Introduction: Tabletop Oak Art Easel
I hope this project can inspire you to design and build your own tabletop art easel. I decided to try my hand at painting, and wanted a good easel to work on (it turns out that I'm pretty bad at painting--even after classes--but it's the fun that counts!). I also needed this easel to collapse and be stored in a small space.
Of course, you can buy art easels; however, many of them aren't sturdy or well-designed. If you want a solid wood easel that can collapse down, you're talking more than $150. I made this on the cheap with some leftover oak pieces and few bucks worth of hardware. I visited some art stores to study the art easels on the market, and I think mine is better. I also think that with a little patience anyone can build their own super sturdy art easel.
- Wood (preferably oak, which is hard and strong)
- Wood Glue
- 1/8th rubber padding circles (or other material to increase the friction between base and rotating structure)
- Short scrap strip of leather or something to be used as a handle
Take a look at the hardware photo for images of what these refer to.
Step 1: Design Your Art Easel
Your specific needs may vary. So first things first, take some paper and sketch out what your easel will look like. Do you need to adhere to certain dimensions or other design constraints?
Take your time and mentally organize how all the pieces will fit together. The photos above obviously show the finished product taken apart. I hope that these photos can help you visualize how it'll all come together. I designed my easel so that all of the structural parts can be detached and stored within the base.
In my design, here are the basic structural parts:
- The base - the sturdy foundation that sits on the table
- The rotating arm - this is the structure that rotates up from the base and physically holds the canvas
- The detachable Ledges - there are are two ledges that attach to the arm, but can be removed and stored. The first upper ledge holds the canvas and the lower ledge holds the brushes.
- The two vertical guide rails - these are fixed guides that are built into the rotating arm. They create a channel along which the adjustable mast rail can adjust up and down.
- The adjustable mast rail - this extends the canvas capacity of the easel by extending upwards along the two guide rails. This also holds the top canvas gripper. Wing nuts inserted through the guide rails pinch the adjustable mast rail into place at a desired height.
- The Top Canvas Gripper - This adjustable piece is affixed to the adjustable mast rail and locks the canvas into place on the easel.
Step 2: Cut Your Wood
Once you have all of your measurements, take your time to cut all of the wood to the appropriate lengths. Because my design required precise fits, I made sure the power miter saw/table saw were square, and I also squared and planned my pieces.
Step 3: Plan and Cut the Joinery
My design called for a number of lap joints as well as doweled butt joints to connect the horizontal cross beams to the main vertical arm beams. In my case, I clamped the two side vertical arms together and chiseled out cavities for the horizontal beams (clamping them together ensures that the joints are in the exact same position along both vertical arms).
Continuously dry fit the horizontal beams into the cavities, chisel away small increments and make adjustments until everything seats perfectly.
Step 4: Cut Out Vertical Rails and the Vertical Mast Rail
The two vertical guide rails are going to be rigidly affixed to a top horizontal beam and a lower horizontal beam. The vertical mast rail will slide up and down between the two rails to expand the capacity of the easel. The width of your vertical mast rail will dictate how far apart your two guide rails are.
As you can see, I designed my vertical mast rail to have a triangular concave groove along both edges. The rigid guide rails are designed to have a corresponding triangular convex edge.
Step 5: Dry Fit the Main Structural Pieces, Glue It Up and Clamp It. Then Sand.
Arrange all the pieces and ensure they all fit together correctly. I chose to use dowels to reinforce the joinery, so that required an extra step; however, I'm not sure this was absolutely necessary, although the result was a super solid structure.
Drill holes at the pivot point between the base and rotating arm. The brass hex screws with go through the base, rubber pads and rotating arms and be tightened into place with star knobs.
Use standard adjustable clamps along with corner clamps to position everything into place after you apply glue. I also used spacers and clamps to ensure that the base structure and rotating arm structure fit exactly into each other (see photo). Ensure there is enough space between the base and rotating arm to insert a couple rubber pads. Once the arm rotates up, the user can tighten the star knobs at the pivot points and compress the rubber pads. These pads increase the coefficient of friction at the joint and ensure the arm doesn't rotate while the user is painting.
After at least 24 hours of glue-drying, take apart the base and rotating arm structure and sand all of the parts.
Step 6: Dry Fit the Vertical Rails, Glue It, Clamp Into Place and Pin the Rails Into Place
Again, I used dowels to reinforce the joinery. Then I positioned the two vertical rails and vertical mast rail into place. To ensure proper spacing, just insert the vertical mast between the two vertical rails as you pin it all together (you can sand down the edges later to create wider tolerances).
I used a pneumatic nailer to pin the vertical rails into place after I applied glue.
Step 7: Cut Out the Ledges; Drill Holes for the Threaded Inserts
Now it is time to create the removable ledges. I cut channels along the length of the ledges (see photo) to provide surface variations that will grip on to the canvas or offer grooves for the paint brushes to sit in.
These ledges will attach to (and detach from) the rotating arm structure with general purpose hex bolt that can be hand tightened and unscrewed. I had to cut holes through the ledges to allow the screw to pass through the ledge and screw into a threaded insert. My design required 10 threaded inserts:
- 2 threaded inserts to attach the bottom ledge that will hold the brushes
- 2 threaded inserts to attach the top ledge that will act as the bottom support for the canvas
- 4 threaded inserts for the vertical rails (two on each side). These allow wing nuts to pinch the sliding vertical mast and secure it into place at a given height.
- 2 threaded inserts in the handle block to attach the threaded rods into (see later step)
Step 8: Cut Out the Top Gripper
The top gripper affixes to the sliding vertical mast with a brass hex bolt, washer and star knob. This allows the user to easily adjust the height of the top gripper and slide it down onto the top of the canvas.
I cut channels along the length of the top gripper (similar to the ledges)
Step 9: Cut Out the Handle Blocks, Insert Threaded Insert and Attach Handle
I designed for the ability for the easel to collapse flat, then for a handle mechanism to have long threaded rods that slide through the base, rotating arm, ledges, and top gripper to secure all of the pieces into place all in a small, convenient form factor.
The two handle blocks have threaded inserts. Into those threaded inserts are long threaded rods. The rods (inserted through all the other pieces) are secured with two of the star knobs.
Step 10: Dry Fit and Then Finish the Wood
Put it all together and make sure it works as expected.
Use three coats polyurethane with time to dry and light sanding in between to finish the art easel.
Step 11: Start Your Artistic Adventures!
See photos to understand how it all fits together in its compact form.
Once you take it apart to use, the star knobs to tighten the hex screws at the pivot points and create a rigid structure while you're using the easel.
As you can see from the photo, the easel folds up and can fit in the top shelf of a closet.
Runner Up in the