Cheap and Easy Desktop Electric Outlet




I use an old corner unit computer desk as a workbench for computers and other things that people make me fix. I got tired of climbing under the desk to plug and unplug tools and other things that I was working on. I am also a neat-freak and didn't want a power-strip/surge-protector cluttering up my desktop. My solution was to actually install 2 electrical outlets near the rear of the work area and try not to start a fire.

I am not an electrician, so I headed to Home Depot with an idea and some questions. (Home Depot employees have all the answers.) The part-time employee assured me that my idea would work and not start a fire. I rejoiced, built two of them that worked like charms, and decided to share the process.

Here is a step-by-step of how to make easy and safe desktop outlets.

Step 1: Collect Your Materials.

There is a relatively short materials list for this project. All you need is:
1 - outlet
1 - face plate
1 - electrical cord with ground wire and plug.
1 - plastic outlet box (I am not sure what these are called. They have plastic tabs that fold out and can be tightened with screws to hold them to the wall, or in this case, the desk.)

You are also going to need a drill, a screwdriver, and a saw of some sort.

Step 2: Cut the Hole in the Desk.

I used a Sharpie to draw out where I would need to cut through the desk. I used the box as a template of sorts.
Then I used my Dremel tool to cut out the chunk of wood.

Step 3: Making More Holes in Things.

We have to drill a hole in the box for the electrical cord to go in. I made the hole large enough to accommodate the cord, but snug enough that the cord would not slide around.
Then I threaded the cord into the box.

Step 4: Wire Up the Outlet.

Strip the wires enough to work with. Then wire them to the electrical outlet. The outlet will have directions on which wire to hook up to where. There are screws on the outlet that you wrap the wires around then tighten down. Easy work.

Step 5: Test the Outlet.

Plug something into the newly wired outlet, then plug the business end of the wire into the wall. Switch on the thing you plugged in. If it turns on, then you have done well.

~Please be careful. While the back of the outlet is exposed, it is really easy to shock yourself and death may occur.~


Step 6: Secure Cable in Box.

I attached a zip-tie to the cable about 4 inches down from the outlet. The zip-tie prevents the cable from pulling from the outside of the box and putting stress on the connections to the outlet.

(Side note - The uses of zip-ties are immeasurable.)

Step 7: Secure It All in the Hole and Cover.

Thread the plug end of the cord through the hole in the desk. Then place the box into the hole and secure it in place by tightening the screws attached to the tabs.

Screw the outlet into the box.

Screw the face-plate over the outlet.


Step 8: Plug in and Use.

Plug into the wall and you are ready to go. Remember not to overtax an outlet with a lot of items plugged into it. I have two of these outlets on my desk and they are both plugged into the same wall outlet. I do not split anymore off of that wall outlet, nor do I put any sort of splitters on the desk plugs.

I have had these for a few months now and they have spoiled me. The day after I did this project, I added a 3 port ethernet outlet onto my desk with a hidden switch underneath. I will make an instructable out of that as well.

All the best.

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71 Discussions


11 years ago on Step 4

Which wire goes where? (also, maybe you can use something other than live power to do testing before hooking it up.)

5 replies

Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

I'm not sure this is true for every outlet, but all of the ones I have worked with have colored screws. Green for ground, silver for white, and usually a darker metal for the black. Most outlets also have spring clips in the back that you can simply push the wire into, instead of the screws on the sides. Those are usually labeled, as well.


Reply 5 months ago

Sockets in the UK and Ireland are labeled on the socket faceplate itself


Reply 6 months ago

I'm just going to add some information to what you've already said about the outlet. Electrical wires in the US are usually color-coded. The black wire is for "hot" incoming power and goes to the dark (often brass) screw; the white wire is "neutral" and provides the normal return path for power and goes to the silver screw; the green or bare-copper wire is "ground" and is there for safety, attaching to the green (or other) colored screw and any metal parts of the box or fixture. The round-ish hole in the outlet is ground, the short slot is power (hot), and the long slot is neutral. If you are using the spring clips of the outlet, your wire should be nominally 14- or 12-gauge solid wire, not stranded; if for some reason your extension cord uses stranded wire, attach to the outlet screws for a secure connection. If you are concerned about spilling something, you can use a ground-fault (GFCI) outlet instead of a regular wall outlet.


Reply 8 years ago on Step 4

Absolutely right, however, those stab holes aren't meant for stranded wire. This is a pretty nice instructable though. Simple, easy, and to the point.


Reply 8 years ago on Step 4

You really shouldn't be using stranded wire for something like this anyway. Just dangerous.


3 years ago

In case nobody said it.... you're using that box completely wrong. Right below (technically to the back of the box) there are four tabs. Those are meant to open up a bit and push the wire through. It will clamp down enough so that the wire won't around also. I think doing it your way is against code.


Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

This is just as safe, if not safer than a power strip. Would you rather assemble something yourself, and know that you did it correctly, or buy something that was made in china by mindless factory workers?? And, most (all, from what I've seen) power strips do not feature GFCI protection, but if you build it yourself, you can incorporate that. The only difference is that this won't have surge protection, but, you don't need it unless you're using delicate electronics such as a computer...and I'm sure someone could figure out a way to incorporate a surge protector in with a relay or something that would make it just as good as a power strip... Just my two cents...


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Since this outlet is used mostly for temporary connections, there are probably other, more permanent items on the desk that require power. A power strip with surge protection mounted behind or under the desk would be required for those connections anyway... Plug this extra outlet in the power strip and Voilà! --you have surge protection!


4 years ago on Step 8

Very nice. I'm going to make one. I'm going to plug mine into GFCI outlet because I'm a klutz and am worried about spilled drinks. Also, there are thingys for lamp wiring that are called "strain relief" that can be used for the extension cord instead of a zip tie. Zip ties tend to deteriorate after a couple of years.



Thank you! Best regards, Arlene


6 years ago on Introduction

I just finished upgrading my nightstand using your instructable. I used a steel box (plastic isn't up to code) and a 2-plug, 2-USB outlet instead.

2 replies
aloewD Jason Payne

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

The one time buying IKEA furniture has paid off, I guess. I would do it to my desk, but it's got such a nice wood top that I'd hate to ruin it, and getting it down to my workspace would be awful


6 years ago on Step 4

I would use a outlet type that uses wire clamping screws when your using stranded wire.
if you look close at the outlets (receptacles) there different grades. I would use a Commercial or a Industrial better contacts.
FYI. my studio is wired with stranded wire. in conduit.
that is why I like the clamping type Terminal screws.

Good idea .


6 years ago on Introduction

I have a question. I just came across your project. So you're saying that taking an extension cord, splicing it from a 3 pronged outlet and jumpering it to another outlet (to make desk outlet hot) is safe?
I would think the "house" wiring behind walls, is not the same as extension cord wire... How has this worked out for you?


10 years ago on Introduction

Might be worth noting that at least in Australia you are not legally allowed to do electrical work like this by yourself. That being said I still say awesome instructable, well done.

2 replies

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

Really? Even if it's not part of the internal house wiring? I'm in Athens, Georgia, USA and we're legally able to work on ANY and ALL Parts of our home so long as they meet the requirements ("to code") and are inspected by the county. I did all the wiring in an 800 sq ft deck, all the way to the junction box myself, and I'm not licensed to do it.


In the uk, i think were allowed to modify electrics as long as it plug in to a wall outlet, thats why i've exploited it by putting pretty much everything in an extension lead (don't worry about overloading, the fuses in the uk are in the plug itself)
if im not allowed to do that then, oh well, it's already installed.
silly health and saftey laws are whats killing the country.
i am only 15 and haven't been killed by home electrics, how hard can people find it?