Turn a Drafting Table Into a Study Juggernaut




Introduction: Turn a Drafting Table Into a Study Juggernaut

About: Registered Nurse by day

Do you have an old drafting table in the basement, just waiting for potential to ooze into it?  Have you ever wondered if these beasts will make a comeback in a CAD world?  In this Instructable are two simple modifications you can make to turn your obsolete dust collector into a study juggernaut.

Reading and writing tend to tire the body over time, given a conventional flat desk.  Even fancy hydraulic or electric desks have their ups and downs, and the improvements I'm sharing will make your drafting table a capable studying tool.  After following this Instructable, your endurance for studying will increase due to your improved posture.

The instructions for mounting a second table can be applied to any desk or table in addition to any primary surface, resulting in a multiple platform environment. 

Step 1: Evaluate the Table

This table was found on Craigslist, and was chosen due to the massive potential seen in it.  The seller said it may have originally been from IKEA.  Regardless, it has several pros and cons:

Pro: Height adjustable,
Con: ...but this takes a little effort.
A bigger spender can use these modifications with an electric table.

Pro: Angle adjustable,
Con: ...but not for the second tier.
The main table adjusts beautifully, with sturdy manual knobs on each side.  The second tier was designed to be angle adjusted, but the hardware does not support that task.  This shelf will be replaced with functional hardware.

Pro: Keyboard tray,
Con: ...but the usefulness is questionable.
This option will be kept for potential future use.

Pro: Wood
Wood or Formica are preferable for work surfaces.  Some tables out there use glass or metal tops, which do not perform properly.

This table will be used in conjunction with other work surfaces, and this will be one desk in an L-arrangement work station.  The other desk, a reading desk, will be shown at the end of this Instructible.

Step 2: Add Lips

Aluminum L-brackets - 3ft. sections
Premium masking tape

Lips solve the problem of materials falling off the table.  They are common on drafting tables, however only on the bottom (a bottom-border lip).  When a person sits down at a drafting table, the natural inclination is to work near the center of the table, not at the lowest edge.  After all, a drafting table is supposed to provide versatility and ease of use.  Therefore, create a lip in the middle of the table or wherever it is needed by taping an L-bracket to the table top.

I picked up a couple of aluminum L-brackets from Lowe’s.  One with the smallest lip was chosen because paper and notebooks only need a very small one to stay upright at extreme angles, and one with a larger lip was chosen to hold textbooks.  A larger lip will also better accommodate laptops.  Aluminum is, on all counts, better than steel for this project due to texture, weight, and price.  The size of aluminum makes it a much better choice than wood for a lip inside the main surface area of the table top. 

Simple, cost effective, no permanent markings to board.
Not immediately adjustable, not cosmetic.

A more cosmetic design would involve cutting a longer L-bracket to fit to the sides of the table top, and fitting a tracking device to the sides, like a locking parallel bar. 

It is important to decide how the table will be used before taping.  This method is a substitute for more intensive labor but the “measure twice” rule still applies.  Will large binders or small notebooks be used most of the time?  How about a laptop?   It has been decided in this case to use composition notebooks most of the time, and the placement of the L-brackets here will reflect that.  If changes need to be made later, then the tape is good for several resticks.

Since this is a relatively compact drafting table, the lowest lip is just a few inches from the bottom border, but still provides an advantage over a standard bottom-border lip.

Use premium masking tape that will not leave residue on the surface.  I use "Pro Artist’s Tape" from Dick Blick:

Using a level, stick the first L-bracket to the board.

Measure appropriately, and stick the other one(s) on.


When satisfied, move on!

Step 3: Prep the Brackets

Flat panel monitor brackets can be modified to fit a variety of applications.  For our purposes here, they will be incorporated into the design of an infinitely angle adjustable planar surface, or drafting table.  The benefits of using this hardware are immense: they only require the setting of tension, and therefore they may be adjusted to any position with maximum convenience to the user.
Monitor brackets can be acquired from eBay, Craigslist, or your local office. The current low prices of used monitor stands (on eBay, for instance) reflect their perceived lack of utility. 

Look for a monitor stand which does three things: rotates, tilts, and swivels.  Some stands perform only one or two of these functions.  Of course, this application only requires the tilt function, but who knows what you will be building in the future?  This hardware is so versatile!

The Dell 1703fpt stand is preferred due to its all metal construction.  It is very likely that many makes and models are similarly manufactured to satisfy a wide variety of applications.  This, however, is an unknown.  Go forth and experiment! 

The following is based on the two known Dell monitor stands for monitor models 1703fpt and 1901fp.

General materials:
Leather gloves for drilling metal
Eye protection
Drill bits

Materials for each Dell 1703fpt monitor stand:
2 ea 5/16" x 3/4" SS bolt
2 ea 5/16" nylon SS nut

Materials for each Dell 1901fp monitor stand:
1 ea 5/16" x 2-1/4" SS bolt
2 ea 5/16" x 3/4" SS bolt
3 ea 5/16" nylon SS nut


1.  Remove the plastic housing and dismantle the head of the device.

2.  Remove any parts of the device which inhibit free range of motion.

3.  Remove proprietary nuts and bolts, and replace them with standard (SS) ones, as needed.  Use nylon threaded nuts

4.  Reassemble the device, and tighten the range of motion bolts to facilitate table assembly.

Tightening the bolts will provide greater tension, and therefore will hold greater loads at an angle.  Test various tensions to meet your application.

Grade 8 or 5 bolts should be fine instead of SS.   The stock bolts have flat heads, and the short ones can disembowel under a load.  This makes sense because the entire load transfers through them. 

Removal of the stock bolts requires a drill and drill bit, for they are held by a nylon threaded nut at one end and are flat on the other.  After removing the bolt, excavate the proprietary hole design, which is not completely round.

Again, the Dell 1703fpt stands are superior because of all metal construction.  The Dell 1901fp stands are good, but the large washer is plastic which is inferior to the 1703fpt's metal washer.  The design of the plastic washer necessitates replacement of the proprietary 2-1/4" bolt and its nut with standard ones.

Once everything is packed up, move on!

Step 4: Mount the New Surface

Now that the monitor brackets are prepared, attach them to the frame and table top. 

Drill and bits
1-1/4” drywall screws
10-24 machine bolts

Since a lower lip is attached to this table, the center of gravity can be approximated as about an inch below the horizontal center line of the table top.  Test this by balancing the table top with lip on a narrow surface.

The brackets were secured to the Formica using 1-1/4” drywall screws and washers. 

Next, the table top was placed and carefully centered on the shelf.  The drilling coordinates were marked with a pencil through the holes of the bracket.  This saved some time by eliminating some math.

Finally, the parts were assembled into the desk. 

Step 5: Variations

With such versatile hardware, experiment!

The first photo shows an attempt at fabricating a wraparound wall mounted table system.  Notice the near-illusory floating of the smaller table.  The tables are mounted to 2x4’s, which are mounted to wall studs.  At the time I did not perfect peripherals management (paper, supplies) and resorted to a secondary desk beneath the larger wall mounted one.  Yes, that is a full sized Formica desk top on there, supported by two mounts.  It was very heavy, and some time later eviscerated a load bearing OEM bolt.  Fortunately I had multiple brackets attached at the time.  For heavier applications, use multiple brackets to improve the tilt function.

The other three photos show a reading table presently in use.  It utilizes only two modified monitor bracket heads to mount a fitted Formica surface with a lower lip.  All components except the brackets were either cheap or free from Craigslist.
Materials except the brackets:
One drafting table frame
One Formica table top
One Nordic Track ski

Cut the table top to size with a circular saw.
Measure, cut, and attach a lower lip.
Measure the top's center of gravity and drill holes for the brackets.
Prep the table to fit the table top.
Measure and drill to accommodate the brackets.
Screw everything together using drywall or machine screws.  Nuts on the posterior end are unnecessary.
Adjust the tension on the brackets to taste.

Step 6: The Final Product

I'm ready for the fall semester, and you can be too with a rig like this.  Thanks for watching, and remember success is a journey.

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    2 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Cool, I really like those old drafting tables.