 1½" (or thereabouts) PVC plumbing pipe. It is important to cut the ends squarely so you might want to buy an inexpensive miter box. (That will also help you practice with your Japanese hand saw.) Another related trick is to wrap a piece of stiff paper around the pipe until the edge of paper is straight and then you are guaranteed to draw a perfectly square line around the pipe.

After you have the pipe cut to length, slide the rod through the leg, the pipe, and through the other leg. Instead of using the washers and wingnuts, use the washers and regular nuts.

Make sure that the pipe is absolutely square to both of the legs (using your speedsquare) before tightening with a wrench. With 3/8 threaded rod you should be able to really tighten those suckers good.

I recommend that you place one of your PVC encased rods half-way up from the floor along the back of the desk (which I see you have done). A second PVC encased rod can/should be placed much lower and a bit more toward the front (like 6-12" from the back) so, in addition to stability, it can also act as a footrest. (Having the second rod right under the desktop doesn't make the desk very much more stable. By taking it out of the same plane of the rod on the back, you minimize the parallelogram racking stresses. It will also make the desk much more comfortable to use. You might need to do some trial and error to find the most comfortable footrest position but I'm guessing that 5-6" off the ground will be best.

2) You were left with four squares of scrap plywood from when you cut the tongues for the legs. Take one (you actually may need two depending on how straight you saw) of those squares and cut it on the diagonal (make sure one triangular piece has 2 factory edges - not 2 triangular pieces with 1 factory edge each). These will become gussets to strengthen the joint where the leg meets the bottom of the table top. Use the factory edge whenever possible. If the sides of the waste piece you cut (to make the tongues) are not square, don't sweat it. Just get another square waste piece, cut on the diagonal (as above) and use the factory

Pre-drill all holes and screw the gussets about 2-4 inches in from the back of the desk. Why? Two reasons - 1) having the gussets in more means you are stabilizing more of the leg. 2) You might want to put a clamp on the corner and you'll need the overhang so the clamp can grab.
drocko (author)  Xamu7 years ago
God ideas! I've been using the desk as it is in the Instructable since I built it and I"m finding that it's a lot more sturdy than many of the comments imply. If it starts to wobble in the future I'll add some enhancements like you suggest. Thanks!
Xamu drocko7 years ago
Sorry, didn't mean to imply your design wasn't very sturdy. You have a very innovative design that applies forces very differently than most furniture. What's cool about it is that the threaded rods can either pinch-grip the top by moving the inside nuts outward (rod compression) -or- the threaded rods can push outward against the outside edges of the top by moving the inside nuts inward (rod tension). But all that force is concentrated at the back of the desk (which isn't ideal). So, it would probably be beneficial to have some additional bracing. Ironically, you have leveraged (literally) a weakness of the design (long thin legs) into a strength by turning them into levers. I can't tell if the fulcrum is the point where the leg meets the desk or where the top threaded rod meets the leg - I'm guessing the former. Bottom line, your desk should give you good service for quite some time. Good job!
Wade Tarzia7 years ago
Nice! I like the storage niches underneath. Are the plywood side 'legs' a little wobbly?
texastiger7 years ago
Thumbs up for a simple build for a very usefull piece of furniture / workspace. One suggestion would be to cut a square panel out of the bottoms of both legs. This would reduce weight, give you some raw material for another project or for the scrap pile and would not affect the stability of the desk.
drocko (author)  texastiger7 years ago
Smart idea. Originally i considered cutting a slit in the center of the legs at the top ( I think you can see it in the original drawing). The idea was so that cords could be run through the leg and not have to hang over the top of the desk. I didn't do this because I was more interested in just getting the desk up and running. Maybe I'll add it later.
jh_cirque7 years ago
Nice build. Noticed that you use Festool equipment. How do you like them? Considering buying a few pieces for an upcoming project. Are they worth the premium cost? Like the small form factor since I have no space to store larger pieces. Thanks.
drocko (author)  jh_cirque7 years ago
Ah, I love my Festool tools. I bought them when I built my loft because I knew I'd be working right where i was living and I would need to be able to store and transport them easily. The are great for this. Their dust collection is so good that I can easily work in my living room and just clean up with a broom and vacuum when done. If you've got the money for them and you think you'll get a lot of use out of them then I'd say go for it. The initial investment is pretty steep, but once you have the guides, a dust extractor, and an MFT table you can add other pieces to the set easily for relatively low cost.
pikwitonei7 years ago
Nice Festool shop
DrStoooopid7 years ago
nice build, I might have to put one of these together.
sickdog747 years ago
Very nice, I might have to build this!
Videk7 years ago
Nice desk, have to say I like the idea for the legs and the peg at the top. Wanted to say though, you would have a easier time filing the wood with a rasp, basically a woodworker's file, the one shown in your picture is made typically for metal and used occasionally for plastic. Good job though!
Austringer7 years ago
Nice. If one were inclined you could dress this up with things like iron on edge banding or take it all kinds of places artistically with a jig saw. I was going to echo Zzag's suggestion about crossing the streams, er, wires but since he did, I won't. Cool stuff.
bekathwia7 years ago
Boards of Canada, hah!
We're doing obscure BOC refs? Then I say music has the rights to children, who have rights to pack-flat desks. Which gets me thinking... This is actually a pretty cool kids' project, seems like. Save having to get different desks as they grow; just make different uprights. And if they're old enough, this seems like one they could do themselves with supervision, or they could mark the measurements in pencil and have Mom and Dad do the sawing.
drocko (author)  JustAnotherDave7 years ago
That's not a bad idea. My parents have this large table that is made of a very soft wood. As a kid I noticed that when I did my homework on it the stuff I wrote on the paper sometimes was imprinted (debossed?) into the table. When you look closely you can see the history of what happened on the table by investigating it closely. All my old homework assignments, right there in the table! History like that is pretty cool and having one desk surface for a long time could be a great way to reduce your footprint and keep your history with you.
That should be "right" to children. I'm apparently thinking in copyright terms.
drocko (author)  bekathwia7 years ago
Hopefully the desk will work out and not end up as fuel for something like the Campfire Headphase :)
maruawe7 years ago
this works well but I had a problem with movement. to solve this I notched the uprights six inches from the floor and three inches from the edge, I made a four inch cut 3/8 wide and 4inches wide I inserted another piece of 3/8 plywood to protrude 2 inches drilled a 5/8 hole and inserted a 5/8 dowl rod. This back piece made it sturdy enough to put some heavy laser products on the desk. Hope that this works for you also
drocko (author)  maruawe7 years ago
Good idea. I think if I understand your design correctly you'd need a little bit more wood. This would make the desk shallower, but probably a lot more sturdy. I'm using the desk set up in a corner so it gains stability from two walls. Also, I'm probably only going to be using it with a laptop and smaller projects.
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