Charlie DIYte

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Category: Bedroom

How to Make a Folding Desk

Today’s blog is all about the folding desk that I’ve made for my son’s bedroom that I’ve recently refurbished (pictured below, left). The DIY refurbishment of his room has been running on for a couple of months now – watch this space for further blogs on what I’ve done – from insulating the walls to rebuilding his large, impractical cupboard.

child's bedroom with folding desk

The folding desk – how it happened

Why folding? Well, he’s got one of the smallest rooms in the house and so saving space is a priority. We wanted to put a desk in his room, but as you’ll see from the photo above, it had to sit in a small space to the left of his sofa.  This also meant thinking outside the box on stools for the desk, as there was limited room for this.


From Pinterest (decocrush)

Research for the desk started on-line (when doesn’t it these days!), and inspiration for it came from Pinterest where I found a wall mounted desk pod with folding table.  This changed my thought process on my son’s desk, because I had initially thought I’d incorporate it within a floor to ceiling shelving unit. A wall mounted pod would take up less space and lessen the visual impact on the room.

So I then turned my thoughts to how I’d make it open. The desk I stumbled on in Pinterest had two large brackets either side which support it – and a large piano hinge that runs the full length of it. There are various hinge options available – see below – but I saw a couple of drawbacks with these.folding desk stays

Firstly cost – the hinges range from £5 up to £55 for a pair to over £50 depending on whether you go for electro coated, or solid brass. Then I would have to factor in some sort of hinge arrangement to run the length of the desk at the back, which could easily add another £20 – £50 to the cost. I had already decided to make the desk out of MDF, and mdf being a fibre board, isn’t as strong as wood and doesn’t take screws so well, so with all these hinges potentially taking quite a lot of weight, this was something else to consider…

Finances are running at a fairly low ebb after all the other work I’ve done on my son’s bedroom – principally insulating the walls with K17 thermal plasterboard, so I was keen to keep the costs of this to a minimum. I had a few 25mm off cuts of mdf in the garage left over from a previous shelving project, so I started thinking about how I could create a folding desk that had no hinges or stays at all, and instead ran in some sort of groove. It couldn’t be too difficult could it…? After another week of pondering the problem, it was time to get cracking, so with the sun shining (for once), I set up my pop up workshop outside and got cracking!

routing mdf to create a folding desk

A clamped piece of wood keeps the routed groove straight

I’ve owned a Dewalt half inch shank router for over 10 years now. It’s a pretty scary tool when you first start using it, but over the years I’ve gradually got the hang of it, and am now fully appreciating it’s uses – from creating rounded edges and ogee shapes for skirting boards, creating biscuit joints and rebated edges, to in this case cutting grooves in wood using the straight (flute) cutting bit.

routed grooves in mdf

Two grooves are cut for the supporting shelves, and a central groove will house the desk pins

I figured that if I was to have a folding desk that didn’t have hinges, there’d be quite a lot of weight sitting on the supporting shelf below the desk, and with mdf notoriously brittle when screwed into (it basically tears open), I decided to rebate the sections for the supporting shelf, and glue the shelves into these grooves. It’s worth saying at this stage that I’ve never used my router for anything quite this technical before – having previously used it to round off edges, create the odd biscuit joint and the like. However I developed a sort of clamp (see above) that I fixed in place with two quick grips, and lined up the router bit by eye.

The folding desk supporting shelf sections are glued and screwed into place

With the grooves cut and the supporting shelf sections glued (and for added strength screwed from the outside) into place, I could then start constructing the rest of the shelving system that would surround the desk.

constructing a folding desk

Each shelf was glued and then secured in place with screws driven in from the outside of the shelf

With the shelves constructed I now had the finished width for the all important desk element, and could get this cut and planed into shape. Two critical features would make the desk work. Firstly I had to create a rounded edge so that the desk could slide smoothly in and out of its grooves. Secondly, I had to insert a pin in each end of the desk. The pins would run in the grooves I had created between the two supporting sections, and crucially would prevent the desk being pulled completely out of the shelving unit, when opened and closed.

folding desk retaining pins

Drilling and glueing the retaining pins for the folding desk

I was going to use large screws for this but wasn’t completely convinced about this, and then chanced upon a couple of steel rods in the garage that formed part of a drying rack that swung out from the wall on these rods (I knew I they would come in handy for something!). These were glued into 10mm diameter holes drilled in each end of the desk. Glue was necessary because the mdf was so delicate that it actually split just from me drilling the holes!

folding desk

The desk stows away neatly and is then lowered and slotted into place

I then fitted magnetic catches to the desk to hold it in place when stowed, and purchased a chrome knob on Ebay to act as a handle. The desk was then primed with Johnstone’s Joncryl water-based primer undercoat, and Johnstone’s oil based Eggshell mixed to Farrow and Ball’s Cornforth White.  25mm mdf is a heavy material, and so as a precaution I  screwed the desk to the wall in six places (never being one to leave anything to chance!)

The orange bar stool came from Miadomodo (Amazon) and was great value at £33. The stool can be raised or lowered hydraulically and, fitting snugly next to my son’s armchair,  has been a great space saving addition.

Why we need DIY

News headlines over the last 12 months would suggest the DIY culture that swept the nation 30 years ago could be in terminal decline.

Charlie DIYite kitchener posterIn March last year Kingfisher announced it would be closing 60 B&Q stores over the next couple of years, and that 6 months after Home Retail that owns Homebase announced plans to close a quarter of its stores by 2018 due to “the rise of a new generation of consumers less skilled in DIY” amongst other things.

It seems fewer young consumers these days have the desire to tackle home improvements, preferring to spend their money elsewhere.

So DIY is becoming “Do It For Me” or as an old family friend puts it “GSI” or “Get Someone In”. I totally get why this is happening. Oscar Wilde said that life is what happens whilst you’re making plans, and let’s face it, we’re all so busy just trying to hold down a job and make ends meet that the thought of picking up tools at the weekend to sort out things in our homes is just too much. Isn’t it?

Well, actually, I don’t think it is. For me, DIY has always been something I’ve loved, and when I had a job in London where I was working until 10.30pm Monday until Friday, the thought of renovating my little house at the weekend is what kept me going. But maybe I’m not the best example.  A friend recently posted on Facebook that she had fixed a leak on her radiator and felt massively empowered as a result. That’s more like it. Someone who doesn’t normally do DIY, but turns her hand to something and not only realises that she can do it, but feels a real sense of achievement and empowerment as a result.

children doing diy

My children finishing the render scratch coat prior to plastering

Back to me, DIY has become a family thing. When we moved into our cottage in Worcestershire money was scarce and every home improvement job had to be done by me. It still is! I’ve gone from being an enthusiastic hod carrier to my builder friend Roger (who helped me renovate my first house) to the guy actually mixing the sand and cement, and making the big decisions on how best to rip apart and put back together a room.

Charlie DIYite bedroom refurb

My son’s bedroom today – the walls stripped of render in preparation for dry lining with thermal (Kingspan K17 plasterboard)

When we realised the builders hadn’t properly prepared the render in our Sitting Room so that the plaster was coming off the wall, we stripped off the plaster and my two children, aged 6 and 4 helped me do what the builders should have done in the first place (photo left)!

We’re now gradually sorting out the upstairs of our house, and the children are still taking an active involvement in the DIY. In our new bathroom , my son helped me stain the engineered oak floor and screw plasterboard to the walls, and my daughter had enormous fun helping me cut the soundproofing for under the floor. And funnily enough, the only job I sought external help on in my bathroom was the plastering, and it’s the one thing I’m really unhappy with (a local handyman who wasn’t up to the job). So there’s a lesson in that – I would have been better doing it myself!

DIY has taken on an even greater significance now as I begin to renovate the childrens’ bedrooms. By helping out it gives them a real sense of achievement, and for many years to come they will be able to sit in their room happy in the knowledge that they helped to sort it out.

wallpaper stripping

My son strips the wood chip wallpaper from his bedroom ceiling

My son, who has autism, and struggles to concentrate or commit to a task for long, spent a good hour a couple of days ago stripping the wood chip, polystyrene backed wall paper from his ceiling.

In short, he’s able to immerse himself in DIY in a way that he isn’t in other, every day tasks – it keeps him active and engaged in a way that his tablet doesn’t.

So when DIY is so beneficial on so many levels, then why is it in such, apparently terminal decline? A plethora of cheap, reasonably skilled foreign labour in the last 10 years has probably contributed to this, and whilst domestic DIY is dwindling, the trade side is flourishing with Screwfix and other stores rapidly expanding.

But I remain convinced that people just need to be reminded how fun and rewarding DIY can be, and maybe Wesfarmers, the new Australian owner of Homebase, will find a way of revitalising it’s new chain of stores, recapturing the public’s imagination.  and luring them back to the DIY fold.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to show you all in this blog and on my You Tube Channel how many things you can turn your hand to if you’re willing to give it a go! Start small, as I did. There’s so much help out there on the internet to guide you step by step, and with each challenge completed, it will whet your appetite for bigger and more ambitious challenges ahead!

So come on everyone – I implore you – Learn DIY – your House needs you!


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