Introduction: Work/Play TV Tray

About: Hi there! If you're here on Instructables, I bet we have a few things in common. Like me, you probably like fine food, great cocktails, and interesting stories. Almost as much as you love building stuff. S…

The humble TV tray, staple of TV-watching households everywhere, gets a makeover for the 21st century.

This project was born when I was using my laptop while watching TV with my wife one afternoon and realized that I didn't have an easy place to stash my precious computer while I ate.

A few sketches and some research later, I had a nice little folding TV tray/portable workstation that stashes easily between a couch and the wall, or underneath (depending on how tall your furniture is.)

The dimensions for this project are basically parametric, meaning that they can be tweaked for individual needs pretty easily—I've illustrated in the photos how I went about getting the final measurements while working on the projects.

I hope you enjoy this project, it was fun to make and is an incredibly useful little piece.

Step 1: Materials & Tools, Dimensions

This project started out as three pieces of wood and some fasteners.


Poplar, 36"x7"x3/8" thick for the legs

Poplar, 72"x7"x5/8" thick for the sides and back

Birch Ply, 14"x18"x3/8" thick for the top and shelf

2x 1/4-20 Buttonhead bolts, 1.25" long

2x 1/4-20 Button Head Socket Cap bolts, 1.5" long

4x 1" fender washers

8x 1/4-20 washers

(optional) length of dowel rod, 0.5" dia.


Drill Press

Table Saw

File or Rasp


Hand Drill

Square-drive bit

Drill Index


Wood Glue

Dead-blow Hammer

Pin Nailer or Hammer and nails

Step 2: Measure and Cut the Box and Legs

Depending on how you deep you want the shelf to be, you could handle this a couple different ways, I'll just stick to the recipe I developed here. I wanted a 3" deep shelf, so that I could fit at the very least a small coffee cup in there.

Set the plank you'll be cutting the sides and back out of on top of the tabletop. Measure the depth you want, mark it and rip the width you want. I used a table saw, but you could just as easily clamp the workpiece down to a table and rip it lengthwise using your circular saw.

Cut this piece into one 18" length, and two 13.25" lengths.

Measure 3" in from one side, then set your blade depth to roughly half the thickness of your material and use the fence to cut a dado slot. Widen the dado slot by bumping the fence over most of a blade width each time. You can use a circular saw to do this as well—might need to set up your own fencing and clamping schema.

Drill the mounting holes for the legs in the sides, 0.75" in and 0.75" up from the front corner.

For the shelf size, I've included the dimensions I ended up with in the second step. To measure the width I needed for the shelf, I slotted each piece of ply into one of the sides and marked off the inside of one of them.

Step 3: Notch the Back

Next, you'll measure and cut notches in the back so that the legs fit parallel to the shelf when collapsed.

Measure the width of the legs on the back, then add at least 0.5" for good measure. Cut down to the bottom of the dado slot using the saw of your choice (bandsaw or handsaw works fine for this) then drill holes inside the corners to clear your jigsaw.

Jigsaw out the notches, then file the sawn portion flat and smooth.

Step 4: Mark and Cut the Handle

Measure away from the edge about 1.5" - 2" and strike a line across the shelf. Measure to the center of this line, mark again. Mark two points 1.5" to either side of center.

Take a 1" spade drill or hole saw and drill at these center points, then mark the tangent points of the circles connect them. Saw along those lines with a jigsaw, then clean up the edges with a file.

Step 5: Assemble the Box

Run a bead along the bottom edge of the back piece, taking care to use a moderate amount. Align it to the long edge of the tabletop. Squeeze the parts together, re-align the edges carefully, and clamp. Flip the assembly over and nail the along the edge.

Do the same sequence for both sides, taking care to align the sides with the back face. Nail into the mating edges.

Flip the assembly over and slide the shelf home. Make sure to check the alignment with the back plate's slot with your fingers and work it in before putting too much pressure on it to send it home.

Nail the shelf in at the two front and rear corners, using the dado to guide your nail placement.

Step 6: Cut and Drill the Legs

Cut the remaining plank into four sections of equal length and width. I ended up with 26"x1.5", which worked quite well.

Clamp the four legs together, taking care to square up the ends. Measure, mark and drill the center hole, then break the set into two pairs. Drill the mounting holes in one pair, measuring about 1" back from the end, on center.

Do a series of test drills on a piece of scrap to get the best fit for your chosen dowel, then set up and drill the dowel holes.

NOTE: The dowel wants to be set back from the end of the leg at least 2" to start with, as you'll be shortening the ends later in order to clear the mounting nuts that attach the legs to the bottom of the box.

You could easily opt to do a pair of rectangular-section crossbraces, if you didn't want to use a dowel.

Step 7: Assemble and Attach the Legs

Bolt the centers of the legs together in two pairs, each pair consisting of a leg with a mounting hole and one with a dowel crossbar hole. Bolt the legs to the main body at the front.

Measure the inner legs from outside face to outside face, then cut a length of dowel to this length. Remove the legs from the main body and use a deadblow hammer to connect them.

Bolt the legs to the main box. Check for clearance, mark, and remove the legs to cut the inside pair short.

Reassemble. Measure the inner legs inside face to inside face, then cut a piece to this length. Pick a spot about 6" up from the ends of the inner legs, and use a countersink bit to drill holes for the crossbrace, on center. Swipe some glue on the crossbrace, then align the predrilled hole with the one on the leg, and use the drill with a square-drive bit to attach the crossbrace using a 1.25" countersink wood screw. Repeat for the other side.

Measure the distance between the two folded leg clearance slots and cut a piece 1" wide to act as a step for the dowel. Glue and nail it into place.

Step 8: Leveling and Finishing

Take the table and place it on a level surface. Place a spirit level on top, pull the legs off the edge, and watch the level. When the bubble indicates level, mark the spot where the edge of the surface it is sitting on meets the leg. Remove the legs, transfer the mark across to the other foot with a ruler, and cut both legs to match. Re-attach the legs to the table, and enjoy!

I did spend a little time sanding and finishing off some of the harder corners in order to make it more user-friendly—your mileage may vary, depending on the level of finish of the wood you use, and what sort of use you expect it to get.

I hope this Instructable has proven valuable—please leave feedback and comments below.

Have you made your own Work/Play TV Tray?

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