Nomad Bookshelves Desk




I wanted to build my own desk using the simple college standard of a hollow door. But I didn't want to have just a door on milk crates, I wanted it to look like a desk, like it was meant to be there. While planning furniture I came across Wade Tarzia's essay on nomad furniture and was instantly attracted to the mortise and tenon bookshelves he had built. I also came across Uberwald's desk and thus the idea was born.

  • 1x12 pine boards
  • 2x2 pine boards
  • 28" hollow door
  • Minwax Golden Pecan 245 Stain
  • 4' power strip (from Fry's)
  • Inside corner molding
  • Some screws (none on shelves)
A few notes
Because people look at the oddest things in photos on the internet I feel compelled to make a few notes.
  • There are some visible wires. I am going to use white gaffer's tape to tape them to the white walls, if it ever arrives.
  • Yes, I have a box of speakers as a temporary bedside table.
  • Please feel free to guess as many books as you can.
  • If you wonder about that green thing on the shelf it is one of these.
  • The second monitor and digital photo frame were free, so no questions on those.
Thanks to my dad (who had experience building tenon and wedge shelves) and brother who helped me build the desk. Also thanks to the aforementioned Instructables members for the ideas.

Update (April 2011): Added a few new photos to replace old ones.



    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge
    • Beauty Tips Contest

      Beauty Tips Contest

    47 Discussions

    Hey Man, thanks for the inspiration. It was a huge influence on a piece I just completed:

    I plan to make a step-by-step soon for it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the instructable!! Here is my attempt at a modified version. As an artist, I wanted the extra desk space!
    This desk was my first ever carpentry project. It was a great dive-in to learn some basic skills. I got lots of practice using a jigsaw. I also learned which lumber yard to avoid--the wood used for this warped a lot, which caused trouble in fitting the desk together. So, it's not perfect, but still beautiful and functional.
    Wanting a natural non-toxic finish, I coated it with a few coats of raw tung oil, then lightly sanded it.

    my new desk.jpg

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for posting this.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  I'm sitting at my just finished today Nomad Bookcase Desk! 

    Well, I still need to stain it, but that may wait until Spring.

    Some Notes:
    * Material costs were under $100.
    * I set my desktop height to 28" for typing/writing
    * 13" between top and 2nd from top shelf
    * 13" between mid-bottom and middle shelf
    * Bottom shelf is < 13" due to wanting desktop height at 28"

    I'm not sure if OP locked desktop supporting shelves in with moulding on both sides.  I did this on mine.

    This really is a nice sturdy and portable desk unit.  It should survive much better than knock down furniture.

    2009_10_12_16_52_42 (Medium).JPG
    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    That's great. Thanks for posting! (It's really cool to see that in someone else's backyard.) You seem right on with the numbers. (My shelves range between 11 and 13.5 inches apart and my desk is 30" off the ground.) Also, I did use molding on both sides of the desk. I hope you enjoy it.


    What I like best about this desk is that it can easily be converted to be used while standing! I have been thinking about making 'risers' for the legs on my desk but your design might win me over.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This is the answer to my office problem!  I've tried many different desk setups, but this looks to be the best by far!  Do you have more detailed instructions/guidance on the tenon & wedge, or any helpful hints for someone attempting this for the first time?

    5 replies

    The basic idea of the tenon and wedge construction is simple: the peg passes through the shelf passes through the side of the bookshelf. The execution requires a lot of patience and a lot of sanding. You should cut the holes a little smaller than they need to be and sand/file them to get a tight fit. The pegs are almost door-stop shaped. (Longer pegs are better.) You will need to use a jigsaw to cut the holes, of course, and that will require care. 

    I have sent a few people this file with some more dimensions. I can't guarantee it will be at this location forever, but for now:  .
    The first few pages use "idealized dimensions" so they won't fit real lumber. The last page uses the actual dimensions (like I said, plus or minus a hair) used for the ends of the shelf. I made a prototype end piece with those dimensions to make sure they would be sufficient.

    Just wanted to say that the file is still there as of 02 APR 2010. Thanks for that file too! If you want, I can throw the file up on my server too if you think that it's going to go away any time soon.

    Thanks.  The file is still there.  It took me a bit tifigure out the hand-drawn one, but it finally made sense. Theshoulder measurements were written in the "dead space".Doh!  Too early in the a.m., I think, to be looking at plans! *lol*

    I look forward to making this real soon, as I need to make sense of thechaos that is my home office.  Thanks for the directions!

    This is awesome :D I live in the arts dorm at my college, and this would be a sweet desk to have next year when I room with my buddy :D (the desks we have now are nice and all, but theres no bookshelf space in my room and the desk is a bit small) plus this is portable in a sense (break down and reassemble) so thats even better for travel ^_^ and I have connections to the craft center, so I can easily do this and prep :D and it goes along with the chair I planned on making

    Lovely instructable ^_^


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have to say the fished product looks amazing. Respectfully I have to also say that this instructable is horrible in the way it's puto together.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for putting this instructable together! Really inspirational! I'll be starting mine soon.

    You can use a drill to create a pilot hole and then use a jigsaw to cut the slots. You should cut them just slightly too smal and carefully expand the space using sanding/files/dremel so you have a tight fit.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I have obviously come late to this discussion, but as a "dumpster-diver" I would like to add that if you keep your eyes open you can get materials for very little money. I have found all sorts of wood by the trash cans of much pickier people than I and after a little soap and water and some varnish the result can be beautiful. I recently "found" 2 wooden pieces 6 ft by 3 ft high that look like very long baby gates. I am trying to figure out if I can create shelves with them. From the looks of these items I am saying "yes".


    7 years ago on Introduction

    iI always wanted a customized computer desk...

    Now I'll have one thanks to you Sir!!

    TY for sharing! :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    i really enjoyed this... the way you presented this makes it look like a professional piece of furniture.... i have got to work this into my room ... not enough shelf space on those prefab knock down shelves for college students


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I couldn't find any dimensions for this, but how much desk room do you have available with this?