The "Anywhere" Portable Standing Desk




Introduction: The "Anywhere" Portable Standing Desk


The idea for this desk was conceived while I was in college. During finals week there were absolutely no desks or tables available in the library. I thought, what if I could walk into the library with a briefcase looking thing and plop a desk down anywhere. I could even set up in a quiet elevator à la Remi Gaillard. Although I currently don’t have this problem in my life, I think having this will be beneficial with working from home, for visiting family members, limited living space, and as a general tool for my making, photography, and filmmaking hobbies. I think there are some people that could benefit from using the design without the legs and instead, placing it on an existing table. That way you could easily turn your normal desk into one with a split adjustable angle top and have the ability to remove it and fold it in half for storage.

The concept and design have spent over 5 years in half-finished CAD models and sketches on random pieces of paper bouncing around in my head! I'm glad that I finally got a chance to make it and share it with you. I’m not sure if anybody will tackle this project exactly the way I did but, I will try my best to explain everything in detail to share with you what I’ve learned, hopefully, inspire you to make something and maybe, learn something!


From what I have researched, there aren’t many options for a foldable/collapsible standing desk other than these Cardboard stunning desks by Refold. When you Google "Portable standing desk" you are greeted by a bunch of products that mostly are meant to be placed on an existing desk. Not only do they require a desk, but they also often have a small surface area, sometimes designed solely for a laptop. I like to spread out when I work so having a large surface is a must. As a student that is even more important when you may need to have a computer, textbooks, notebooks, binders, and handouts all in front of you.

The idea and design are a Frankenstein of projects and mechanisms from a variety of sources. Izzy Swan’s World’s fastest folding table was an early inspiration. Initially, I wanted to make a normal folding desk with adjustable height. The idea then morphed into a standing desk and later, the ability to adjust the angle of the tabletop like a drafting table to prevent unnecessary stress on your neck. In an early version of the design, I was inspired by the design of a watercolor table easel not dissimilar from Peterk65's Lightweight Portable Table-Top Artists Easel. Later on, I realized that that configuration wouldn’t work with the constraints created by the hinges and self-containing feet. More broadly, Make Something’s Incredible Collapsible Bookcase! Inspired me to keep working on the project and introduced me to a style of furniture called Campaign furniture which is designed for travel and super cool!

Tools Used

  • Table Saw
  • Miter Saw
  • Hand saw
  • Spring clamps
  • 3’ Bar clamps
  • Small Bar Clamps
  • Router with Roundover bit (sandpaper will suffice)
  • Drill press
  • Hand Drill
  • Hand Drill Guide
  • Drill bits
  • Hammer
  • Random Orbit Sander
  • Hacksaw or Dremel with a metal cutoff disk
  • Metal File
  • Band clamp
  • Combination square
  • Dial caliper
  • Speed square

Materials Used

(links are not necessarily the cheapest, I'm sure you can find better prices if you shop around and use coupons)

The cost for the materials is about $275 ± $50 Note this doesn't include shipping and that for many items, I didn't necessarily shop around for the cheapest prices.

Step 1: Material Design Considerations

Early Design

I originally planned on using angle and square tube aluminum for the desk frame because it’s light, yet strong. I brazed together some frames but didn’t have all of the mechanisms and moving parts figured out yet. I subsequently decided to, forgo the aluminum, and built a working desk from wood.

The Tabletop

The tabletop is made from 1/4" Underlayment. It is super cheap and can be bought in 4' by 4' pieces. Having more than you need for the top comes in handy when testing finishes.


Most of my desk is made of reclaimed 1 by pine boards and leftover ¼” plywood laminated together. Although pine is cheap, the boards have some sentimental value to me because they are pieces of the home that my grandfather built without the use of power tools. I don't know which is more satisfying, knowing that you were able to reuse an item that would have been trash or watching old rough lumber become reborn. Although all of the laminating took a ton of time, I think it helps with the strength. You may choose to forgo these extra steps if you’re starting with new wood (see section: Improvements).


I originally planned to make the legs from aluminum angle. Each leg would be made of three pieces with slots cut in one side of the angle and pins on others to allow for extension. After some experiments milling the angle with my router, I wasn’t very happy with how it adjusted, locked, and was afraid that cutting the slots would weaken the leg’s strength. In this iteration, I am using the simple yet effective push-button spring clips (kayak paddles) and three sizes of aluminum tubing that nest inside of each other.

Step 2: Tabletop and Tabletop "Trim"

I purchased a 4’ by 4’ piece underlayment for my split tabletop because I liked the way it looked and it is lightweight. To make it more comfortable, I am adding a trim frame around it. This creates the look and feel of a thicker top without sacrificing weight. One downside of the underlayment is its paper-thin veneer. It is very hard to sand it without sanding through the top layer. I think it would be beneficial to lightly sand the top and apply finish before starting to glue the trim pieces. Errant glue is more easily wiped off prefinished wood and glue stains that must be sanded can be avoided.

Cutting the top to size

I cut my top to 48” by 30”. Next, cut it in half to have two pieces approximately 24” wide and 30” deep. Orient the boards so that they match in the middle and label them lightly with a pencil “rIght” and “left”.

Tabletop “Trim”

Start by ripping boards about 1.5” in width. Create a rabbit with a depth very slightly deeper than your plywood and about 1” into the 1.5” board (see image one).

Use a chisel and sandpaper to clean up the interior of the rabbit removing any wood that is obstructive to the plywood seating flush. Then give all sides of the trim a light sanding.

Take one side of the tabletop and cut the trim pieces at the miter saw to fit on edges. Referencing the left and right side, keep the sides where they meet without trim (see picture two). Do a dry fit, and once happy with the joints you can glue them up. To reduce gaps I recommend first, clamping the trim to the plywood lightly with spring clamps, adding longe 3’ “persuasion” clamps to make seams tighter, and then adding bar clamps to replace the spring clamps.

When working with plywood with a very thin veneer it’s probably smart to tape the edges of your plywood where glue squeeze-out can stain the wood and make it hard to sand out or put a finish over. However, if you do this make sure to take off the tape when the glue is still tacky, or else you will be forced to pick at specs of blue tape with an X-Acto knife (don't ask me how I know).

Once you’ve glued the trim on the three exterior slides on both halves of the tabletop, you can fill any gaps with a paste made from wood glue and fine sawdust. Then you can round the corners and put a round over on the top and bottom edges with a router or with sandpaper by hand.

If you don’t have a way to make the trim, you can find outside corner molding in the molding section of a big box store and trim one edge to the thickness of your plywood board.

Step 3: The Frames

The desk has two frames, the bottom frame, which the legs attach to, and the top frame that is attached to the tabletop. The top frame is about 2” in width and the Bottom frame is 3”. All of the mitered frames each measure 27 1/2" by 23" from the outside edges

Ripping the Pieces (and Laminating)

Rip 1 by dimensional lumber pieces and underlayment plywood for the bottom frame to 3.25” and 2.25. Next, sand the interior surfaces of the 1 by dimensional ripped boards and plywood. Laminate these surfaces together and apply as many clamps as needed to close the gaps. Once the glue is set you can trim the edges flush on the table saw making the wider boards 3” and the narrower ones 2”.

Cut the Miter Joints

After making clean edges you can cut the miter joints. Cut the longer pieces to 27.5” (outside edge) and the shorter ones to 23”. Tip: Orient your boards with the top to figure out which direction 45 degrees cut to make. Once you’ve figured it out, make a quick line in pencil to remind you which direction to cut. I made the mistake twice and had to fix the mistakes. “Every defect gets respect!"- Laura Kampf. I was able to rig together a stop block using some scraps, hot glue, and a clamp which makes this easier if you don't have a miter saw station. Once you have all of the parts cut you should lay them out and confirm consistency.

See the Improvements section for a technique for getting your frames to be exactly the same size.

Leg Pin Hole

Now you can cut holes for the leg pin. I screwed two scraps from the leg frame together to model a corner of the desk and the locations for the leg pin. The two legs will be attached to the outer ends of the table. Because both legs will occupy the same side you need to offset the pin location so that they can both swing into the profile of the frame. See the diagram above for the location of holes (note: it is not to scale). The benefit of using a template the same width as your frame is that you can use it to mark the holes for your pieces. Once marked, you can drill a ¼” through-hole at all four of these locations. With these holes, on the outside of this leg frame piece (in my case the plywood side) drill a 25/64" hole concentric with the ¼’ hole with a depth of about ¼”. If using a drill press you can line up this operation with the ¼” hole and drill bit, clamp the workpiece, and then switch to the 25/64th” bit for a concentric hole. Place a 1/4" hex head of a ¼” bolt into the hole from the outside and hammer it nearly flush. I first saw Izzy Swan do this in one of his drill powered tools. It seems sort of barbaric but, it works well, especially with softwoods and when epoxy is added. To prevent a Torx shaped dent from being made, hit the bolt head hard on your first few hits so that it doesn't start spinning. Do a few tests to get the hang of it and make sure your pieces of wood won't split. Next, we will cut the v groove to hold lock the legs.

Leg Support Groove

The groove in the frame locks the leg in place when the bolt is tightened. It's cut with its vertex centered over the ¼” and 3/8” holes just drilled. The v groove measures slightly less than 1/4" in height relative to the inside edge. Oddly enough, this was one of the hardest parts of the build. I had a hard time finding a way to accurately center the 90 degree v-groove over the holes with my table saw (a router with a 90 degree bit would be easier to center).

My Method for Centering V groove

I used a scrap leg frame piece and marked on the top and front edge with a square which I lined up with my desired 45-degree cut. On a table saw sled, I pushed the two pieces until the front edge of the front scrap piece was met at the highest point of the saw blade. Then I could turn the saw off, and find the difference between the kerf cut and the line I was aiming for. Firmly holding the scrap front piece, I could then slide my leg frame the distance needed to hit my mark. I used a caliper to mark and transfer this distance. You can now push both pieces thru the saw, turn the piece 180 degrees and repeat. This method was pretty accurate and saved me a headache.

Gluing the Frame

Before gluing the frame, I'd recommend sanding the interior portions of the four frames, as they will be harder to sand once assembled. While you're at it you can break all of the sharp edges of the pieces, making a slight round over for comfort and for when applying finish (“Fat edges"). When gluing miter joints depending on your wood you may want to “pre-pack the end grain”. This is a technique I learned from Steve at Woodworking for Mere Mortals. Because end-grain, especially old dry wood, can soak up tons of glue, pre-packing glue into the end grain can help. Let it soak in for a few minutes, apply more if needed, and then glue up the frame as you would normally (I used a band clamp) apply more glue and let dry thoroughly before the next step.

Miters are not very strong on their own, so we will reinforce them with dowels. I used some I reclaimed from an old clothes rack. Dowels are great not just for looks, they will also allow for adjustment in the next step if needed. I placed two dowels stacked on the long side of the wide frame and one on the corners of the skinny frames. I laid down the tape to minimize glue mess. Once dry, you can cut the excess dowel and sand all edges.

Frame Alignment

Stack your two halves next to each other with the big frame on the bottom, little on top, v grooves on the outer edges where the legs go. Look at the fit. The critical faces are the front faces of each side and the middle where the four frames meet because that is where the hinges go. No fear! if they are not exact. mine certainly was not perfect. With a table saw or circular saw and guide you can clamp together and cut these two edges flush in preparation for the hinges.

Installing the Hinges

First I installed the under-mounted center hinge that allows the table to fold in half. Flip the table over so that the smaller frame sits on the bottom. Clamp both sides of the desk to a flat surface or to a straight piece of wood to align them. Cut the 30" piano hinge to size and use a self-centering drill bit to drill pilot holes and screw in screws (sized for your hinge or your self-centering drill bit).

Now you can install the hinges that allow the tabletop to be at an angle. Carefully flip the frame right side up, and mark the size the hinges need to be cut to. Cut them to length with a hacksaw or Dremel. Clamp the frame again so that it sits flat and flush, drill pilot holes with a self-centering drill bit, and put the screws in. Assembly easily gets a little crazy with all of the swinging bits. I suggest adding the box latches soon after installing the hinges to make the desk easier to work with.

Step 4: Attaching the Tabletop

Once the hinges are installed you can attach the tabletop. It attaches to the smaller frame that hinges upward. I built my frames to be about 1/2" smaller than the inside dimension on the underside of the tabletop (distance between the trip boards). This allows for a little bit of adjustment so that the uncovered edge of the tabletop is parallel to the inside edge of the frames. Push the side of the tabletop without trim to the center of the table and clamp it the frame so that the frame is just barely visible under the plywood top. I attached two brackets on each outer edge and one near the middle on the back. To attach the top in the inner front, I glued a few blocks on the underside of the tabletop and to the side of the thinner frame.

Step 5: Table Top Angle Adjustment

This table goes to approximately 45 degrees. To get this to work, I am using four strap hinges screwed to a small piece of wood that is glued to the underside of the top, about 3" from the edge and 5" from the peak of the top. Screwed to the other side of the hinge is a 1" wide piece of wood cut to 22". The length of this arm and the location of the hinge determines the angle the top locks at. The ends of the arm contact the inner edge of the back of the larger frame. I made some brackets of aluminum, equivalent in width to the boards, and screwed them in. They stick out past the end of the arm about 1" and keep it from slipping off of the edge. When you are not using the desk at an incline these arms are kept pushed up against the underside of the tabletop with some strong rare earth magnets. Alternatively, you could use a Rockler bracket for drafting tables. Marty Backe has a good video demonstrating the bracket.

Step 6: Legs

Leg Design

I made my legs from 3 pieces of aluminum tubes (cut to L19.5" M18.25" and S16.5") that nest inside of each other and allows adjustability with 8mm button spring clips and 3/8" holes. With the size I built this desk, you can get away with two-part legs (about 22" long will fit). This will give you a minimum height ~ 27" and a maximum of ~41".

Eliminating the smaller leg reduces set up time, the number of holes needed to be drilled, and the number of spring clips needed. If I redesign the legs with spring clips, I plan to try square tubing. Having flat sides allows you to "shim" the gaps between the tubes with this special Friction Reducing UHMW Plastic Wear Tape. I think this along with a two-part leg would aid the stability greatly.

Drilling Holes for the Legs

There are two versions of the legs. Although both have a 5/16" hole for two nylon bushings, they are located at different distances ( centered 1" and 2") from the end of the pipe to match the offset of the holes frilled in the leg frame and to allow pivoting into the profile of the frame. 3/8" holes for the spring clips are centered 1.5" away from the top edge of the middle and small tube (if you use a small tube).

I put the 3/8" holes at regular intervals on the large and middle-sized tubes but for accuracy and ease of use, I'd suggest putting in as few holes as possible (you can always add more). You can simply guess the location of holes and then shift them as needed to obtain your preferred sitting and standing desk heights. To be confident your legs will be even, use a scrap piece to mock up the leg frame. You can drill holes to orient both sets of legs ({with the offset) and mimic how they will sit once attached to the desk. With a square, you can mark across the four tubes the locations you need to drill the holes.

Once happy with the hole locations Deburr the holes. This is important to prevent one tube from scratching the other while telescoping. There are special tools for this, but I was able to use a small round file.

Finishing the Legs

I'm not very experienced with finishing aluminum but, I'd decided to sand and polish the legs. The transformation from raw pipe to polish was quite amazing to watch. I think it turned out well but I can see that it won't last without upkeep. I originally wanted to try applying an etching primer and then spray it satin white but, I was worried about durability with the legs possibly scraping each other's paint off as they telescope. Anodizing and powder coating are other options to be explored.

Once assembled, you can put the rubber feet on the bottom. See the Improvements section for more info.

Step 7: Finishing

Choices for Finish

When using thin plywood then something that sits on top of the wood is probably preferable. The finish on another tabletop I made with similar think plywood came out super blotchy and raised some weird (glue?) blotchy. I did some testing on a few scrap pieces of both the plywood and pine boards. While researching what finish to use, I stumbled upon an awesome reference for what stains look like on common woods from the blog Chris Loves Jullia. I will be bookmarking this for future projects. In my tests, I tried amber shellac, water-based polyurethane, Minwax golden oak, and Minwax dark walnut. I applied a pre-stain conditioner before the Minwax products. I ended up liking the amber shellac the most.

Sanding, Applying Shellac, and Weathering

Because I had partially sanded through the veneer layers or cut thru it, I decided to embrace the old and weathered look. Before applying the shellac, I sanded a few more spots thru the veneer layer with 100 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander. I tried to guess where wear patterns may appear to make it look like the desk has a history. Next, I sanded down to 320 grit and did some hand sanding with the grain. I wiped on the shellac with a piece of a cotton t-shirt. Shellac is very forgiving as a finish but you can't go back over it after it starts to dry it as it starts to gum up quickly. You can sand, clean the dust, and apply as many coats to your desired darkness. Note: The shellac that I applied has wax in it so it's suggested that you can not put polyurethane over it (although that is contested by some (The Wood Whisperer 128 – Shellac Under Polyurethane). I did a test with my particular shellac and poly and saw no issues with flaking or chipping when scored with a knife and yanking a piece of duck tape off of it. Even if it did flake, it may add to the aged look. I really love old boxes so maybe weathering would be a cool way to bring everything together. Check out Adam Savage's Live Builds: Weathering a Thermal Detonator Kit!. I may go back and dent a few areas of the trim pieces and make them look dirty with a dark paint wash. I'll update and post photos if I do this.

Step 8: Knobs, Handles, and Locks


Because my local hardware store was out of female threaded knobs in the size I'd wanted, I made my own. I purchased knobs meant for a standard 1/4"-20 bolt head and glued a nut inside with 5-minute epoxy. In this orientation, I have no worries that the nut will become loose with use since tightening the knob pulls the nut into the plastic handle.

Handle and Clasp locks

You can add a handle and locks for easier transport. You must put the latch locks on the outer edge where the bolts for the leg pin are. I put one latch locking both of the small frames to its large frame and one locking the large frames together. Although I didn't do this, I'd recommend placing both of the locks for the tilt hinges as far away from the vertex as possible, as it pulls everything together better. A handle can be put on this same side of the box too with longer screws. Unfortunately, you will not be able to attach anything to the underside, like rubber feet, as that will interfere with the folding and unfolding.

Step 9: A Success? Improvements, Add-Ons, and Suggestions

Overall I'm happy with the desk although I know there is always room for improvement. No doubt though, building it helped me understand the parts and mechanisms and will help me to improve the design in ways that sketching or even modeling alone could not. Hopefully, by sharing my experience, you too will have a leg up on your first build!

If any of you have suggestions beyond my thoughts below, please let me know! I know there are some very talented designers on Instructables.

Table Top

I picked the underlayment from the store partly because of looks and partly due to it being cheaper than a project pannel, and twice the wood. I think I wouldn't have regretted this choice if I had prefinished the top. I've had success in the past pre-finishing boards before assembly to make glue cleanup easier. If you do opt to buy 1/4" baltic birch you will not have to deal with as thin of a veneer.

Frame construction improvements

If you have the capability, I would highly suggest that you make the frames for the desk with a trick woodworkers use to make boxes Diresta: Curio Box. Instead of making a top half and bottom half of a box, you can make one box and cut it in half. If glued square, this ensures a perfect match when you add the hinges. The same can be done for this double-hinge design, in fact, it's more critical with the double hinge design.


My original design consisted of a frame within a frame rather than two stacked. early on in the build, I found flaws in the design with the constraints created by the hinges and legs. Later, I discovered that my old design might work if the legs were affixed to the outside of the frame. I suppose this could be made to look nice and would make the folded up desk less thick. This would save about 5" in depth when the desk is folded. From a user experience perspective, adding a pin that locks the tabletop from folding in half would be beneficial when setting up the desk. For now, a 3" spring clamp or bar clamp will suffice.


From what I can tell the majority of the wobble is from play in the spring clips or the tolerance between the tubes being too much (If I am able to confirm this I will update you). The spring-clip legs are cost-effective but the disadvantages may outway the simplicity for you. Although adjustability is more limited, having set positive stops has its benefits. As mentioned in the legs section above, I would suggest trying square tubing, which would make drilling holes easier and allow you to use this friction-reducing tape. The square tubing could still lock into the v grooves if the leg pin holes are drilled from the corner.

Over the years I have looked for other mechanisms for telescoping legs but haven't been satisfied with the price or the potential to function as a table leg. One of my favorite things when designing or making is to find a cheap material or product and use it for another purpose. I've thought about buying cheap telescoping pool skimmer poles for their tubing and mechanism. Other more expensive options pondered included hiking poles and monopods. I plan to look more into a normal tube clamping mechanism like you would see on a bike seat or scooter. At least the legs on this design are easily replaced.

Self-leveling/swivel feet can be added by pounding a dowel into the bottom of the legs an installing a T-nut



Weight is another factor I'm not completely satisfied with. As stated above there's certainly room for improvement. I weighed some of the individual parts before assembly

  • 1 leg 12.5 OZ
  • 2 Larger (leg supporting) frames 8lbs 10OZ
  • 2 Smaller frames 5lbs 11Oz
  • Both sides of the tabletop 8lb .8OZ

The final weight is just under 30lbs. Interestingly, people have told me it looks heavier than it feels.

Folded Size

The folded size is about 10.5" thick by 31" long by 24" high. An internal frame system would reduce the thickness by about 5".

Add Ons

There is a limitless amount of add ons that you can make for the desk to make it more functional for your needs

  • custom holders for pens, laptops, paper, paint pallet, etc...
  • utilize the interior space by creating storage, adding a power strip, wireless charging for your phone, etc...
  • add a grid of bench dogs holes or threaded inserts to mount laptop holders, notebook, or book holders, phone holders, etc...while the table is at an incline.

Thank you for reading!

1000th Contest

Runner Up in the
1000th Contest

Be the First to Share


    • 3D Printed Student Design Challenge

      3D Printed Student Design Challenge
    • Reclaimed Materials Contest

      Reclaimed Materials Contest
    • Unusual Uses Contest

      Unusual Uses Contest



    Reply 11 months ago

    Thanks! I really like the look of your easel too!


    1 year ago on Step 9

    I made a prototype bed table with pegboard for the top, lighter weight and enabled devices to have vent holes for cooling.I made a prototype bed table with pegboard for the top, lighter weight and enabled devices to have vent holes for cooling.
    It has an adjustable section, also.
    Not ideal for writing, but a thin, smooth writing pad could be added for this.


    Reply 1 year ago

    هذا جميل جدا اتمنى لك الفوز


    Reply 1 year ago

    شكرا جزيلا


    Reply 1 year ago

    Cool, That's smart! I've thought about putting some holes in my desk for mounting items while in the inclined position but, I didn't think about ventilation. Thanks for the comment!

    Hi. I like this. More than Peterk65's Portable Table-Top Artists Easel, especially so because of the split-top functionality and the self contained legs. I enjoy sketching and with this I can easily take it outside. With the one half flat, my cat can jump up on that side and scatter the pencils before he tears the sketch pad. I have but 2 questions: 1> When in suitcase mode, does "utilize the interior space by creating storage" provide room enough for small items such as a sketch pad and a box of pencils? 2> In its final form, discounting items you may have purchased before making any direction changes, roughly what is the cost of materials? I hope to build this. Of course by the time I do my world might be in the midst of another presidential election. LOL. Thank you


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you or the comments and question! This design has plenty of room for storage. The underside of the tabletop is a good surface for this. The space between my angle ajustmenet arms is about 13" by 19" and can hold somthing with a thickness up to 4.5". Additionally, you have the same amount of space on the other side. I hope to do some more experiments with the legs soon and will update the instructable but, would suggest following what's written above for the legs (two part, square tubing with tape).

    I have yet to calculate cost. I will get back to you with how much I spent.


    Reply 1 year ago

    The cost for the materials in the material section is about $275 ± $50 Note this doesn't include shipping and that for many items, I didn't necessarily shop around for the cheapest prices.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Also, check back for improvements to the leg design.


    1 year ago on Step 9

    I greatly enjoyed your write-up, thought process, links, and ideas. I hope to use what I learned from you in my own builds - I'm feeling inspired!


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you so much! So many instructables creators and maker YouTubers have inspired me, it means so much to know I've done the same!


    Question 1 year ago

    How much does it weigh?


    Answer 1 year ago

    The weight is 29lbs. Definitely one of the things I hope to improve if I made another version. I want to shed ~10 pounds, if possible. If weight is a problem you could probably add wheels and a suitcase-style handle. Interestingly, people have told me it looks heavier than it feels.