My Homemade College Computer Desk

There is wilted lettuce in our refrigerator that is more handy than I am, so I am the last person to blog about handmade furniture.

That being said, many years ago I was getting ready to move into a college dorm as a first-year comp-sci major at Georgia Tech. Since I knew my next 4+ years would be spent at a keyboard, and since my budget for furniture roughly equaled my budget for interplanetary spacecraft, I hit on a dirt-cheap, mobile (to simplify those quarterly moves back home for my alternating co-op job at Big Blue) homemade design that I used thru college and into our first years of marriage. Once we upgraded, my mother-in-law wanted it, and now it is who knows where; no doubt decayed in a landfill.

Given my lack of handyman skills and knowledge, it may very well be nothing special, but I don’t know of another desk that I can fold up and in the back floorboard of a car for transport and get the use that I did out of it, so I thought I would pass it along in case anyone else found it useful.

As I’ve already described somewhat, the idea is to have a decent workspace for computer work and just plain studying, with storage space for books and such, and have it be portable enough for a college kid to pack into the back seat along with luggage and boxes and such. So what I ended up with looks like the following. Apologies for the fact that my artistic abilities rival my woodcraftiness.


Basically I bought a big sheet of plywood (wait! see step one below). Add to that I guess eight small hinges, eight small eyehook screws, four short lightweight chains and a single simple bracket-style shelving set. A handful of wood screws.

The most demanding aspect of this project is getting the plywood cut. I had no power tools, so I went to a neighbor who did, gave him my target cut sizes, and he had it whacked up in minutes.

1. So the sheet is cut into seven pieces. All of the brown in the pic is from that sheet of plywood. It was many years ago; maybe it required two sheets. I don’t recall for certain. Wing it. Now that I think about it, maybe the back of the desk was a single uncut sheet, and the other six pieces were cut from the second sheet.

2. The simplest part to describe – the top. I fastened the bracketed shelving (the green vertical lines) and just laid one small piece of plywood on that as an upper shelf.

3. The piece numbered 3 and the matching one are attached to the back piece with hinges (identified by black marks). This allows them to fold in for transport. This is one obvious place for improvement. If one of the two was attached instead to a spare strip of plywood that was first screwed to the back, then the two number 3 pieces could fold flat. As it is, after you fold one of them in completely, the other won’t fold in completely, so it sticks out a little. I didn’t really mind. It still fit in my back floorboard easily.

These two pieces form a base for the desktop piece. That is just another section of the plywood, and it is just laid on the number 3 pieces. I didn’t attach it or anything.The weight of my computer kept the surface in place just fine. Told you – basic and simple.

4. This last step is optional. Of course this whole thing is optional. I wanted a little additional shelf space, so I had two small plywood pieces cut (number 4 and the corresponding one on the left side hidden by the left-hand #3 piece) and attached them with hinges so they would simply drop down and hang out horizontally. For transport, just flip them up. For reinforcement, I attached one end of each of the four chains to the edges of the number 4 pieces, and attached the opposite end to the backboard. The chains are poorly pictured in blue. The eyehook screws were used to attach the chains.

These two side shelves didn’t hold a lot; I think I put software cases on them or something. Back then, maybe diskette boxes :).

There you go. Won’t win any Bob Vila prizes but it was cheap, I made it myself, and it was highly functional. Hope it is useful to someone.


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