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Tinker Toy Desk Front, Side, and Top View 1

Copyright 2005

Tinker Toy Computer Desk

This is fun little desk with lots of whimsy. It can be either an art desk, a modern desk for a cool space, or a child's desk. Is your high-tech company far out enough to use this desk?

In fact this desk looks like so much fun, that I build it just for the fun of it. I then gave it away to a coworker with two young boys.

The sticks are 1-1/4 inch fir dowels typically used for closet rods. The spools are made from plywood using a band saw, a table saw, or a radial arm saw and a drill press. The keyboard shelf and desk top are medium density fiberboard. Making the spools is a bit tedious, but the cost of materials is only about $190. This desk is a moderate level woodworking project, but the final assembly could be done with a child.

This is a full size desk and has lots of room. The finished desk is very light weight and can be easily disassembled and reassembled. I easily carried the disassembled desk in my small hatchback.

Makes a great gift!

Tinker Toy Desk photo 1
Rockler order link to first page

Pictures of this and most of our other projects can be seen in our Picture Gallery.

Getting Ready to Build

  1. Ordering the Sketches

    The design has only five detailed sketches. Here is where to get all the ordering information.

  2. Desk Construction

    You can make this desk by:

    1. Downloading and printing this text.
    2. Ordering the Sketches.
    3. Studying the information and locating materials.
    4. Determining if the desk spaces suit your equipment and room.
    5. Purchasing materials from local home store
    6. Cutting wood and plywood pieces.
    7. Building the spools
    8. Building the rods.
    9. Building the surfaces.
    10. Fitting the sections together.
    11. Finishing all pieces.
    12. Assembling the entire desk.
    13. Installing the computer equipment.

  3. Discussion of Sketches

    After you order the sketches, these notes will help you understand them.

    1. Tinker Toy Computer Desk

      This sketch shows the front, side, and top views. The desk is made of plywood spools connected with 1-1/4 inch dowels. The top consists of a desk top and a computer keyboard shelf in front of it. The computer sits on a lower shelf.

    2. Tinker Toy Computer Desk, Pieces View, Sketch #2

      This sketch shows the lengths of all the rods. Some have to be slotted to accept the top and shelves. Also shown are stiffeners to make the shelves stronger and to attached them to the rods with more strength. The fill strips fill in areas excess areas of the slotted rods.

    3. Tinker Toy Computer Desk, MDF, Sketch #3

      The sketch shows desk top and two shelves. It shows how they can be cut out of 2 ft by 4 ft pieces of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) or 1/2 inch plywood. Also shown is a small piece of plywood as the full sheet in Sketch #4 is not quite enough.

    4. Tinker Toy Computer Desk, Plywood for Spools, Sketch #4

      This sketch shows how to cut up one 4 ft by 8 ft sheet of 3/4 inch fir plywood to make the spools. Note the "First Cut" that can be done at the store so the plywood can be brought home easily.

    5. Tinker Toy Computer Desk, Dissembled for Transport, Sketch #5

      This sketch shows the pieces that are glued together. The joints between these pieces are held only with screws so the desk can be taken apart and moved easily.

    Rockler order link to first page

  4. Materials

    The Tinker Toy desk is made from low cost materials.

    1. Wood
      • 1 sheet - 3/4 AC Fir Plywood ------ $40.00
      • 2 x 2 ft - 3/4 AC Fir Plywood ------ scrap
      • 48 lft - 1.25 " softwood Dowel ---- $60.00
      • 2 - 1/2" MDF, 2 ft x 4 ft --------- $14.00
      • 2 bdft - Scrap wood --------------- $0.00

      ------- Wood Subtotal: $114.00

    2. Hardware:
      • 1 box - Screws, #8 x 1.25" flat head --------- $3.00
      • 32 - Screws, #6 x .75" flat head ------------- $2.00
      • 1 Box - #3 finishing nails ------------------- $2.00
      • 8 - Chair Braces------------------------------ $8.00
      • 1 qt - Glue ---------------------------------- $6.00

      ------- Hardware Subtotal: $19.00

    3. Finish:
      • Oil based polyurethane --------- 1 quart ----- $12.00
      • Oil based paint, red ----------- 1 pint ------ $4.00
      • Oil based paint, yellow -------- 1 pint ------ $4.00
      • Oil based paint, blue ---------- 1 pint ------ $4.00
      • Oil based paint, green --------- 1 pint ------ $4.00

      ----- Finish Subtotal: $38.00

    4. Omissions and Contingencies (~12%) ( Tax, sand paper, etc.) $28.00
    5. Estimate Total Cost $190.00

      This is only an estimate (made in the winter of 2004). The price may vary in your area. The cost may be kept down by using scrap wood for the stiffeners, fill strips, and the extra piece of plywood.

      Rockler order link to first page

    6. Tools

      Be sure to use proper safety equipment and procedures. Carefully follow all instructions that come with your power tools.

      This desk is a medium level woodworking project and should not be chosen as a first project unless you have access to a woodshop. It requires a few special tools including:

      1. A table or radial arm saw
      2. Dado blade
      3. Drill press
      4. Forstner bit for 1-1/4 inch
      Rockler order link to first page

    Fabrication Notes

    These notes are is not intended to be a detailed step-by-step construction guide but rather a number of points to consider. It is your desk and you can build it to suit your needs and likes.

    1. Options

      Look over the desk drawing and decide what you are going to do:

      1. Floor Space Size

        Because the end assembly of this desk is a square, it is very hard to adjust the height or depth of the design. The length can be shortened, but making it longer would take extra materials. Check to see if you have the floor space for this desk as it is fairly large, especially if intended for use by a child.

      2. MDF vs. Plywood

        The top and shelves are show as Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF). This material is cheap and easy to work and suits this application well. It is however not very strong. If you want this desk to last a long time or stand up to rough housing, then you should use 1/2 inch plywood instead.

    2. Building the Spools

      This is the longest and most labor intensive part of this build. It when much more slowly than I hand expected, but I did enjoy the work.

      You need at least 76 squares (19 x 4 ). Cutting 80 is be better in case you damage a spool in construction or you may want to use an extra spool for a matching lamp stand.

      Have the large sheet of 3/4 inch plywood cut at the store as show by "First Cut" on Sketch 4. This makes it much easier to get home and to handle at the saw. Then cut the plywood into 7-7/8 inch squares. That is 8 inches minus the width of the saw blade.

      Glue and clamp the squares in stacks of four. Be sure a good "A" side is showing on the top and bottom of each stack. I did this over several days due to a limited number of clamps.

      Trim the glued blocks off square. This will probably reduce their size to about 7.5 inches. Mark the center on the top of each square block by drawing diagonals. Drill a small pilot hole (for #6 finishing nail) to mark this center.

      Draw a circle on one block and determine how much material can be cut off the corners without touching the circle. Cut all the blocks into octagons. Use a square to draw a line from the center out to each octagons face and then across the face marking the center of each face.

      Drill the blocks on a drill press using a 1-1/4 inch Forstner bit. A paddle bit will not do. Make a jig to hold brace the octagons and to center the hole. The drilling is slow and the bit dulled after a few spools and had to be sharpened by hand with a small triangular file. This process was disappointingly slow.

      The best way to cut the spools round us to use a band saw with a custom made jig. The gig has a #6 nail pointing up as a central pivot and is set the diameter of the spool from the blade.

      It is possible to cut outside circles with a radial arm saw or table saw using a similar gig. You must retract the blade and the move it into the work in 1/8 inch steps while making two full turns of the work piece at each step. This is a fairly advanced woodworking trick, but is very slow.

      Round off the top and bottom edges of each spool with a router or using open-toothed rasps. Remove all splinters and sand thoroughly.

      Two of the spools required special treatment. These are the ones in the middle of the front. The end assemblies are much stronger if the up and down dowels pass right through these. I simply enlarged the eternal part of the holes to let a dowel slide through. The grain of all the spools should run in the same direction. I have the grain of all the spools rounding side to side. Mark these two with tape.

    3. Making the sticks

      Cut the long dowel sections from the straightest dowels. Measure out pieces to make the shorter slotted pieces but leave them a as longer sections for now. Cut the short unslotted pieces making best use of the wood.

      Build a jig to allow you to dado the slots into the dowels. The exact jig design will depend on your saw. You can do this job with a router, but again you need a jig. The jig is basically a flat piece of wood with a good straight edge that you can screw the dowel pieces too. If you are concerned that your dado cutter might hit one of the screws, use brass screws. Practice on scrap before starting work. Reach the 1/2 inch depth in a number of passes each less than 1/8 inch.

      Cut the dado slots in the dowels that must accept the desk top and shelf MDF. The long bottom dowel needs only to be dadoes for part of its length. Then cut the short pieces to length.

      Cut some scrap wood into stock that just fits into the dado grove. This will later be used for fill strips.

    4. Cutting the Top and Shelves

      Partially assemble the grooved dowels and spools but do not glue. Cut the top and shelves to fit. Note that they are simply cut away to leave a space around the spools.

      Fit and install the stiffeners to the bottom of the top and shelves. Do not glue them to the dowels yet. The ends of these are cut with the Forstner bit and jig to fit the curve of the dowels. They will later have a small screw into the dowel.

    5. Check Assembling the Desk

      Check assemble the desk but do not glue it. This is best done with strap and pipe clamps. Mark the inside of groves to show where the filler strips need to end (allow 1/8 inch of space).

      When you have worked out all fitting problems, disassemble the desk for finishing.

    6. Fill strips

      Cut and glue fill strips into unneeded areas of the dado slots. Let the glue set. Plane the fill strips to match the curve of the dowel. Sand everything.

    Rockler order link to first page


    I used oil based paint in a number of colors because it will wear well.

    1. Edge Sealing

      The plywood edges require special attention. Fill and seal all the exposed plywood edges with the following steps:

      1. Insert splinters of wood and glue into all open spaces. These should be loose fits and not forced in. Do not cut them off until after the glue is dry and then use a sharp knife.
      2. Rough sand all edges. Round off the outside plies.
      3. Fill visible edges with wood putty. Force the material hard into the exposed edge with a putty knife.
      4. Fine sand all edges.
      5. Seal the edges with sealer, thinned shellac, or thinned paint.
      6. Let dry completely
      7. Sand again with fine paper.

    2. Finish

      Before final assembly, I painted the dowel sticks a distinctive color depending on length. Be sure to paint the ends of the rods, but I taped off all areas that would later be glued. I painted the top and shelves green. This was after the stiffeners were glued on but again I taped off the glue areas along the edges. I varnished the spools their natural wood color. I put a minimum of two coats of paint everywhere and three on high wear areas.

    3. Reassembly and touch up

      Reassemble the desk gluing and nailing all joints that did not have to be later opened for shipping (see Sketch #5). Start by building the two end units. Each with eight spools (one special) and 11 dowels. The short pieces with the 45 degree cut help reduce the tendency of the desk to tip forward. Lock the glued joints between the spools and dowels with a small finishing nail.

      Assemble the top. Glue and screw its two long dowels. Assemble the keyboard shelf. Screw and glue the keyboard shelf and the computer shelf.

      Install the chair braces where long dowels meet the flat side of spools. These greatly increase the diagonal strength of the desk. In disassemble, only the screw into the spool is removed and the brace then acts as a stop.

      After assembly I had to touch up all the paint.

    4. Cabling

      Detailed cabling instructions and plans for a remote power switch are given in our Web page under Freebies. Make up several cable tie mounts and be ready with mounting screws and tie wraps. The remote power switch is optional but is really helps the desk user.

      Dress the cables neatly and tie then in place using tie wraps. Do not pull the tie wraps too tightly, the cable should be able to slide back-and-forth a little. Trim off all the tie wrap ends. Black tie wraps look best and last longest.

    Rockler order link to first page


    Thanks again for using a Woodware Designs computer furniture plans. We very much want to know how you are getting along with your project and would be happy to answer any questions by email.

    If you send us a picture of your finished desk, we would be happy to put it on our Picture Gallery page. We need pictures of desk with real people standing beside them.

    Don't forget to order the sketches.

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