Introduction: A Flat (ish) Pack Desk Using Hinges, Latches and Mortised Joints.

About: I am an expat Environmental, Health and Safety manager (aka the Safety Guy) that has somehow spiraled into a specialty of setting up programs systems on very odd projects, or fixing strange/ unusual/ challengi…

My girlfriend/ fiancée/ wife (her title depends on who you ask) needed a desk to study at in our house in the Philippines.  A quick search of the local shops showed no cost efficient desk that approximated her needs.  And the tools & materials available to me here are quite limited…  The pic is her, our son and a cousin at the mostly completed desk.

Tools I have available include:
Jig saw with various blades,
Drill with various bits,
Hammer & screwdriver,
Square, Chalk box, tape measure & pencils,
Paint brushes.

Materials I used include:
1 ½ sheets of ½ inch plywood (4’x8’),
½ sheet of ¾ inch plywood,
Wood putty (optional),
Paint & wood paint primer,
Sandpaper in assorted grits.
2 cheap padlocks, 4 hinges, 4 latches & 2 hasps

Step 1: What I Have?

The space she wanted the desk to fit in is shown above:

Step 2: Measured Just Once

Three caveats were part and parcel of the specifications: she wanted the desktop surface to be around 29” high, there had to be a shelf for her printer and another for her desk lamp, and finally we required it to be reasonably toddler proof (Daniel Arthur, aka Arturo, (seen below) ruled out making it “Nomad Style ”). So I made measurements of the opening (front & back width, plus depth) and cut the desk top to start the process.

A nice piece of “marine grade ¾ inch plywood” was sacrificed because I naively assumed that when building a house in the Philippines the “craftsmen” would have made a window bay like this reasonably symmetric. But Nooooooo, it does not even marginally approximate an isometric trapezoid, something that isn't obvious to my unskilled eyes. That is the Version 1 prototype, with our son doing his frog imitation atop it, in the picture above. Sigh.

Step 3: Version Number Dos Gets Some Remeasuring...

So I went back to the drawing board.

First I carefully got the true measurements by taping a piece of string across the opening (the longest side of the trapezium) at desktop height and used the small string level thing that came with my square to make sure I wasn't measuring on a slant (you can see it if you squint at the second picture below). Then, using my square, I determined the relative dimensions of the side triangles (I made up that mathy sounding description of the side quadrilateral sections, but you get the idea).

Step 4: Flexibility Is My Design

This gave me a way to size the desktop. Then April (the aforementioned girlfriend) said she wanted the sides of the desk to be higher than the back so she could still look out her window and the printer shelf could be out of toddler range. I decided to make use of some common hardware to make this desk “flattish packable.” Not exactly “flat pack,” but semi, sort of, like that.

Basically, I decided that rather than doing all that math work on the corners (remember, no mitre saw), I would use hinges to connect the back to the sides. Plus the desktop would go into slots in the back and sides with some common latches to secure it in place.

I decided, up front, that there is little chance that we will ever find another spot with an opening that matched this one, so it’s all about me as far as methods goes. Thus the option to easily move it about or disassemble is mostly for my convenience. I am anticipating April telling me to move it occasionally (so it can be cleaned behind, or the walls repainted, or whatever) so I am just making my future job easier.

Oddly, I didn’t find any other Instructables using this method (hinges, tenion joints, and latches) to build anything, so I may have found something new! (Ikea, call me. I need a job where they don’t shoot rockets & mortars at me, and there is no pesky “General Order Number One…”). The NEW desk was loosely based on my original sketch, but I like to think of these more as guidelines...

Step 5: Irregular Is Just Another Name for "feature Packed"

I decided to build the desk as an irregular quadrilateral. The back piece of wood is 40 ½ inches wide and 34 ¾” high in 1/2” marine grade plywood. The pilot holes for the desktop to fit into are 7/8” diameter and are bored at 29” above the floor.

UNFORTUNATELY, the wood here is VERY low quality; the plywood panel had a substantial bow to it. I decided to use this as a ‘feature’ by incorporating it into the design. The dimension with the bow was oriented so that it tended to increase the stability of the unit (pictured above).

I smoothed all edges and obvious huge divots in the wood with wood putty. Then I sanded it smooth after they dried.

Step 6: Starting to Look Like Something, But I Don't Know What

The sides are 46” high and 22” & 19 ¼” wide (respectively) in 1/2” marine grade plywood. “Marine grade” is apparently being a euphemism for “just above pallet grade” here in the Philippines.

The hinges I bought came with some very low quality screws; three of them stripped out the Phillips ‘x” out as they were being driven into the predrilled pilot holes. They also stick out the back of the panels by about 1/16” or so. Luckily no one can get back there when this is in its little cubbyhole.

As seen above, the sides are attached to the back and the first two guide holes for the desktop notches/ tenons are in place. I just measured up 29” from the floor in two places and snapped a line across the board; then measured in 6” from each side to get the centre of the pilot holes. (April's computer defaults to Filipino English, which is where "CENTRE" came from)
Note the flat pack plywood Christmas tree peeking into the picture on the left.

Step 7: Irregular Stuff Is Best Served With a Template

I then made a template of the opening I was going to place the desk into just to make sure the geometry of the desktop was correct. A couple pieces of tape & some scrap cardboard, with some fast box cutter work, and SHAZAM!

Step 8: Marking Up the Template

I then placed the side & back assembly into the opening and marked where the bottoms of the 3 pieces sit when positioned correctly with some pencil lines. Those are my feet in the picture above (flip flops, aka slippers, are the national shoe of the Philippines), but more notable than that is the HUGE bow in the bottom template line! That is NOT an optical illusion or perspective error…

Step 9: Off to the Workshop to Use the Template

I then moved the template and desk sides to a larger room (where I took the picture above) where I could think and measure without the limitations of the alcove (and toddler) impacting my work.

Having placed the desk sides onto the template according to the lines, I could place the 4x8” piece of ¾” marine grade plywood atop the side pieces and mark out what I needed to cut to make the desktop. (I forgot to get a pic of this stage)

The pic above shows the (rough cut) desktop balanced atop the side pieces, NOT where it will end up. And there is a lot more rethinking/ measuring and cutting to come. I did take the opportunity when I had the whole thing atop the sawhorses to drill the side pilot holes and use the jigsaw out to cut out the tenon slots at the same time as I cut the desktop to size. You can see where this is going now, right?

Step 10: Starting to Work the Details

The desktop edge that will be at the user side of the desk was sanded to slightly round over the edge (and to prevent splintering) and then it (plus the slots for the desktop) were all puttied so they would look nicer and be easier to paint. The furthest from April edge was measured and cut to fit the opening in the back panel, then each of the sides was notched in turn.

As you can clearly see (on the back edge in the pic above) my carpentry skills are nothing to brag about and a jig saw is NOT the proper tool to make long cuts… But it’s good enough.

My goal is to evacuate the entire girlfriend/ child entourage back to ANYWHERE else as soon as the US State Department gives its blessing (aka visas), anyway (note:5 YEARS later; still no visas. I don't know who to bribe apparently). Note that the top is posing for this picture on the “flat pack” picnic table I built next to the flat pack Christmas Tree peeking out on the right. I am having to build EVERYTHING here!

Except for the Ikea Moose I toted from America and assembled Christmas eve.

Step 11: First Test Fit

Then I test fitted the entire assembly to make sure it was reasonably tight, “square” (ish) and it didn’t look like it fell off a fire truck tailboard at interstate speeds (I rode “pumper 8833’s” tailboard when I was a recruit firefighter in the early 1980s; INSANELY dangerous and fun). Some more wood putty was indicated in some locations so I wouldn’t have to try to lard on the paint so heavily to cover all the manifest huge imperfections (both from the wood as delivered and my poor carpentry).

Step 12: Primer, a Painters Friend

Next up was the sanding of all the putty to flat and then applying some wood primer. Wood primer makes painting easier and it also hides some imperfections (and I need the help). This was accomplished with a wide nylon brush and endless assistance from my toddler.

Step 13: Masking Tape Is Your Friend

Note that the TOP of the sides (ie the part above the slots) is only single coated, while the bottom portions was much more carefully painted in 2 coats. Because the bottom doesn’t get any more paint! We (me) decided to paint the whole thing Red, White, and Blue (because ‘Merica and I already had white and blue paint in stock). I used up the last of my white paint here.
In the picture above I have taped off the border between the top and bottom portions of the sides so I can slather on the blue paint.

Step 14: Paint! So Pretty and Time Consuming

I then carefully painted the desk sides with the last of my blue paint; the desktop got the brand new Red Latex paint applied with a roller (75 cents, such a bargain) outside on some of the random scaffolding the “plasterer” (what I was taught was called “parging”) left behind.

The desktop will get sanded and another coat of Red paint (I still have some left…). And YES, there is a reason I didn’t carefully paint the edge of the desktop Red and the edges of the sides Blue… I have a clever plan (shut UP, Baldrick)

Step 15: Visible Progress Is Such a Thrill

After they both got their first coat of paint, I sanded them with 240 grit sandpaper and gave them a second coat. Once that coat was dry, I removed the tape masking and re-test fitted the parts again in all their multi-colored glory. HECK YEAH.

And the random pedestrian in the shot is Arturo looking up at the (live bug eating) salamander on the wall above the desk. He has said "DOON" (Philippino for "there") every 10 to 15 seconds for the last hour. As there is a salamander eating bugs on the wall)

Step 16: Unneeded Flourish. Just Because

Then I taped off the edges of the desk sides, and top, to put a yellow border on them.

I then put the parts tofether to bask in the glory. The yellow edges on the sides didn't actually thrill me. Not as cool as I'd imagined.

Step 17: Flat Pack? Nope, But Sorta Close...

Then I took it back apart and folded it up to move it back into its permanent home. And NO, I didn't paint the back; it faces the darn walls!

Step 18: High on Hardware

Once I had the desk in place, assembled, I then laid out the latch locations.

I placed the latches, then used them to locate where the holes THROUGH the desktop would be. Only one irritating goof and it probably only will ever be noticed by me…

Sorry about the washed out pic, the light from outside overpowered the flash…

Step 19: Wala Na (all Finished, in Filipino)

All the screw holes were pilot drilled. Then the big moment came for me.

The final assembly and putting April’s computer atop it so I can surprise her when she gets home… Still needs the printer shelf, but I wanted to get it into use ASAP… The printer and desk lamp shelves are now officially "upgrades" that she gets when I get around to it...

The bottom photo shows the padlocked hasp latches I used to block Arturo from “disassembling” it with his inquisitive little fingers. I used the cheapest padlocks I could find ($1.17 each).

Step 20: In Conclusion

There are a lot of things I probably would have done differently, but, all in all, I am pretty happy with this desk.

It holds Aprils computer and printer and appears to be sturdy enough to be moderately safe even from the over energetic children crawling around at all times…

So, tell me what you think! This is my first Instructable.

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