Introduction: Adjustable Drafting Table With Basic Tools and Materials

I've been playing around with the idea of getting myself a small drafting table, as I find the adjustable angle quite comfortable for a number of different things: drawing, reading, writing, working with the keyboard/mouse, etc. At first, I tested it out by just putting a shelf on my lap and adjusting my knees to get the angle I want. It was a fully functional prototype, but perhaps not that comfortable. :) After doing some browsing, I couldn't really find any drafting table that I liked, mostly because the drawing surface was much larger than what I was looking for. And so I thought "Fine, I'll make one myself then!", picked up a sheet of paper and started making some designs. After drawing a bunch of different versions, I finally ended up with something that I liked:

- You can adjust the angle quickly and easily. The angled surface is held in place in the middle by a simple metal rod, so you only need to move that one rod to change the angle. (Have a look at the third picture to see how that works.)
- The angled surface is plenty sturdy (.. for regular use; I'm not going to try standing on it though.)
- It looks nice, as you can't see any screws on the outside. I also used a piece of left-over laminate flooring to make the angled surface, so I know it matches my floor at least. :) (Plus, it can take the same beating as my floor, e.g. spills and such.)
- As I only used left-over materials laying around the house, it didn't cost me a dime. There's nothing fancy in there though: just some pieces of wood, wood glue, screws and a pair of hinges.
- I only used basic tools to build the table: You essentially need some things to measure, saw, hammer, screw and chisel with.
- It's a no-frills drafting table; the only feature I wanted was the adjustable angle and that's the only feature it has. However, you can fairly easily alter the design to add additional features like top drawers, a gutter in the angled surface or an adjustable table height.

Step 1: Overview, Materials and Tools


- First build a table frame, just like a regular table.
- Make a large rectangular hole in the surface that goes on top of the table frame.
- Attach this top surface to the table frame and add some hinges.
- Create the angle adjustment mechanism and attach it to the angled surface.
- Attach the angled surface to the top surface using the hinges.
- All done!

Just a few notes before I continue with the materials and tools:

I won't be bothering you with any measurements and let the pictures do most of the talking. (You probably weren't going to use the exact same measurements anyway. Plus, *gasp* we use the metric system down here. :) )
None the less, if you do want some exact measurements, I attached a Sketchup model of the drafting table. (Look for it at the bottom of this page.) All the different parts of the table are modelled separately, so you can easily take it apart and use Sketchup's tape measuring tool.

This instructable's title says that I use "basic tools". However, I'm sure you can gain a lot of time and precision if you have slightly more advanced tools like a drill press and a table saw. The materials as well are very basic things that you can find in just about any hardware store. In my case, I just used whatever scrap materials I had laying around. (I'm sure there are better choices out there, but I'm quite happy with the result.)

Materials used:

- Wood for the square table legs
- Some Feet to stick onto the table legs
- Wood for the sides, the top surface and some small blocks for strengthening
  (I used MDF for these parts.)
- Wood for the angled surface
  (I used two pieces of laminate flooring glued together. You can of course choose
  whatever wood you like, but definitely make sure that it's sturdy enough, as you'll
  constantly rest your arms on this surface.)
- A small, but thick piece of wood for the angle adjustment mechanism
  (I used a thickness of 1.8cm, or about 0.7".)
- 2 hinges
- Some screws of various lengths (I needed 31 of them.)
- Wood glue

Tools used:

- Drill
- Jigsaw
- Sander (optional; you could also use sanding paper or a wood file)
- Chisel and mallet
- Measuring tools: pencil, chalk (optional), a long ruler and a set square
- Clamps
- Workbench

Step 2: Table Frame

The first step is to build a frame for the drafting table, which is just the same as a frame for a regular table. There are several different ways to go about this, but I wanted to try making some mortise and tenon joints. That is, to join two pieces of wood together by making a rectangular socket (or "mortise") in one piece and making a corresponding plug (or "tenon") on the other. There are no screws involved and, according to this experiment, these joints can take more force than dowel joints and screw joints.

If you've never made any mortises before, which was the case for me, it can be quite time-consuming if you only have a drill, a mallet and some chisels. There are several great tutorials (such as this one or this one) to help you make mortises, but the basic idea is this:
- Draw the outline of the mortise.
- Use a drill to make a few holes, so you already have the rough shape of the mortise cut out. It's a huge plus to have a drill press here, as the drill tends to slip if you drill the holes too close together. So if you don't have a drill press and the drill is slipping, increase the distance between the holes. You'll spend more time cleaning up the mortise with chisels, but you'll reduce the risk of making your mortises too big, which is worse. No need to worry if you make your mortises a bit too deep though; it's fine as long as the tenons fit snugly into the mortises.
- Use some chisels and a mallet to finish up your mortise and get a somewhat clean rectangular shape. To test the depth and width of the mortise, I made a tiny "measuring stick" from scrap wood, which has the right width, and has the right depth marked on it. You can use this to figure out where you need to do some more tweaking. If done right, it shouldn't take too much force to insert the tenon into the mortise, but the pieces shouldn't fall apart either if you let gravity do its thing.

Making the tenons was a lot easier: Just use the jigsaw to cut away two small rectangles and voila, you've got yourself a simple tenon. (To make a proper tenon, you should cut away 4 sides though. I didn't take the risk doing that, as I suspected my MDF wood to be a little too thin (1,2cm / 0.47") to deal with those extra cuts.)

As you can see in the second picture, I made all the mortises in the table legs, and the tenons in the side pieces holding the legs together. You can see I haven't made anything that joins the front two legs together. While this makes the table less sturdy when you want to move it around, I chose to do this so I don't have anything in the way of my own legs while using the table. Speaking of which, don't forget to stick/screw some feet onto the bottom of your table legs, such that you don't make any scratches moving the table around. If you want, you could also attach some wheels instead and make the table a little more mobile.

You should also note that the mortises in the front legs have taller mortises in them than ones in the back legs. Because each back leg has mortises on two sides, I made them smaller such that a mortise from one side would not overlap, or be very close to, the mortise on the other side.

Once you're done making mortises and tenons, stick it all together with some wood glue. Add a bunch of weight to the frame, as you can see in the third picture, and let the glue dry. You can let it dry for as long as you want, since you can already continue with the next step, which is to make the surface that goes on top of this frame.

Step 3: Top Surface

After making the table frame, it's time to make the surface that goes on top of it, i.e. the top surface. I used the same MDF wood (1.2 cm / 0.47" thick) for this top surface as the MDF for the side pieces in the table frame. The angle adjustment mechanism needs to slide through this surface, so we'll need to make some room for it by cutting out the shape that is shown in the first picture. I made that shape much larger than is strictly necessary, but it does allow you to easily reach for the metal rod to adjust the table's angle while you're sitting down.

- First drill some holes in the corners of the shape to be cut out, as shown in the second picture.
- Optionally use a wood file or rasp to give these holes a more rectangular shape.This makes it easier on the jigsaw as it can start from a straight edge.
- Cut out the shape with the jigsaw.
- To give the top surface a nice finish, use a sander, sand paper or a wood file to smoothen the edges.
- Attach two (or more) hinges, as shown in the third picture. (My table is 80 cm / 31.5" wide and it works nicely with just two hinges. You may need more of them if you're going for something wider.)
- Place the top surface on the table frame and attach it with 4 screws, one for each table leg.
- You may want to attach a few small wood blocks underneath the top surface to add more strength to the table. Just flip over the table and attach the blocks with a few screws, as shown in the last picture.

At this point, you've just made a plain old table with a big hole in it; hurray. :) It gets more interesting in the next and final step, which is where the table becomes adjustable.

Step 4: Angled Surface

In the final step, the angled surface is added to the table. The first step is to make the angle adjustment mechanism, which is the darker brown piece of wood shown in the first picture. You'll be able to adjust the table's angle by inserting a metal rod in one of the holes of this piece of wood. As mentioned in the materials listing, make sure you're using a thicker piece of wood here, as it's the key part that will support the angled surface.

As an alternative, if you want to be able to set the table to *any* angle within a certain range, rather than just the few angles corresponding to each hole, you could drill so many holes that you basically cut out a curved slot. Then you essentially only need a long nut and two bolts to hold the mechanism in place. I chose not to do this because the bolts holding the surface in place use friction, which might lose their grip at some point. Using the metal rod method simply blocks the angled surface on its way falling down, which is more reliable. (Then again, car brakes use friction, which probably works better than trying to put a stick in there to jam the wheels.. :) )

The second picture shows how I made the angle adjustment mechanism. The key idea is that it's a slice of a circle, such that the center of the circle is the point where the angled surface pivots around. The larger the slice, the higher you can adjust your table. I made one of 30 degrees. (I used a protractor-esque tool to draw the angle I wanted. If you don't have one, use math! (Remember this? sin(angle)=opposite/hypotenuse) If you ever needed a real-world use for sines, here's your chance. :) )

I also drew a smaller circle slice (see the dotted line in the second picture), which is a part that can be ditched because the top surface is in the way there.

To mark where to drill the holes in the angle adjustment mechanism, I used a tape measure to be able to space these markers evenly.

After drawing the mechanism, you can use the jigsaw to cut out the mechanism and use the drill to make the holes. You can turn ever so slightly with a jigsaw, so it should work fine for cutting slightly curved lines. It didn't work so well for cutting away the smaller circle slice, as it was a little too curvy, so I turned that side into something slightly different, as you can see in the third picture.

After making the basic adjustment mechanism, let's focus on the angled surface itself. As mentioned in the materials list, I wanted to use left-over laminate flooring to make the angled surface. (Note that I used two pieces of flooring glued together. I did this because only one piece would be a little too thin to be able to attach the adjustment mechanism with screws.) Laminate flooring is a sturdy material, can easily deal with spills and doesn't leave stains. It's not very likely that you have any left-over flooring laying around yourself, but you may want to look for something with similar properties, or add a protective coating afterwards.

After making the adjustment mechanism and the angled surface, screw the mechanism onto the angled surface with some small wood blocks, as shown in the fourth picture. The main thing to be careful about here is to drill very slowly (or use a screwdriver); do it too fast and the blocks can split easily.

The final step is to attach the angled surface to top surface's hinges with some screws. Once that is done, find yourself a metal rod of some sort and you can give the adjustment mechanism a whirl. And that's about all there is to it; your shiny new drafting table now is done and ready for action; have fun!