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.