I used to have a large bulky artists easel. When I started to renovate the place years ago I had in mind a convertible wall easel. I gave that bulky easel to my daughter who has much more artistic skill than I do. I sometimes oil paint and sometimes watercolor paint. Oils are usually done with a vertical canvas on an easel with a lip at the bottom and an adjustable lip at the top to hold it on. Both lips are removable with a thumbscrew in the back. This easel accomplishes this as seen in the first picture.
When I want to use water colors I can loosen the knobs on the side and let the easel table slide down to a tilted or completely flat position. Flat is sometimes needed as you often flood the paper with water before painting. It’s called ‘wet on wet’ painting. Water color painting is also done on paper not a canvas. I have an 1/8” thick piece of removable plexiglass the exact size of the table that I can lay on it to keep the table from getting wet. I can slide the entire table up and down. So I can sit on a chair or sometimes I like to sit higher on a stool.
The easel is made entirely out of hard maple (light in color to not look to conspicuous on the light wall) with a walnut border on the desktop. In the rails are embedded 7/8 sealed bearings with a 3/8” threaded rod going between them and that is covered by a 1/2” steel tube. The sliding arms have brass sleeves in them so there’s no wear on the wood. Everything came from those drawers at a big box store in the hardware section. When I tighten the knob it pulls on it and creates friction on both the outsides and insides of the rail. It locks it very good. No danger of slippage. In either position you can slide the entire table up or down a considerable distance to be able to adjust the height for either sitting or standing and for many sized canvases and paper.
Step 1: Concept and Materials
The concept for this is to make a wall easel that mounts to a wall and converts from vertical canvas easel to sitting table for paper painting and is adjustable to any angle or level.
- Approximately 48 feet of lumber of your choice. I chose Maple.
- Two 1/4" threaded rods with Lock nuts and washers and metal sleeve (to make a sleeve bearing)
- Four 1/4" bearings. (Multiple washers can be substituted but bearings will slide easier).
- Two plastic threaded knobs for the rods
- Wood glue
- A shop with tools to cut and prep wood and clamp glue joints together.
Step 2: Prepping the Wood, Building the Rails
I have a simple diagram of the side view of the easel in it's canvas and table position so you can see generally what we're trying to accomplish.
I’m using maple, for two reasons. Being made as ‘slight’ as possible I wanted some wood that would be strong for the sizes I would cut pieces. Second, I have offwhite walls and I wanted an easel that wouldn’t stand out too much. I finish a lot of my stuff in clear poly and wanted something light in color like the walls. Maple accomplishes that.
I started by doing my jointing and planing, and then cutting strips of wood that could be glued together to make the rails. the rail dimensions are 2" wide, 3" deep, and 76" long. TRabbets were cut into the wood and the wood glued together to accept some 7/8” sealed bearings. The rail halves are put together to later enclose the bearings. A rod will go through the bearings on each rail so that the table and it’s supports can slide up and down the rails to allow a desktop to be vertical to horizontal or any angle in between.
The bearing goes inside but will be inserted permanently later. The easel will reach nearly to the ceiling. Both rails accept bearings. The horizontal rods that hold the table and legs will insert into the bearing. The rod goes right through the two rails and the bearings and it will have a knob on the threaded rod on the side of the easel to tighten it so the table will stay at the position you want. You'll see that in action in another step.
Finally an 18' top and bottom spacing board is cut and pocket hole screwed to the inside of the rails.
Step 3: Table Position Mechanism
The rails are made. Bearings will roll in the recesses within each rail. These bearings will be on a threaded rod and embedded in the wood slots. In order to get them in, and to be able to remove them should the need ever arise, holes are bored completely through the rail and slightly larger than the bearing. The rod is inserted near the top of the rails by sliding the bearings onto it and pushing them outwards through the holes. They will not come out unless the rod is raised to the top and the bearings and rod can be pulled through the holes again. The rails will have a 22" outside spacing when mounted to the wall. See first picture.
A 24"x18" 'desktop' is glued together after prepping them for gluing. It will be framed in a bit of walnut later on.
A bearing is fashioned for the movement of the hinge joints for the desktop. It consists of a bolt, two washers, a metal sleeve, and locknut. All available at big box stores.
The movement mechanism is better understood if you look at the pictures first. Two 16" braces are glued and screwed to the underside of the desktop with pocket hole screws. The braces extend beyond the desktop with holes to accept the sleeve bearings. A small rounded 6" section of brace is bolted to these on the inside of them to offset them so that they will clear the 32" legs that will be attached to the rails and rounded six inch brace. Again, hard to explain but the series of pictures will clear things up.
The entire desktop, brace, and legs unit is assembled and lifted to the top of the rails. A threaded rod and bearings are inserted through the top rail holes from the outside of one rail to the other one and through the LEGS which are on the inner thighs of the rails. A locknut is placed on one end of the rod and a threaded knob an the other end and allowed to slide down into the rails.
Another threaded rod with bearings is inserted into the holes from the outside of one wall rail to the hole at the top of the second rail. This rod is inserted into the two holes on the two top protruding braces. A locknut is placed on one end and a threaded knob on the other end and the rod allowed to slide down into the slots. Note that I also placed a metal tube over the rod when inserting it to hide the threads. Totally an aesthetic touch that you can choose to use or not. When the knob is tightened it squeezes bearings, metal tube, and knob against the wood making a very good friction fit that doesn't slip.
At this point you should have two rails separated by the table mechanism lying flat on the rails by two rods at the upper and lower part of the table top mechanism. If the knobs are loosened the entire mechanism and desktop can slide up and down the rails. The higher location is good for canvas painting while standing like a standard easel and at whatever height the artist desires.
The entire mechanism can be slid down the rails and the top rod lowered forcing the desktop to scissor to any angle down to a horizontal position. These positions are useful for watercolor painting or drawing. A slightly tilted angle can also be helpful with watercolor painting as the artist will often want the colors to run on the paper.
Step 4: Additional Pieces to Finish It Up
To make the easel useful some finishing touches need to be added.
First, you might want to frame the desktop. I used strips of walnut. You can also leave it without a frame.
Next, you'll need a way to keep a canvas locked into place when the easel is in a vertical position. I fashioned a rail on the back of the desktop with a sliding pocket inside of it. A short lip slides in and out about three inches at the bottom. It is short as it's simply a resting place for the canvas. It can be removed entirely or reversed so there is no outward facing lip. The top sliding lip is much longer so that it can accommodate a fairly tall canvas. It will extend upward to 36" tall. Threaded T-nuts are mounted in the pocket and small threaded knobs are used to tighten both the upper and lower sliding lips. The top lip can also be removed but the easel has to be in an upright position to do so.
Since water color painting is often very wet I've fashioned a 1/8th inch piece of plexiglass and drilled and screwed a 1/4" rail of aluminum bar to the upper portion of it. It hooks on at the top to keep it from sliding down. It is removed for oil painting.
The last item is purely aesthetic. I boxed in a removable cap with an arched shaped drop at the top and put a molding around it that roughly matches the trim over my windows and doors. It can be removed to make inserting/removing the threaded rod easier.
The last step is to find a couple of studs in the wall to screw it to. The easel is wide enough that 16" on center wall studs will be good for mounting. If your wall studs are 24" on center then you'll have to screw into one of them and use good wall anchors for the other. It is also possible to center it on a stud and screw it in at the center point. A couple of cabinet screws at the top and bottom rail separators holds it solidly.