Canadian Woodworking

Desktop organizer

Author: Danny Proulx
Photos: Michael Bowie
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: October November 2002

Build the ultimate desktop organizer.


Desktop organizer
desktop organizer
desktop organizer

If your desk is anything like mine it’s cluttered with mail, pens and pencils, notes, and a dozen other things. In short, my desktop is a mess! Vowing to resolve the situation, I decided to design and build the ultimate desk organizer.

This organizer works great on my desk and can be adapted to suit your needs. I now have slots for magazines, reference books, and file folders in the left tower. Two slide out trays are handy for my pens, paper clips, supply of notes, and cheque books.

Step 1

desk organizer

Step 2

desk organizer

Step 3

desk organizer

Step 4

desk organizer

Step 5

desk organizer

Step 6

desk organizer

Step 7

desk organizer

Steps 8 and 9

desk organizer

Step 10

desk organizer

Steps 11 and 12

desk organizer

Step 13

desk organizer

Step 14

desk organizer

Step 15

desk organizer

Step 16

desk organizer

The centre bridge is perfect for CD storage and small documents. The light guard will shield a small florescent fixture that I plan on installing. The right side tower can also hold mail and frequently used books. The locked centre cabinet is the perfect place to keep documents that require secure storage.

I didn’t think there would be a lot of value in a desktop organizer. But, once I started using this project, I was sold on the idea. It really does organize a workspace and simplifies the task of locating office supplies and documents.

In this project, there are a number of mortise and tenon joints to deal with and the placement is critical. However, if you’re uncomfortable with this joinery, use simple butt joints and screws. You can also use biscuits or dowels if you feel more confident using those techniques. In total, the project appears complicated, but break it down into single steps and you’ll discover its simplicity.

This is one of the most useful office furniture projects I’ve built.

Building The Desktop Organizer

Prepare the four sides (A) by applying wood veneer tape to the front (23 ⅝” edge) edge of each. Use a flush trim bit in a router to clean up the overhang on the edge tape.

The four sides require three stopped dadoes, a stopped tenon, and a rabbet cut. Follow the illustration for the cut locations. Use a router and ½” wide straight bit for the dadoes and the table saw for the rabbets and tenons. All the dadoes, as well as the rabbet are on the inside face of each side board.

Be sure to orient the boards properly in pairs with the wood veneer edge to the front. The stopped tenon is on the top edge of each panel.

Each side horizontal shelf (B) will have one 15 ¼” edge covered with veneer. This will be the front edge of each board. Both side edges require a tenon that’s ½” thick and ⅜” deep on all the shelves. The tenons are stopped 1” short of the front edge. Round over the front corners of each tenon so they’ll fit into the dadoes on the side boards.

Two of the horizontal shelves (B) need two stopped dadoes on the top face. They will receive the vertical divider tenons in each tower. Cut the dadoes as detailed in the drawing making sure they stop 1” short of the front edge.

Cut the two backs (C) and assemble both towers. Use glue to secure the tenons in the dadoes and glue with brad nails to attach the backs. Leave both assemblies clamped until the adhesive sets.

Cut the six panels for the bridge. Apply wood veneer tape to the front edges on each board. The two dividers (E) need a tenon ½” wide by ⅜” high on both top and bottom edges, stopped 1” short of the front edge. The horizontal shelves (F) need the corresponding stopped dado to receive those tenons.

Assemble the bridge by first applying glue to secure the dividers. The end boards are attached with glue and 2” screws through the outside face of each panel into the horizontal shelf ends. To complete the bridge assembly, cut and install the back board (G) with glue and brad nails.

Construction Note: If you don’t have a router or ½” bit, you can use butt joints, screws, and glue. Adjust the panel sizes accordingly when eliminating the tenons.

Attach the bridge to the two towers with glue and 1” screws driven through the tower side panels. Counterbore the screw holes and fill them with wood plugs before installing the tower dividers. The bridge is aligned with the back side of each tower and level with the bottom of each side tenon.

The light guard is made from solid wood. Round over the bottom front edge with a ⅜” router bit. Secure the guard to the bottom of the bridge, flush with the front edge of the bottom board, using glue and biscuits. Drive a 2” long finishing nail through the inside of each tower side and into the light guard end to further secure this board.

Cut the four tower dividers (J) and apply wood veneer tape to the front edge on each board. Form a stopped tenon that’s ½” wide by ⅜” high, centred on the top and bottom edge, of each divider. As with all the other tenons, cut them 1” short of the front edge on each panel.

Install the dividers with glue on the tenons and nails driven through the back board. Take care to align the dividers properly.

The section where a door will be installed in the right side tower requires an upper rail. Use ¾” plywood veneer with a taped bottom edge or a solid piece of wood. Apply glue to the ends and clamp the rail flush with the top edges of dividers. This rail is needed to provide door-to-top board clearance.

The top board requires matching dadoes to accept the 8 tenons. Each dado must be ½” wide by ⅜” deep and stopped 1” short of the front edge. Use the drawing as a guide to find the dado placement. However, the best method is to lay the top board in place and mark the dado positions.

After cutting the top board (L) to size, form a stopped rabbet on the back underside face. The rabbet is ¼” wide by ⅜” deep and stopped 1” short at both ends. Apply glue to the tenons as well as on top of the bridge and clamp the top in place. Use brad nails to secure the back boards.

Select a suitable molding that’s ¾” high and attach to the front and two sides of the top board. Use glue and brad nails to secure the strips. Mitre the corners at 45 degrees. Once again, use the measurements in the materials list as a guide. It’s good practice to confirm the dimensions on your project.

Build two pull-out trays using the dimensions listed. Each tray side (Q) requires a ½” wide by ¼” deep rabbet on both ends to accept the front and back boards. Assemble the tray box with glue and brad nails. Cut the bottom board accurately as it will force the box into square when installed.

The two tray fronts are solid wood pieces with the front face rounded over. Use a ⅜” round over bit in a router to ease the edges. Secure the fronts to each tray box with 1” screws driven through the front board and into the back side of the tray front.

The right side tower door is solid wood and mounted with 107 degree full overlay hidden hinges. I’ve also installed a small barrel lock on this door. These simple to install locks are available in most home centres.




Construction Notes

I used a spray lacquer to finish my organizer. Getting a paint brush into all the small compartments would have been messy and time consuming. There are hundreds of finishes available in a spray can so you should be able to match the desk finish where the organizer will be installed.

Once again, I built this project using my favourite multi-core veneer board. However, any sheet material such as plywood or particleboard veneer can be used. If the organizer is going to be finished with a solid colour, consider medium density fibreboard (MDF) as an alternative. MDF is relatively inexpensive and is easily machined.

Don’t get discouraged by the number of dadoes and tenons for this project. If you don’t have the equipment or experience, use butt joints, glue, and screws. In my opinion it’s perfectly acceptable.

As always, I’ve detailed a project with panel positions and features to suit my requirements. If the placement of these section panels don’t meet your needs change them accordingly. Everyone has special storage problems so build a unit that functions for you.

The bridge section determines the overall width of the organizer. Its dimension is variable. If your desk isn’t 60” wide, change the bridge dimensions. That is also true of the overall width for the organizer and it is easily modified to your situation.

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