Introduction: Lightweight Portable Table-Top Artists Easel

…from timber offcuts and using hand tools only.

As I have space limitations, I needed an easel that isn’t too bulky and heavy, is quickly and easily packed away and does not take up a lot of space when stored. I could only find hobby easels and these were mainly aimed at kids, therefore I went about designing my own one that I could easily carry around and that can be quickly set up. This easel would be ideal for the travelling artists or for art students and can be quickly packed away and stored relatively flat.

I started putting some concept ideas on paper and developed them to free-hand drawings. I did start designing the easel in Sketchup and if you are proficient enough with this free CAD package, it can be invaluable to assist in design issues. As this is a project using hand tools only, 100% accuracy won’t necessarily be achieved during the assembly stage and it is also not essentially required for this project. The Sketchup model was, therefore put aside and I opted for a more organic and old-school method of sketching by hand.

Once I had developed the design I then quantified the materials I needed and found a pile of timber offcuts and a collection of various wood screws, hinges and other small items I needed for this project in my workshop. The only item that you would probably need to purchase is the large MDF board to which the easel framework will be attached to. Although I made this build completely from off-cuts that I found in my wood store except for the MDF board, I have quantified the overall timber requirements for this build so that you can obtain the wood from your local timber merchant.

I’ve also included a tools-required list which is the minimum you need to comfortably build this easel. I only used hand tools so this would also suit someone that does not have a fully equipped workshop with power tools. Of course, if you don’t have all the tools listed either, remember that necessity is the mother of invention and if you have a fully equipped workshop with power tools, this project will be a breeze to put together.

All the timber used is pine except the board which is medium density fibreboard more commonly known as MDF board or sometimes also called ‘Supawood’. If you find an alternative or better-suited board please feel free to replace it but I found this to be the most level in relation to its thickness.

I did cut the MDF board with a jigsaw to my required size but this is not included in this Instructable. You could consider buying a thicker MDF board for a more stable and solid work surface. I was aiming for a more lightweight construction and it also depends on what you want to use the easel for. This will ultimately be to each ones own personal preference. Optionally you could add some bracing strips to the back of the board to give additional stability if needed and still keep the weight down.

All sizes are indicated in metric and imperial. The timber items listed below are all cross-referenced with the drawings. On the drawings, I’ve only shown the relevant and critical dimensions in millimetres.

As South Africa uses the metric system the board was sized according to the A1 drafting paper size of 594 x 841mm. I added approximately 10% to the size for a final dimension of 620 x 900mm or 24,4 x 35,4 inches. If you are working with the imperial system your board size would be based on the US Arch D size of 24 x 36 inches.

Materials list:

Overall timber sizes with additional 10% length added:

a. 6 x 620 x 900mm MDF board / 0.23 x 24 x 36 inches*. *Increase the size by two inches around the perimeter as a ‘border’ to fix your canvas or drawing paper.

b. 6 x 45 x 6198mm / 0.23 x 1,8 x 244 inches

c. 20 x 20 x 935mm / 0.78 x 0,78 x 36,8 inches

d. 20 x 45 x 297mm / 0.78 x 1,57 x 11,7 inches

e. 913mm/ 35,9” long, 8mm / 0,31” dia. dowel stick

f. The above constitutes the bulk of the material needed. There are smaller pieces such as a short length of 15mm/ 0,59” dia. dowel stick which have not been included.

Step 1– Drawing board bracing and frame fixing supports:

1. 6 x 620 x 900mm MDF board / 0.23 x 24 x 36 inches

2. 6 x 45 x 120mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 4,7 inches (x2)

3. 6 x 45 x 120mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 4,7 inches (x2)

4. 20 x 30 x 50mm (x2) / 0.78 x 1.1 x 1.9 inches (x2)

5. 6 x 45 x 45mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 1,8 inches (x2)

6. 6 x 45 x 45mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 1,8 inches (x2)

Including: 20 x 12mm wood screws, 4 x 30mm wood screws.

Step 2 – Side frame with hinges:

7. 6 x 45 x 610mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 24 inches (x2)

8. 6 x 45 x 565mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 22.2 inches (x2)

9. 5cm / 1,9” wide hinges (x2)

10. 6 x 18 (20) x 45mm (x8) / 0.23 x 0.7(0,78) x 1,8 inches (x2)

Including: 12 x 8mm/ 0.3” wood screws for hinges, 12 x 12mm/ 0.7” wood screws.

Step 3 – Top frame with handle:

11. 6 x 45 x 45mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 1,8 inches (x2)

12. 6 x 45 x 45mm (x2) / 0.23 x 1,8 x 1,8 inches (x2)

13. 6 x 45 x 755mm / 0.23 x 1,8 x 29.7 inches

Including: 16 x 8mm / 0.3” wood screws.

Step 4 – Adjustable stay with hinges and dowel:

14. 20 x 20 x 20mm (x2) / 0.78 x 0,78 x 0,78 inches (x2)

15. 20 x 20 x 360mm (x2) / 0.78 x 0,78 x 14,1 inches (x2)

16. 3.5cm/ 1,37” steel hinge (x2)

17. 20 x 20 x 20mm (x2) / 0.78 x 0,78 x 0,78 inches (x2)

18. 40mm/ 1,57” long 2mm / 0,07” dia. bolt and nut with washer (x2)

19. 815mm/ 32” long, 8mm / 0,3” dia. dowel stick. Add an additional 20mm / 0.78” for tolerance.

Including: 12 x 8mm / 0,3” wood screws for hinges.

Step 5 – Removable pencil tray:

20. 6 x 45 x 900mm / 0.23 x 1,8 x 35,4 inches

21. 6 x 45 x 810mm / 0.23 x 1,8 x 1,8 inches

22. 20 x 40 x 90mm (x2) / 0.78 x 1,57 x 3,54 inches (x2)

22a. 8mm / 0.3” dia. carriage bolt with wing nut and washer (x2)

Step 6 – Wooden latch:

23. 6 x 25 x 45mm / 0.23 x 0,98 x 1,8 inches

24. 26 x 30 x 35mm / 1,02 x 1,18 x 1,37 inches

25. 20mm long, 6mm dia. dowel stick / 0,78” long, 0,23 dia. dowel stick

26. 6 x 20 x 50mm / 0.23 x 0,78 x 1,9 inches

27. 20mm long,15mm dia. dowel stick/ 0,78” long, 0,23 dia. dowel stick, Add an additional 50mm/ 1,9” as ‘grip’.

28. 6 x 30 x 40mm / 0.23 x 1,18 x 1,5 inches

Additional material:

29. Thin sheet of rubber or similar, marker pen, scissors and a tube of contact adhesive to be used for the feet.

30. 20 x 20 x 20mm / 0.78 x 0,78 x 0,78 inches pencil tray bracket stops mounted on back of board.

31. 25 x 40 x 40mm / 0,98 x 1,5 x 1,5 inches to be used as secondary hinge. Refer to the sketch at end of this Instructable. I found two small strong magnets that worked perfectly as an alternative to the secondary hinge.

Tools including additional/ miscellaneous items:

1. Pencil and marking pen

2. Steel ruler and tape measure

3. Scissors

4. Contact adhesive

5. Steel try square

6. Marking scribe

7. Wood glue and wiping rag

8. Sandpaper of various grit strengths – from 60 (rough) to 120 grit

9. Sanding block or ‘make’ your own by using a small piece of 2 x 4 or similar and wrap your sandpaper around it.

10. Bench vice and two pieces of rubber off-cuts for the protection of wood.

11. Small hand saw

12. Coping saw

13. Files of various sizes and cuts (rough to smooth):

- Flat hand file

- Half round and round file

- Three square file

- Square file

- Rasp

14. Clamps – as many as you can find; I used five at the same time at one point:

- G-clamps

- Hand screw clamps

15. Screwdrivers: large and small flat and star screwdrivers.

16. Tack hammer or a small soft faced/rubber head hammer if you have one.

17. Woodwork Chisels – a Stanley carpet knife will suffice if you haven’t got chisels:

- Small bevelled edge bench chisel

- Paring chisel

18. Hand-held belt sander or orbital sander with various grit strength sanding sheets.

19. Battery operated screwdriver. This is optional but if you have one, it will make your life easier. Use with a low torque setting as to prevent splitting your timber and pre-drill guide holes.

20. Electric drill and 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8mm / 0.03, 0.07, 0.15, 0.23 and 0.31” drill bits.

21. Boiled linseed oil and rag. This is also optional and is to apply to the frame to protect the wood. When applying ensure not to get any on the working surface of your board. As the smell, which isn’t necessarily unpleasant, does linger for a few days, I opted not to use it but will eventually get around treating the whole frame.

22. A broom, scoop and a shop vac as you will create a lot of sawdust.

23. For your own protection use goggles and a facemask.

24. A good mix of 1960 blues such as Peter Greens Fleetwood Mac as well as some Buddy Guy and definitely some Stevie Ray Vaughn to listen too while you build.

Timeframe for build:

One day spread over three days to allow for glued parts to bond.

Overall weight and size:

- 2,5 kg / 5,5 pounds

- 45 x 620 x 900mm / 1,8 x 24 x 36 inches

General Notes:

1. All timber items shown in brackets in the steps are cross-referenced to the drawings and relate to the numbers on the materials list.

2. All sketches and drawings are freehand and are not drawn to scale.

3. All dimension conversions were done with a calculator so the imperial sizes do not necessarily reflect standard US timber sizes. As small discrepancies are allowed due to this being built with hand tools only, please adjust to standard sizes.

4. Although I made this build completely from off-cuts that I found in my wood store except for the MDF board, I have quantified the overall timber requirements for this build so that you can buy the wood from your local timber merchant.

5. I have included two pdf documents; one containing the sketches and the other the materials list for ease of reference. If you require any further information or have any other questions please contact me via my Instructable site.

Step 1: Drawing Board Bracing and Frame Fixing Supports:

All items in this step to be doubled up and mirrored for the opposite side.

1. Cut the first base plate (2) and second base plates (3) to 120mm lengths and glue the first plate to the bottom corner of your board (1). Once the glue has set carefully clamp down the piece and using a small tack hammer to tap square with the board if required. Predrill some guide holes using a 1mm drill bit and hand screw three screws in alternating positions as shown. Visually measure the screws to ensure that they are not too long and will protrude through the front face of your board (1). Once you have predrilled guide holes also drill out the screw head recesses using an 8mm / 0,31” drill bit.

2. Cut the movable arm base plates (5 & 6) and glue and screw them down onto your board (1) using the same method as per item 1 above. Critical is the location of these base plates (5 & 6) on your board (1); the lower outer corner of the base plates (5 & 6) should be 400mm / 15,7” from the bottom corner and 25mm/ 0,98” in from the side of the board (1) as shown. It is not critical to the overall build if you are out a few millimetres/ fraction of an inch. Remember you are only using hand tools. By pre-drilling guide holes and carefully screwing in screws by hand you should not split the wood but you still have to be careful. I had to rebuild one or two items due to being too hasty and the wood being too dry.

3. Now glue down the second plate (6), wait until it has set then carefully clamp together, adjust with a small tack hammer, once set pre-drill guide holes and hand screw in two timber screws on diagonally opposite sides of the plate. Wipe away any excess wood glue with a rag.

4. Repeat the process for the other side.

Step 2: Side Frame With Hinges:

All items in this step to be doubled up and mirrored for the opposite side.

1. Glue the bottom and top side frame arms (8 & 9) together; note that one is 45mm / 1,8” shorter but must be flush on the opposite side. I only added this piece at a later stage when I realised I needed more strength and stability in the overall frame design.

2. Gently drill chamfered edges around the screw holes of your hinges (9) to allow for the screw heads to be as flush as possible with the face of the hinge. I used an 8mm / 0,31” drill bit for this. Don’t be concerned if the screw heads are not completely flush when screwed down onto the wood as small tolerances have been taken into consideration. I had some hinges lying around that were a good match to this build. I added an additional hole to the hinges for extra strength when fixed to the arm.

3. Screw on the hinge (9) to the frame arm (7). Do the same for the other side.

4. To create the stops (10) first file one long edge of your overall piece to approximately 45 degrees, mark out your 8 stops that you need and cut your eight stops and sand smooth.

5. Mark four equidistant points on both the frame arms (7). I would suggest that you do this with both arms simultaneously to be able to get as accurate an alignment as possible.

6. Mark the outline of the stops (10) on the frame arms (7) with a pencil. Glue down the stops with a dab of wood glue. Check with a ruler and also visually if the stops are in their correct position.

7. When the glue has set, clamp down carefully and use a small tack hammer to gently tap into position if the stops have moved off position fractionally.

8. Once the glue has dried you can then add some small wood screws, one per stop (10) as additional fixing but this is not required. With inevitable knocks and bumps in the future, I’d rather make it more solid and rather be safe than sorry.

Step 3: Top Frame With Handle:

1. Mark out a gentle arch from the centre point of the top frame arm (13) to approximately 10mm from the edge. Use any kind of large radius template as guide or hand sketch a shape onto the wood. Using various files and then various grades of sandpaper start shaving and shaping the indented handle until you are visually satisfied and it feels right in your hand.

2. Join the top (13) and side arms (7) at ninety degrees and glue and clamp together. Use a small tack hammer to get perfectly square before gently tightening the clamp. Mark the screw positions with a scribe and predrill two guide holes with a 1mm /0,03” drill bit. Chamfer the openings for the screw head recesses with an 8mm drill bit. Once set, carefully screw in two wood screws on diagonally opposite sides. The timber should not split if you pre-drill guide holes and carefully screw in by hand.

3. Cut the two end pieces (11 & 12) to as square as possible to 45 x 45mm and sand down the edges to hide any discrepancies. Mark the screw positions with a scribe and pre-drill 1mm guide holes. Remember to chamfer the openings to allow for the screw heads to fit as flush as possible.

4. Glue down the first end piece (11) to the side arm (7) and carefully clamp down. Once the glue has set screw in two small wood screws on opposite sides. Repeat on the opposite arm.

5. Glue and screw down the second end piece (12) and repeat the process as per item 4. Note that end pieces (11) and (12) can be replaced with one single piece of wood.

6. Draw six squares of about 25mm / 0,98” with a marker pen on a thin sheet of rubber or similar, cut out and round the edges with a pair of scissors. Alternatively, you could salvage some rubber feet from an old stereo or DVD player and reuse those. With a small amount of contact glue place the feet in position on the underside of the side arms (7) and weigh down with something heavy. I used a few scuba diving weights I had ‘floating’ around.

Step 4: Adjustable Stay With Hinges and Dowel Stick:

As I did not have the correct width of scrap timber I added an end piece on both ends to my movable stay arm (15) which then also gave me the width to be able to attach my second pair of hinges (16). I’ve also inadvertently saved some weight not having the right size timber.

1. On the hinge end block (14) cut out a 15x 20mm / 0,59 x 0,78” corner from the 20 x 20 x 40mm / 0,78 x 0,78 x 1,57 ” block as shown. This will serve as a cut out for the 2mm nut and bolt (18) that will fix the two pieces (14 & 15) securely together.

2. Glue the end blocks (17) to the stay arms (15), carefully clamp them together and wait for them to set. Drill a 2mm hole through both pieces at the cut-out through both pieces of wood and fit the 2mm / 0,07” bolt.

3. With a small chisel create a recess in the stay arm (15) for the bolt
head (18) to fit flush with the wood face. Ensure that the length of your bolt does not protrude past the edge of the outer face of your hinge end block (14).

4. Carefully tap in the 40mm / 1,5” long 2mm / 0,07” diameter bolt through both pieces of wood with a tack hammer, add a small washer and fit the nut. Tighten with a small spanner.

5. For the stop end block (17) mark the depth you want to drill to by taping the end of your drill bit with some masking tape to the depth that you want to drill to which in this case is about a third into the block. Using an 8mm / 0,31” drill bit very carefully drill the opening. Your dowel is also 8mm / 0,31” thick so you will have a nice and tight fit.

6. As it will be a relatively tight fit you could sand the end of the dowel stick slightly to make it fit better. Gently tap or preferably wedge the dowel stick (19) into the end block (17) after adding a dab of wood glue.

7. Complete both end pieces (14 & 17) and glue and clamp to the movable arms (15). Once set and dried, fix the hinge (16) of the one arm with the dowel stick (19) attached, to the base plate (6) of the board (1) and then align the opposite arm. Once you have them aligned in the correct position you can then mark the cutline on the end of the dowel stick (19). You will have to visually judge this. I had left approximately 20mm / 0,78” additional length on the dowel stick to allow for any adjustments. Note that the dowel stick recess in the end block (17) drilled earlier is 10mm / 0,39” deep which gives you a bit of tolerance to adjust the dowel after cutting.

8. Screw down the second hinge (16) onto its base block (6) fixed onto the board (1).

9. Once you are satisfied with the position then add a dab of wood glue into the opening of the opposite end block (17) and gently hand wedge the dowel into its final position.

Step 5: Removable Pencil Tray:

The removable pencil tray is stored in a locked position with two small end stops on the back of the board when not in use. I haven’t added these yet in this Instructable but there is an image with the location of the stop block shown in red.

1. Using a rasp, various files and hand-held belt sander create a gentle chamfer from the outer long edge to the inner edge along the flat surface of Pencil tray (21). Try to achieve a concave wedge along the whole length of the ‘tray’. Aim to remove at least 4mm / 0,15” of wood to reach a 2mm/ 0,07” edge from a total of 6mm / 0,23”. You need to use quite a bit of ‘elbow grease’ for this and if you have a hand plane it would save you a lot of energy and time.

2. Sand down and smooth to a high finish as possible. Gently sand the edges to remove any sharp corners to prevent splinters and that it feels comfortable to the touch. Cut the end blocks (22) to size and chamfer the one short edge to a quarter round curve. Note that in my sketch I have the end pieces shown back to front – the chamfer should be on the front side.

3. Clamp one of the base blocks (4) and end block (22) together so that their top edges are flush. On the end block (4) mark the centre position for the 8mm /0,31” carriage bolt with a pencil, then scribe, pre-drill a guide hole using a 2mm / 0,07” drill bit then carefully drill the final opening with an 8mm/0,31” drill bit. Fit the bolt through both pieces to check the fit. If it is too tight use a small round file to enlarge the opening.

4. With a chisel cut out the shape of the bolt head around the 8mm/0,31” hole on the end block (4) and then gently tap in the bolt with a small tack hammer until the head is flush and sits tightly in the opening.

5. Glue the base blocks (4) onto the corner supports (3) and wait until the glue has set and clamp. The next day, scribe locations on the diagonal of the base plate as well as chamfering the holes for flush fitting screw heads. After pre-drilling guide holes carefully screw in 12mm / 0,47” wood screws.

6. Glue one of the end blocks (22) onto the one end of the pencil tray (21), clamp and wait 24 hours. There aren’t any screws used as I wanted the tray to be as smooth as possible without any physical connections besides wood glue.

7. The off-cut timber I used for the tray (21) had some old nail holes which I drilled out to a larger diameter hole and filled and glued a short length of 6mm / 0,23” dowel stick into it. Once it had set I sanded it down flush with the tray surface. Also fill any potential gaps with excess wood glue. I split a corner of the tray but was able to do a relatively successful repair job although there are more elegant ways to fix something like this but for this build it is acceptable.

8. Once you’ve removed any excess dried wood glue and having sanded everything down, attach the pencil tray (21) on one side only to the base plate (4) on the board with one of the carriage bolts. Now you can line up the opposite side base plate and second end block (22). Once you have the correct position, glue and clamp the second end block (22) to the tray (21). Once this has set clamp the two parts together leaving enough space to be able to drill your hole for the second carriage bolt (22a). Now mark, scribe and pre-drill a guide hole then drill the 8mm/ 0,31” hole for the second carriage bolt and fit the carriage bolt with its wing nut (22a).

9. For the tray support (20) file and sand down the outer long edge to form a quarter round edge. Cut to size so that it fits snuggly between the end blocks (22) and flush below the tray (21) as shown. Add a reasonable amount of wood glue and clamp with as many clamps as possible, I used four clamps as a minimum but use off-cuts as 'bridges' to distribute the clamp pressure more evenly and to protect your tray from clamp scuff marks.. Check that everything is lined up, adjust with a few taps of your tack hammer if necessary and wait 24 hours to dry. No mechanical fixing is required. Once the glue has dried, sand down to your desired finish.

Step 6: Wooden Latch:

I didn't have a small cabinet latch available and using one of these would have sufficed. If you don’t have one you make your own using two small pieces of wood and some dowel stick off-cuts.

1. Cut all the pieces to the relevant overall sizes as per the material schedule. Leave at least 50mm / 1,9” additional length on the 15mm / 0,19” dowel stick (25) to use as a grip in your workbench vice when shaping the rounded end knob of the catch (27).

2. Drill an 8mm / 0,31” hole through the latch base (24) and with a coping saw patiently start shaping the latch ‘wings’ using various files, sand paper and elbow grease.

3. After drawing the shape of the movable latch (26) on the wood with a pencil, cut out the shape with a coping saw and when close to the final shape, place in position in the slot you have made on the latch base (24) and mark the centre point for the axis through the opening of the latch base (24). After marking it with a scribe, drill the 8mm / 0,31” hole for the dowel axis (25) and file and sand until the latch can move freely in the slot. You will need some patience and a bit of trial and error until you have achieved an acceptable stage where the latch can move unhindered with the dowel axis in place. Continue filing and sanding until you have satisfied yourself that the latch fits comfortably over the neck of the knob and the finish is acceptable.

4. Slide the 8mm / 0,31” dowel axis (25) carefully through the latch base (24) ensuring a tight fit and that the latch (26) itself moves freely around the dowel axis (25). Add a drop of wood glue to either side of the latch base holes for the dowel axis (25) and let it set. Once cured file down the dowel axis (25) until it is flush with the latch base (24).

5. Leave at least 50mm / 1,9” of dowel that you clamp into your workbench vice. Now you start shaping the end part of the 15mm / 0,59” dowel stick to form a knob with the latch neck behind. Once you have shaped the end knob and neck of the catch (27) so that the latch comfortably fits over the neck start sanding down all fine nicks and scuff marks and try and achieve as smooth a finish as possible. I also used two small rubber strips that I protect the wood with while it is clamped.

6. Predrill a guide hole halfway into the centre of the knob (27) from the neck side. Once you have shaped and finished the catch base plate (28) carefully screw the two parts together after dabbing a drop of wood glue on the end of the neck of the knob (27).

7. Place the latch base (24) and catch base plate (28) in position respectively on the frame and on the board. This step will also rely on visual alignment as you will not necessarily have worked to exact dimensions with probably a few millimetres of discrepancies. By rounding the edges and creating a more organic piece the slight discrepancies will not be noticeable. Once aligned glue the latch base (24) down and let it set. Then pre-drill two 1mm / 0,03” guide holes and carefully screw in two small wood screws being very careful not to break through to the working side of the board. I visually checked the lengths of the screws beforehand which gave me the assurance of not having to be concerned with this but I was still very careful with this step.

8. Once the latch base plate (24) with the latch (26) are in their fixed position and fitted, place the catch (27) and catch base plate (28) into position so that the latch slips comfortably over the catch. Now glue down the catch base plate (28), wait for it to set and then hand screw very carefully to the board (1) with two small wood screws on the diagonal corners. I had to slightly reshape the catch base plate (28) as there was a clash with the latch base plate (24) but the end result is a more homogenous solution and the two parts now seem to suit the organic latch design better.

9. As this was my first build of a latch it seemed like overkill but I had fun. There are many other easier solutions. Once the easel is in its closed position with the latch in place, the opposite side is still loose and needs an additional latch. As per the last sketch, I am still coming up with more simplified and practical versions. I recently found two small relatively strong magnets that could also work. Any suggestions are more than welcome.

I hope you all have enjoyed this Instructable and it will inspire you to build your own one. The design can be simplified and as this was my first attempt I have subsequently discovered small ways of improving the design and will update this Instructable as I progress.