Introduction: DIY Teacher Desk Shield for Writing Conferences

The goal is to facilitate interactive, collaborative writing conferences between teachers and students but without compromising the safety brought about by physical distancing. The DIY shield is designed to sit on the corner of a teacher's desk. A gap is left at the bottom so a book or the student's work can be passed back-and-forth, marked up, pointed to, etc. as the teacher works with the student.

Design is very simple and can be made with just a saw and a drill. The frame is assembled using 1-1/4" pocket screws but if you don't have a Kreg jig, you can instead just use inexpensive "L" and 90-degree metal brackets.

Total parts cost should be about $16-20 each.

For administrators: Here are the CDC guidelines about these sorts of shields: "Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks)."



Common to both v1 & v2 design:

1"x2" boards

1"x4" board

18"x24" clear acrylic sheet (0.08" thick is fine)

1-1/4" pocket screws

v2 design:

add 1-1/2" pocket screws

5/8" wood screws

v1 design:

#8 1-1/4" machine screws

#8 washers, lock washers, lock nuts

3/16" drill bit


Medium grit sandpaper

high-gloss door/trim paint


Rather than drilling 5 holes through the acrylic and the frame, if you have a table saw you can cut a channel into the center of the frame pieces about 3/8" deep to hold the acrylic panel.

This makes the final construction much faster and much simpler! And it ends up looking much nicer, too!

Adjust the measurements for the frame accordingly (the top horizontal piece will need to be longer by about 3/4").

Take care with the pocket holes

The downside of this design is that the pocket screws will now be weaker as they'll be entering the empty channel of the piece they're joining to. I found a few ways to mitigate this:

1. Use longer 1-1/2" pocket screws to attach the top/horizontal frame piece.

2. Drill your pocket holes as close to the channel as possible but without breaking into it (see pic). You need to leave as much room as possible on what ends up being the top of the frame. If there's not enough room, you risk having the top screw cracking the top edge of the vertical piece, which will significantly weaken the join.

3. When you screw in the pocket screws, screw the first one partially into the joining piece, then partially screw in the second one. Then use a slow to medium speed to fully drive each screw. Easing them in in this way eliminated almost all of my edge cracking issues.

Securing the acrylic

The acrylic is held in place by carefully pre-drilling a small hole near the edge of the frame through the acrylic and then screwing in a 5/8" screw. If you drill too close to the outside edge of the acrylic, it will crack. So ride the inside of the wooden frame edge as much as you can.

Step 2: Wood Cuts

(note: the pic above shows the cuts for TWO full sets)

1"x2" cuts:

- 12" base

- 21-3/4" top frame (22-1/2" for v2 design)

- 2x 20-3/4" vertical frames

1"x4" cuts:

- 3.5" square base

The length of the vertical frame pieces leaves a 3.5" gap under the acrylic sheet in order to pass materials back-and-forth (slightly less for v2 design). Obviously you can adjust the design to your preferences to increase or reduce the gap.

If you're drilling pocket holes, note the positions in the images:

- drill a pair on each end of the top frame piece

- drill a pair on one end of each vertical frame piece

Step 3: Optional: Round Off Edges

If you have a router:

- Round over the 12" base but keep the center section at full width.

- Round over the 3.5" square base.

- Apply a tiny bit of edge rounding to soften each edge of the frame pieces.

If you don't have a router:

- Sand the sharp edges with a medium grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Assemble the Frame

Assemble on a flat surface. Obviously try to keep it all as square (90-degrees) as possible.

Start by attaching each vertical leg to the top horizontal frame.

Clamp down your pieces if you can. If you're mass-producing these, consider building some simple corner jigs (see pics) to help quickly align the pieces.

Pocket screw tip: Partially drive the first pocket screw until it grabs the other piece, but keep it loose. Then fully drive the second screw. Go back and finish the first screw. This avoids most pocket screw torque twisting that could add some errant skew to your alignment.

If you're building the v2 design

Slide the acrylic panel into the frame before you attach the feet! Fix it into place via a screw in the bottom corner of each side as shown above in Step 1.

Attach the feet

To attach the base pieces stand the frame up with the base pieces loosely in place underneath. You can clamp some spare boards alongside the 12" foot to keep it in place while you attach it. Use the 1-1/4" pocket screws.

The 3.5" square base piece is a little more awkward. I clamp a board along one edge of the base so that it can't twist when I start screwing in the pocket screws. Then I just hold the vertical frame piece in place as I drive in the screws.

Step 5: Optional: Paint the Assembly

Up to you if you want to expend the time or effort.

I used high-gloss latex door and trim paint because it's made for high-durability. And the gloss looks nice! I found it much faster to use my spray gun + air compressor vs brushing it on. Either way two coats were required for the finish I wanted.

Step 6: Attach the Acrylic Sheet (old V1 Design)

Decide which side of the frame you want to be the "front" (I disliked having the pocket holes visible on the "front" side of my unpainted prototype so I made sure they ended up on the back for the spray painted versions).

Lay the frame down so your preferred "front" side is facing up with the feet hanging off of your surface so it can lay flat.

Loose place the acrylic sheet onto the frame (keep the acrylic's protective peel-away layer on it for now). The design builds in a 1/4" of left-to-right wiggle room to account for when the frame ends up slightly out of square.

Tip: Place some scrap 1"x2" board under the middle of the acrylic to prevent sag.

Because the acrylic is flexible I have not experienced and cracking or shattering as I've drilled through it. That being said, try to strike a balance between not drilling too close to the acrylic's edge but also not too close to the inside edge of the wooden frame.

Also note that if you use pocket screws, steer clear of that area when you drill. Note the location of my screws in the pic.

Drill the first hole through the face of the acrylic and all the way through the wooden frame. Arrange your work surface so that you can drill all the way through the piece without damaging whatever it's sitting on! I place the frame on some scrap wooden boards when drilling.

After drilling a hole, insert one of the #8 1-1/4" screws with a washer. This will keep your holes lined up as you drill the remaining holes. But don't fully bolt the screws in just yet.

After the final hole is drilled, pull up the acrylic and remove the protective peel-away layer on each side. Re-seat the acrylic and re-insert the screws with the washers.

Add a washer to the back side, then a locking washer, then the locking nut. Don't overtighten. We don't want to risk damaging the acrylic.

Step 7: That's It!

Sanitize the acrylic and the desk surface after each student conference. Have students use hand sanitizer whenever they sit at the desk shield. And obviously both student and teacher should be wearing masks (my niece and I have merged our quarantines so we're unmasked for these demo pics, unfortunately).