Introduction: Adjustable Steel Easel

I’ve recently had the pleasure of using an excellent easel in a drawing class. What sets this one apart from others I’ve seen is the level of adjustability. My classmates and I all have different preferences for how we draw. From the 6' guy who likes to stand, to the majority of the class sitting on stools, to me sitting on a low bench. This easel is adjustable to be comfortable for all of those positions/heights and more. I’ve attached several images of the original below. For this instructable, we’re going to create a duplicate with a few modifications. Here’s what you’ll need:


1 MIG Welder (capable of welding up to 3/16" mild steel)

1 Plasma Cutter with a circle cutting guide

1 Cold Cut Saw (A chop saw will work as well)

1 Drill press (a reasonably powerful hand drill can work in a pinch)

1/8" Carbide twist drill bit

3/8" Carbide twist drill bit

25/64" Carbide twist drill bit

½" Carbide twist drill bit

3/4" Carbide twist drill bit

1 Bench vise

Various clamps to secure work

1 Metal centerpunch (automatic recommended)

1 tape measure (at least 16')

A deburring tool

A welding jacket

A welding hood

Full thick leather gloves (suitable for MIG welding, don’t use TIG gloves)
Angle grinder with a stone and fine sandpaper disc (if you have two, mounting one with a stone head and one with the sanding head can make the process faster)

One metal scribe

3/8" tap and die set


10'@ 1" square steel (mild, 18 gauge walls)

6" @ 1 ½” square steel (mild, 18 gauge walls)

5' @ 1" schedule 40 blackiron pipe

1'x1' 1/8" steel plate

2' @ 1" 18 gauge angle iron

3 @ 2 1/4" 3/8" diameter bolt

1 @ 2" 3/8" diameter hex bolt

1 @ 2" 3/8" diameter hex bolt

3 @ 3/8" over bolt knobs

3 @ untreated 3/8" hex nuts

1 @ 3/8" wing nut

1 @ 3/8" nylon locking nut

4 @ 3/8" flat washers

1' @ 2 x 4 8' x 8" 3/4" plywood

1 3/8" wood screws

Art board of your choice

I have included detailed technical drawings with all pertinent dimensions and a cut list. Refer to them below as we proceed through the process.

Step 1: Cutting Our Steel Structural Members

With your cold cut (or chop saw), refer to the cut list above and cut all the steel components we will need. Be sure to make special note of the miters. If you are unsure about the miter gauge on your saw, use an angle finder to check it. Making sure these are correct will ensure that the piece will be stable once it is assembled.

Three of the pieces (indicated above) have miters on both ends. Two of said pieces have miters that are 90 degrees opposed from each other. Take special care with this alignment. A quick way to check is to put both pieces on a flat surface with the miters on the same end pointed up towards the ceiling. The other two miters should be pointed towards each other (or away from each other). If not, there is an error and a new piece will be required. It might be useful to use this trick to mark the second set of miters, after you’ve made the first set.

Note: If you use a chop saw, the cut will be rough with a great deal of burs that can cut unprotected skin, make sure to take them off with the deburing tool!

Step 2: Cutting Our Guide Plate

Once the square steel and pipe have been cut to size, we need to move onto the most challenging cut in the project: the guide plate. Refer to the drawings above for dimensions.

Measure center on one side of your steel plate (if it is square, either side will work). Draw a line across the whole work using your scribe. From the bottom of the plate, measure up about 2" and mark the point with your centerpunch. Use that mark as reference to draw a line perpendicular to the line you just drew.

Once your lines are ready, clamp the piece of wood to a work surface, so that the majority of the plate is suspending in air. Only an inch or so should be in contact with the table. Fit your plasma cutter’s wand with a circle jig. Adjust the jig using your tape measure to a 5" radius. Place the needle of the jib in the hole you made with your center punch. With this as a guide, cut your piece. Since we placed the center 2" from the side of our piece, we’ll go through about 200 degrees of rotation before we are finished.

You should have some scrap left over. Cut it into two pieces about 8" by 1".

Note: in the images you will see that my piece is more of a half circle than what I just specified. This is to prevent a design flaw that cropped up in the original. Don’t be alarmed.

Step 3: Drilling Holes

Now that we have our major cuts made, time to drill.

Set up a bench vice onto your drill press (or work surface if you are using a hand drill). Make sure it is large enough to be able to accommodate the pipe.

Drill all holes as indicated in the plans above, with a few notes.

1) When drilling into the pipe, measure out where you want the hole to be located, and then use your grinder to make a small (about ½" square) flat area. Your bit is much less likely to wobble and wander off course.

2) Measure and mark all holes with the center punch. Make a deep punch hole, it will give the drill bit some guidance and help make a more accurate hole.

3) Always start your holes with the 1/8" bit, then move up to the larger size.

4) For the 1 ½" square steel cuts, use the 25/64" bit instead of the 3/8".

5) To make the holes in the guiding plate, its helpful to make a quick jig (pictured below). You will need the two pieces of wood and the screws. Drill a 3/8" hole about 1" from one side of your plywood. It should be about center, relative to the side you choose. Then drill a 3/4" hole into your 3/8" hole about halfway through the plywood. Position the two by four at about the center point of the plywood, and attach them with the wood screws. Make sure the 3/4" hole is on the side you attach the 2x4. Insert one of your 2 1/4" bolts into the 3/4" hole. The hole makes a nice place for the bolt head to rest in, while the rest of it sticks out the “top.” Secure it with a nut and washer.

6) From the punch hole we made earlier, measure 4" along the center line on the guide plate, make a punch hole. Drill your first 3/8" hole at the punch hole we used for our circle jig. The plate should then slip right over the bolt in our jig. Secure it with the nut and washer. Secure the 2x4 section of the jig into the bench vice, with the plywood on top. Center the vise, and thereby the jig and work, over the remaining punch hole. You can now drill the holes by rotating the work about the bolt on the jig, so all the holes will line up exactly with the lower hole, allowing the central shaft to pivot freely (see Final Assembly).

Step 4: Welding the Legs

Now that all our holes are drilled, we need to put our leg assembly together. Use your MIG welder to attach all the legs according to the drawing. Grind and polish the welds when finished, paying special attention to the outer edge welds on the mitered joints.

Step 5: Welding the Guide Plate

With the leg assembly on the ground, legs down, measure and mark a point about 6" from the “T” shaped portion of the leg. This differs from the above plans, where the plate is mounted at center. It should still be on the same piece of steel.

Weld the plate onto the top surface as indicated in the plans.

Grind and polish all the welds as flush as you can, paying special attention to the weld that is flush with the side wall of the steel. Referring to the pictures below, take the 8" x 1" plates you cut in Step 2, and weld them on edge to the face of the plate on that side. They will be longer than the circumference of the plate. Make sure the excess is placed over and welded to the side wall of the leg assembly. Grind and polish the welds as best as you are able.

Note: These “spoke” pieces address a design flaw, wherein the thin plate is very wobbly when the heavy pipe central shaft is mounted.

Step 6: Welding the Board Holders

Grab the bolt from the Guide Plate Jig, as well as the hex nuts and pieces of 1 ½" square steel you cut and drilled earlier. Thread one nut onto the bolt about half way. Insert the bolt into the hole in the steel. Using this as a centering guide, weld the bolt to the steel. Remove the bolt as soon as you can. Repeat the process on the other piece of steel and nut with the same bolt. Discard afterwards.
Chase the nut’s threads with a 3/8" tap and then grind and polish the welds.

Once those pieces are finished, take two of your angle iron cuts from earlier. On a flat surface, place one side on top of the other, so that the pieces form a “U” shape. Clamp and weld the two pieces together in this position. Repeat with the other two pieces. Grind and polish all welds.

Once those are complete. Sit the square steel assemblies on edge. In the same position as they were welded, place the angle iron assemblies next to the square steel. Line the pieces up so they are centered horizontally (vertical does not matter). Make sure that the angle iron pieces are making contact with the face opposite to the nut you welded on. Refer to pictures below. Secure and weld the pieces in this position. Repeat with other two assemblies and dress the welds.

Step 7: Final Assembly

Now that all the welding and grinding is complete, its time to put it all together.

First, take on 2 1/4" bolt. Thread a washer onto the bolt, then thread them both into the bottom hole in the central shaft. Thread another washer onto the bolt, then thread the whole assembly into the bottom center hole in the guide plate. Make sure that the pipe is on the side of the plate that is over top face of the legs (see pictures below). Thread one more washer onto the bolt and secure it with the lock nut. The shaft should rotate freely, but with some resistance. Adjust torque on the nut accordingly.

Place the 3" bolt into knob so that the head is sitting flush inside the knob (it only goes one way), then secure it by threading a nut onto the end and tightening. Push that assembly into the top hole on the central shaft, and then through one of the upper holes on the guide plate. Secure with the wing nut. By removing this bolt, and pivoting the shaft back and forth until it lines up with another hole, you can adjust the angle that the board rests.

Place the other two bolts into the other two knobs the same was as the first. Thread one knob assembly into one of the nuts we welded onto the square steel earlier. These two pieces will hold the art board on the shaft. Loosen the knobs until there is nothing obstructing the inside of the square steel. Slip the first assembly onto the central shaft so that the “U” shaped section is right side up. Tighten the knob to hold it in place. Slip the other assembly onto the shaft so that the “U” shaped section is upside down.

Place your art board into the lower holder. Then loosen the upper holder and lower (or raise depending on your board) it onto the top or your art boar and tighten the knob. This sandwiches the board between the two assemblies, holding it firmly in place.

Step 8: Draw!

Your easel is complete and ready for many hours of drawing. You can adjust the angle of the shaft and the height of the two holders to whatever position is most comfortable for you, and the widely spaced legs will allow you to get as close or as far as you need with most chairs and stools.

This project looked very simple and straight forward on paper, but the further I got into it, the more intricate and detailed it become. Quite a challenging build and a good lesson for all!

Happy Drawing!