Introduction: Modular Magnetic Organizer

Not long ago, I made a desktop organizer that incorporated small succulent planters. Even though I loved the way it turned out, I felt it could be improved. I realized I wanted something similar, but was more modular, that allowed me to rearrange it for specific needs. Inspired by my previous desktop organizer instructable and Tegu magnetic toys, I combined these two concepts and created the Modular Magnetic Organizer.

I made two different organizers, one for a desk or table top and one that mounts to the wall. The wall-mounted organizer was inspired by the concept of a bulletin board, but incorporated plant life and organizational features. Both organizers feature a clock, pen and pencil holders, small flower vases, cell phone holders, planters of various sizes, and small containers for different organizational needs.

Step 1: Designing the Organizer

  • Wall-mounted organizer
  • Desktop Organizer
  • Pieces attach together via magnets, on a grid
  • Hide magnets as much as possible
  • Made with a variety of hardwoods

Desk Organizer
  • Pen/Pencil Holder
  • Large Planter - the central piece all the magnetic organizers snap to
  • Small Planter
  • Teensy Planter or Tray
  • Test Tube Flower Vase
  • Large Tray
  • Small Trays
  • Clock
  • Phone Holder
Wall Organizer
  • This wall organizer would have the same organizational features as the desk organizer (listed above) with the addition of a cork board and room for extra magnets to hang photos, etc.

Step 2: Design Specifications

Design Specs

Central Planter for Desktop Organizer - (1)
  • 4.5" X 4.5" X 6" (tall)
  • 1/2" thick maple
  • 48 magnets (12 per side)
Wall Board - (1)
  • 22.5" X 22.5" X 1/4"
  • Made with plywood, covered with maple veneer
  • Walnut Frame
  • 24" X 24" X 1/2"
  • 225 magnets
Clock - (2)
  • 4.5" X 3" X 1.5"
  • 2 1/4" Clock face insert
  • 2 1/4" Ø hole in center of block (for clock face)
  • 4 magnets
Small Tray (2)
  • 1.5" X 3" X 3"
  • 2 1/2" Ø hole
  • 2 magnets
Small Planter (2)
  • 3" X 3" X 3"
  • 2 1/2" Ø hole in center for plants
  • 4 magnets
Micro Planter/Dish (8)
  • 1.5" X 1.5" X 1.5"
  • 1 1/8" Ø hole in center
  • 1 magnet
Small Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
  • 1.5" X 3" X 1.5"
  • 13 mm Ø hole
  • 2 magnets

Large Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
  • 4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
  • 13 mm Ø holes (3)
  • 9 magnets
Pen/Pencil Holder (2)
  • 4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
  • 13 mm Ø holes (2)
  • 10 mm Ø holes (3)
  • 9 magnets
Paper Clip Tray (2)
  • 1.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
  • 1 1/8" Ø hole (3)
  • 6 magnets
Phone Holder (2)
  • 3" X 4.5" X 1.5"
  • 6 magnets
Decorative Cubes (4)
  • ~ 1.5" X 1.5" 1.5"
  • 1 magnet
" = inches
Ø = diameter
mm = milimeter
(#) = quantity needed

Step 3: Purchase Materials

Materials Needed:
  • Test Tubes, 13mm X 100 mm (8)
  • Cork Board, 12" X 12" X 1/4"
  • Rare Earth Magnets, 1/4" Ø X 1/8" (351)*
  • 2 1/4" Clock Face Insert (2)
  • Succulents (enough for 2 small planters and one larger one)
  • Hardwood Variety**, ~ 80" total, at least 1.5" thick and 4.5" wide
  • 1/8" plywood, enough for (2) 22.5" X 22.5" squares
  • Hardwood veneer, 24" X 24"

*I bought 375 rare earth magnets from Amazon, 1/4" in diameter. At first I ordered ones that were 1/16" thick and they weren't quite strong enough. I was still able to use these, by doubling them up. I placed a second order of 1/8" thick magnets and they were perfect.

**I purchased a variety of 5 different hardwoods. I bought Walnut, Purple Heart, African Mahogany, Tennessee Cedar and Maple. Each board varied in length and was 1.75" thick. One piece of hardwood needs to be a 4" X 4", for the small planters. The maximum 4" X 4" needed is ~14" in length, although it's always easier to work with longer pieces of wood.

Step 4: Prepare Wood

The wood I purchased was a little rough around the edges and needed to be jointed and planed before I began cutting it down to size.

I ran each board through the jointer. First, I ran the boards through face down, cleaning up one face of the board. Then, I ran them through edge down, creating a nice 90° angle on one corner. I made several passes on the jointer, only taking 1/32" off at a time.

The boards I purchased were 1.75" thick and I wanted them to be 1.5". I ran all of the boards through the planer, taking 1/16" off at a time, until the boards were precisely 1.5" thick.

The 4" X 4" (which is really 3.75" X 3.75") I planed down to 3" X 3".

After jointing and planing, I let the boards rest over the weekend. It is important to rest your boards, because after jointing/planing a lot of tension and moisture is released from the wood. I made sure they were resting in flat, horizontal position to avoid any warping.

Step 5: Cutting the Blocks

After looking at the list of pieces needed, I came to the conclusion that most of them were either 1.5" wide or 4.5" wide. With these two measurements known, I decided to use a table saw and rip some of my wood into these dimensions (don't rip all of it to these two dimensions, leave some wider than this). Then I would be able to cut the wood into smaller, specific sizes with the chop saw.

I left myself a piece of walnut at least 24" long, to be used as a frame later. I didn't use the table saw on my 3" by 3" piece of wood.

With the chop saw, I cut the wood into all of the sizes shown below. I used clamps with the chop saw whenever possible. When I needed to do a lot of repetitive cuts, I would set up a wooden fence (see photo) at the exact dimension I needed, to make the cuts go faster.

When measuring and marking the wood with cut lines, I always used a square to make sure my cuts were at 90°.
After each cut, I used either a tape measure or a caliper to check that my pieces were of the correct dimensions.

Hardwood pieces needed (Since I had extra wood, I cut a few more than necessary of some pieces, just in case I made a mistake or two along the way):
(12) 1.5" X 1.5" X 1.5"
(2) 3" X 3" X 3"
(2) 3" X 3" X 1.5"
(4) 4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
(2) 4.5" X 1.5" X 1.5"
(4) 4.5" X 3" X 1.5"
(2) 1.5" X 3" X 1.5"

Step 6: Finding the Center of a Square

Most of the holes were drilled in the center of the blocks. To find the center, I used a simple method that is shown in the first photograph of this step. Simply draw a diagonal line from corner to corner, for all four corners - there should be two lines. Where these two lines meet is the center. Use this method to find the center for all of the pieces except the pen/pencil holder and the paperclip tray.

Step 7: Mark the Blocks for Drilling

I designed each piece to have a semi-specific function, i.e. pencil holder, clock, planter, etc. I drilled holes in almost all of the pieces to create their functionality. For example, I drilled a large hole in the 3" X 3" X 3" block to create a planter. And I drilled smaller holes for pens and pencils. Below, I listed the specific holes for all of the pieces that were cut in Step 5. These hole specifications are also listed in Step 2.

Using the technique explained in the previous step (How to Find the Center of a Square), I marked all of the blocks listed below. The blocks listed below all have a central hole.

Clock - (2)
4.5" X 3" X 1.5"
2 1/4" Ø hole in center of block (for clock face)

Small Tray (2)
1.5" X 3" X 3"
2 1/2" Ø hole in center of block

Small Planter (2)
3" X 3" X 3"
2 1/2" Ø hole in center for plants

Micro Planter/Dish (8)
1.5" X 1.5" X 1.5"
1 1/8" Ø hole in center

Small Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
1.5" X 3" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø hole in center

Large Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø holes (3)

The next two blocks have more than one hole. For the pencil holder, I wanted the 13 mm holes to be evenly spaced across the bottom third of the top and the 10 mm holes to be evenly spaced across the top third of the top. See the second photo for a detailed drawing.

For the paper clip tray I divided the block into thirds and drilled each hole in the center of each third, i.e. I drilled three evenly spaced holes.

Pen/Pencil Holder (2)
4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø holes (2)
10 mm Ø holes (3)

Paper Clip Tray (2)
1.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
1 1/8" Ø hole (3)

Step 8: Drill Organizational Holes

I drilled all of the holes with the drill press. The drill press allowed me to be consistent with the depth of each hole and to drill perpendicular to the wood.

The 2 1/4", 2 1/2", and 1 1/8" holes were drilled using Forstner bits.
The 10mm and 13mm holes were drilled using standard drill bits.

Clock - (2)
4.5" X 3" X 1.5"
2 1/4" Ø hole in center of block (for clock face) - drill all the way through the wood

Small Tray (2)
1.5" X 3" X 3"
2 1/2" Ø hole in center of block - drill 0.75" to 1"

Small Planter (2)
3" X 3" X 3"
2 1/2" Ø hole in center for plants - drill 2.25" deep

Micro Planter/Dish (8)
1.5" X 1.5" X 1.5"
1 1/8" Ø hole in center - drill 0.75" to 1" deep (I did a variety of both depths)

Small Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
1.5" X 3" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø hole in center - drill 2.5" deep

Large Test Tube Flower Vase Holder (2)
4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø holes (3) - drill each hole at varying heights

Pen/Pencil Holder (2)
4.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
13 mm Ø holes (2) - drill 4" deep
10 mm Ø holes (3) - drill 4" deep

Paper Clip Tray (2)
1.5" X 4.5" X 1.5"
1 1/8" Ø hole (3) - two holes drilled 0.75" and one hole 1" deep

Step 9: Make Cell Phone Holder

With two of the 3.5” X 4.5” X 1.5” blocks, I decided to make cell phone holders (or a notebook tray). The design for these did not involve drilling any holes.

On the side of the block (the side measuring 1.5” X 4.5”) I sketched the profile of the cell phone holder (see photo). Then using the bandsaw I followed the line as best I could. Sometimes I had to cut away sections of the wood before I could easily follow the line. Don’t worry about the cut being perfectly smooth, you can take care of the bumps with the sander later.

Step 10: Make Decorative Blocks

I had a few extra 1.5” X 1.5” X 1.5” cubes that I didn’t drill holes in, so I decided to turn them into a decorative piece rather than a functional one.

Being very careful and steady (because they are so small) I held the cubes up to the table mounted belt sander and sanded down various edges at varying angles. I did it randomly with no particular design in mind, other than to end up with abstract cubic shapes.

Keep in mind you need to leave one side large enough to glue the magnet in the center.

Step 11: Mark Magnet Holes

To mark the magnet holes I used the same technique as I did to mark the organizational holes in Step 7. The only difference here is that there are multiple magnet holes and they aren’t always in the center of the block.

I wanted the magnet layout to be grid like and be on the same scale as the organizational cubes. Meaning, in the center of every 1.5” square, there would be a magnet. Another way to think about it would be to have a magnet every 1.5”, but starting 0.75” in from each edge.

The photo in this step shows a detailed sketch of the magnet layout and how I went about marking the holes for the 4.5” X 4.5” X 1.5” block.

Using a sharp pencil, a ruler and/or a square, I drew a 1.5” X 1.5” grid with dashed lines, covering the entire back surface. This grid resulted in (9) 1.5” X 1.5” squares. Each magnet would be placed at the center of each of these squares. To find the center of each of these squares I drew a diagonal line from each corner, and at the intersection of these lines is the center of the square.

Now, it is clear how tedious this step is. However, there is a little bit of a shortcut. You might think you have to draw 18 lines to find the center of the 9 squares. But if you look at your grid, a diagonal line starting at the top left going down to the very bottom right draws a line through three of the squares. Use this concept to draw your diagonal lines and you will save yourself a lot of time.

At the intersection of the diagonal lines I drew a very small dot to indicate where I should drill the holes. I wanted to make sure they were easy to see while I was drilling.

Because this step is quite time consuming and repetitive, I made sure I was comfortably sitting at my desk and turned on some music. It made the process much more enjoyable.

Step 12: Drill Magnet Holes

The magnets I decided to use were circular discs measuring 1/4” in diameter by 1/8” thick. I used a 1/4” end mill bit and a drill press to drill the magnet holes. Drilling the holes was fairly easy and only a little bit repetitive.

I set the drill press depth to 1/8” to eliminate any guesswork on the depth of each hole. I also used the fence on the drill press to make the drilling quicker. For example, when I set the fence to 0.75” I could drill three holes in a row (only needing to slide the wood block from left to right). And then I could turn the block 90° and drill a few holes, and repeat. I only needed to move the fence when I drilled the center holes on some of the larger blocks.

As I was drilling I would check the depth of a hole by placing a magnet in it. I didn’t want to finish drilling all of the holes to find out they weren’t quite deep enough. This check hopefully eliminating making any time consuming mistakes.

Step 13: Sanding

I sanded all of the blocks with a handheld rotary sander and 220 grit sand paper. I made sure to remove all of the pencil marks and any rough spots around the newly drilled holes. Make sure to sand all of the faces and all of the edges.

A few of the pencil marks gave me trouble, so I used the table mounted belt sander (which I believe has 80 grit paper) to quickly remove the pencil marks. Then I touched it up with the 220 grit on the hand held sander.

After sanding all of the blocks I used pressurized air to remove any sanding dust or particles.

Step 14: Glue Magnets

I glued three magnets into a test piece of wood using three different glues - super glue, gorilla glue, and epoxy. After letting them dry I tested them. They all seemed to hold fairly well, but I felt the epoxy was easiest to work with and produced great results. The glue I decided to use was Devcon 5 minute Epoxy Gel. This is a two part epoxy that dries really quickly (in 5 minutes!) and is very strong. I needed a glue that would be stronger than the magnets - or else the magnets would just pull themselves out of their holes.

To use the epoxy I mixed equal parts of the white and the blue and mixed them with a small stir stick until the mixture was clear. I only mixed a small amount of glue at a time because it dries so fast. If I mixed too much, it would dry before I was able to use it all.

I didn’t want the blocks to magnet to each other, but to magnet to a central piece (either the larger planter or the wall mounted board). So it was very important that when I glued the magnets into the wood blocks, I glued them all facing the same direction. To make this easier, I kept my magnets stuck together in a tower (see photo) and stuck to a scrap of steel. Each time I needed a magnet I pulled it from the top of the tower and made sure I glued it into the wood in the same orientation.

I used a stir stick to apply a small dot of glue to the bottom of a magnet, then I set the magnet into the hole. Using the back end of the stir stick, I pushed on the magnet and made sure it was pushed the bottom of the hole. I repeated this until all of the magnets for one block were glued. Then I used a clean paper towel to remove any excess glue or clean up any glue that was smudged in places I didn’t want. Clamping might be helpful here, but I found the glue was drying so quickly that clamping didn’t provide much of a benefit. I repeated this for all of the blocks. When the glue started to get too tacky, I mixed up a new batch, trying to keep the batches small so glue didn’t go to waste. I also wore latex gloves during this process to protect my hands. Its much easier to take a pair of gloves off than it is to remove dried epoxy from your skin.

I found during the glueing process I left small glue finger prints on the blocks of wood. It was hard to be perfectly neat during this step. I did my best at removing this glue with a paper towel, but any glue I couldn’t wipe off I used sand paper to remove (after drying).

Step 15: Oil and Wax Blocks

After the magnets were glued in and I removed any unwanted glue spots, I oiled and waxed the blocks.

Wearing gloves, I applied the mineral oil with my hands, making sure I rubbed oil on all sides and in the holes as best I could. The oil really brought out the color and grain of the wood. I let the oil sit for 5 - 10 minutes, then using a paper towel I wiped away any excess oil.

After the oil dried (I let it dry overnight), I waxed the wood. This isn’t totally necessary, I just really like the look of oiled and waxed wood, and I wanted to protect the wood from wear and tear. I used George’s Club House Wax. Using a paper towel, I wiped wax over all of the wood blocks and let it sit for 5 - 10 minutes. Then using a new paper towel, I rubbed in and removed the excess wax, creating a nice finish.

Step 16: Make Central Planter

As previously stated in Step 1, I wanted the organizing blocks to magnet around a central piece. I decided to make the center piece a medium sized planter box.

I decided to make mine out of some leftover maple, but you can use any wood of your choice. I wanted the planter to be taller than all of the other blocks I made, but still following the 1.5” scale. I also didn’t want the magnets to be visible from the outside. With these specifications in mind, I designed the following box:

Total size: 6” X 4.5” X 4.5”
Individual pieces: (4) 6” X 4.5” X 0.5”
(1) 3.5” X 3.5” X 0.5”
12 magnets per side, 48 magnets total
Magnet holes: 1/4” diameter, 3/8” deep

First, I planed the maple board to 0.5” thick. The board was much longer than I needed, but I found it easier (and safer!) to use the table saw and chop saw with long pieces of wood than really short. Next, I cut off a piece to set aside for the bottom, at least 4” long, preferably longer for ease of cutting. Then, using the table saw at a 45° angle, I cut the board on each side so the final dimension was 4.5” at it’s widest point (3.5” at its narrowest). See photo for description. Using the chop saw, I cut the board into (4) 6” long pieces. Now, with that piece I set aside earlier, with the table saw back at 90°, I cut the board to be 3.5” wide. Using the chop saw again, I cut a 3.5” piece off the board, leaving me with a 3.5” X 3.5” square that was 0.5” thick.

Using the same technique as in Steps # and #, I marked and drilled the holes for the magnets. The only difference being the magnet holes are 3/8” deep and there are 12 magnets per side of the box.

I sanded the individual pieces before I glued them together.

Using the same 2-part epoxy glue, I glued the 48 magnets in all of the holes. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you glue the magnets in the proper orientation. To make sure you are orienting them correctly, put a magnet into the hole and stick one of the blocks to the outside of the wood. The two pieces should stick together. When glueing, make sure the magnets are pushed all of the way to the bottom of the holes. You want the magnets to be as close to the outside of the box as possible. While the glue is drying, stick the four sides of the box to a magnetic (or steel) wall. This will pull the magnets into the hole while the glue dries.

Next, I assembled the box with wood glue. I glued the sides and the bottom together all at once, and held the pieces together with clamps while the glue dried. Be patient when aligning the box and clamping it together, its kind of tricky getting the miter joints to line up properly. You can see in one of the photos that mine aren’t perfect. But, this was the first time I used a miter joint so I was happy with the results.

After the wood glue dried, I sanded, oiled and waxed the box, following the same steps as I did for the blocks.

Step 17: Make Magnetic Board

I also wanted the organizing blocks to magnet to a wall-mounted board, for those folks who don’t have space on their desk for an organizer. I wanted the board to be approximately 2’ X 2’ - with a frame (building of the frame is explained in the next step). I knew doing a board this large would involve drilling A LOT of holes, so I decided to use the laser cutter to cut out the holes for me.

Board Design Specs:
(1) 22.5” X 22.5” X 1/8” plywood
(1) 22.5” X 22.5” X 1/8” plywood with 225 magnet holes
(1) 22.5” X 22.5” maple veneer

Laser-Cut Boards and Magnet Holes:
In Adobe Illustrator I drew a 22.5” X 22.5” square. I drew a second 22.5” X 22.5” square with (225) 1/4” diameter holes on a 1.5” grid.

Using the Epilog Laser Cutter and the following settings, I cut out the two squares.

Glue Boards Together:
With wood glue, I glued the two boards together, trying not to get any glue in the magnet holes. Instead of clamping these two boards together, I put some large pieces of pine on top to weight it down and act as a clamp. I let the glue dry for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Glue Magnets:
Next, I glued the magnets in the holes. Again, make sure you glue your magnets in the right orientation. You can always check by holding a block to the magnet and see if it sticks.

Apply Veneer:
The veneer I ordered came in a very large roll, much more than I needed. I cut a piece off the roll slightly larger than what I needed. In a paint booth, I sprayed the board (magnet side) with Scotch spray adhesive and stuck the veneer on top. If you don’t have access to a paint booth, make sure you do this in a well ventilated room, or outside. Smooth out the veneer after applying it to the board, then weight the veneer while the glue dries.

After the glue dried, I used a utility knife to trim the veneer to the exact size as the board.

Step 18: Make Frame for Board

I wanted a frame to put around the board, to clean up the edges and make the finished product look nice. I had some remaining walnut that would work for the frame.

I planed some left over walnut wood down to 0.5” thick. Then on the table saw I cut the wood into 1.5” wide pieces. I set the chop saw blade at 45° and cut the wood into 24” long pieces (at their longest side, from point to point).

Using the router table and a 1/4” wide by 1/2” deep rabbiting bit, I routed the inside of each pieces of the frame. See photo for more detail.

I used wood glue and 90° angle clamps to glue the frame pieces together. Once the wood glue dried I added some staples for extra support at the corners.

With the frame completed, I glued it on to the magnet board with wood glue. I clamped the frame to the board while the glue dried.

The final step in making the board and frame was oiling and waxing them, following the same steps as with the blocks and the center piece. First oiling and letting it dry, then waxing.

Now that are the individual pieces to the organizer are complete, it’s time to put everything together!

Step 19: Finished Pieces

Here are some pictures of the finished blocks. I love the color of the wood after oiling and waxing. Check out the final step to see the blocks in action organizing and looking amazing!

Step 20: Organize and Accessorize!

Ta da! Here are the two finished products. I am very happy with the way they turned out.

Get creative with what you can organize. I incorporated flowers, air plants, and succulents to the mix. I also filled some of the vacant spaces with decorative stones and moss. You can you a lot or all of the blocks for organizing, or just keep it simple with one or two. Have fun putting some of the blocks up high without the support of the table top - the magnets are strong enough to do all the holding.

Don't forget your add basics too, like paperclips, pens, pencils, erasers, etc!

Enjoy :)