Pack Flat Plywood Desk




Recently I was in the market for a new desk.

I wanted to make a desk that was able to be disassembled and packed flat, made from few and easily obtainable supplies with simple tools.

The desk can be created from the following supplies:
1 4'x8'x3/4" A-1 plywood sheet
2 4' 3/8" steel rod
2 3/8" nuts
2 3/8" wingnuts
8 washers
8 screws
Some woodglue

You will need the following tools:
Tape measure
Circular saw (or other saw for making large cuts in the plywood)
Coping saw (for cutting the notches)
Several clamps

I also recommend a squaring device such as a speed square.

Step 1: Create the Tops and the Sides

Divide the plywood into 4 pieces measuring 2'x4'. You could have the lumber yard do this for you, or use your own tools.

Two of these will be for the top and bottom of the desk and two will be for the sides. I recommend using the smoothest and most regular surface for the top of the desk.

Step 2: Cut Notches Into the Sides of the Top and Bottom Pieces

There needs to be a notch in the top and bottom of the sandwich you will build. Measure out a notch that is 6 inches from the front and the back of the desk and 1 1/2" deep. Use your coping saw to cut this. Repeat until both the top and the bottom of the sandwich have the notches cut on both sides. You will have cut four notches when this is complete.

Step 3: Cut the Tabs in the Legs

Measure and cut out two of the corners of each leg. Since I'm using 3" high boards for the sandwich and the top and bottom of the sandwich are 3/4" thick I need the depth to be at least 4 1/2". I wanted to be sure things fit snugly and didn't mind the overhang so I made mine 5 1/2" deep. The width of each cut should be 6". This makes the tab match up with the notch you cut in step 2.

Step 4: Cut the Sandwich Spacers From the Legs

You'll need four 3" x 24" spacers for the inside of the sandwich. Unless you are making a desk that is about 4' tall you can cut them from the legs.

You could do this step earlier, but I waited until after I was done cutting the notches and tabs just in case I made a mistake and had to change things.

At this point you should also cut your desk to the height you want it to be. Since you're making it yourself you can customize it to your chair and your liking. Just make sure you cut the legs to the same height.

Step 5: Sandwich the Top and Bottom Together

Clamp, glue, and screw the two outside spacers to the bottom of the desk. Make sure they are flush with the edge. Next, clamp and glue the two inside spacers to the bottom of the desk. You should not need to screw them in. After the glue has dried clamp and glue the top of the desk to complete the sandwich. Screw the top of the desk to the outside spacers.

Step 6: File and Sand the Notches and Tabs to Make a Tight Fit

Chances are the legs of the desk will not fit into the sandwich on the first try. Use a file to remove materials from both pieces until the legs slide in and out easily.

Filing is a major pain. Not only is it labor intensive and time consuming, it can damage the veneer. If I was doing this again I would have spent more time or gotten another tool to do the cuts to make them more accurate. More accuracy on the cuts would have make the filing portion a piece of cake.

Step 7: Drill Holes and Install the Steel Rods

Drill two holes in each leg so that the rod can be installed. I put the holes about halfway between the top and bottom of the leg and about one inch in from the back.

The rod I used was 3/8" in diameter.

Step 8: Sand, Finish, and Install

Sand all surfaces on the desk to make them smooth, clean and regular. Use your favorite paint or varnish to seal the desk. Do this while it is disassembled. I used clear matte polyurethane. I also didn't sand off much of the numbers/plywood markings because I kind of liked them.

When your finish is dry insert the legs into the sandwich and insert the rods into the legs. Use nuts and washers on the insides of the legs and a washer and wingnut on the outside to tighten and secure the legs.

Originally I wanted to have two 48" threaded rods as the extra support. I couldn't find any at my hardware store so i had to get four 24" ones and two couplers. This turned out to be great because it made it much easier to put the piece together.

Step 9: Marvel at Your Greatness

Once assembled the desk provides a large sturdy surface for working. It's ability to pack flat will help me greatly the next time I move. It's pretty sparse and simple to make but I think it could become a platform for people to build specialized workspace furniture for.

Thanks for checking out the Instructable. Please let me know if you have any questions.



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49 Discussions


5 years ago

My son and I made this desk so he could take it back to college. Very easy to build and a great design. We've gotten quite a few compliments on it. This is my favorite instructable so far.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

I think it's unlikely that the top of the desk will bend under weight-- there's a lot of wood and structure there. The legs I could see bending over time. I've been using the desk since I finished it in December and have had no problems with stability or bending.

nice.  now shove some shallow drawers into those spaces for better storage and to cover the edges.  and you wouldn't have to worry about your pencils rolling away. 


10 years ago on Step 9

Carry the box - tab idea further... make another box section exactly the same as the desk top but a third of the depth (narrower) .cut a tab to the width of the new box at the bottom rear of both side legs with spacing either side . The sides are then dropped into the new box at the back.Now you have tied the sides together without the rods and provided a foot rest at the same time, also assembly and disassembly now require no tools!


10 years ago on Introduction

You know, if you're having a problem filing, you may want to invest in some quality files. I used a set of stanley's for years, then I use a friends Rockley's, and it was like a torch through butter.


11 years ago on Introduction

you were talking about the pain of filing... would a belt sander help here to grind away that excess from the cut?

1 reply

11 years ago on Introduction

Great quick and storable item-some one will steal this and patent it. Will build, for the grand brats.


11 years ago on Introduction

my only question is this: is there any advantage to having the leg tabs "hover" over the surface of the desk? Fantastic instructable by the way.

1 reply

Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

Thanks! There's really no reason for the legs to hover over the top of the desk. I did it because I wanted to be able to have a functioning desk even if my cuts were not super accurate. I suppose I could cut it down now, but then all my pencils would roll off it.


11 years ago on Introduction

Before I saw this, I thought that I had a desk that couldn't be improved on. -It's a piece of melamine spanning a gap between two small filing cabinets. but not only does yours look really cool, it's got storage. I love it.


11 years ago on Introduction

thats a pretty good design. i did a project like this a month ago, but instead, i mounted a peice of mdf to a wall with hinges, and two legs on hinges as well. so i just lift it up, and it only sticks out about an inch or two. its nice to see other ways of thinking

1 reply

Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

I saw something like you described on the Cool Tools blog a few weeks ago. Are you describing something like this?.