Canadian Woodworking

Phone charging station

Author: Geoff Coleman
Photos: Geoff Coleman
Published: February March 2020

A simple station will go a long way in keeping your family’s collection of smart phones organized.


  • COST

This project grew out of a simple request for somewhere to put a smart phone to charge. But then the “andits” started. And, it should cover the outlet. And, it should hide the tangle of cords. And, it should be removable so if a charging cord fails, or you purchase a new brand of phone, you can easily swap them. And, it should be attractive in any room.

The solution was to make the shelf with a hidden cavity where the plugs and cords reside, and to hang it on the wall using a French cleat.

The shelf can take all manner of shapes and sizes depending on the shapes and sizes of your own devices, but the cavity where the charging happens is consistent.

All Glued Up
Once the center sections have been notched to fit around the plug and the wall-mounted French cleat, glue them together, making sure to keep them aligned.

Curved Template
It's easy to make a paper template that will help you draw the same curve onto the workpiece, but you can also use masking tape, and some careful pencil marks on a French curve to help keep the curves consistent.

Dado Will Hide Mistakes
Coleman machined a 1/4" wide dado in the three visible faces of the base, so if the bandsawn curves were uneven they wouldn't be as obvious.

First Things First
The first bandsaw cut is made with the workpiece rotated onto its side.

Cut the Side Curves
The next two bandsaw cuts are made with the workpiece on its back.

Machined and Sanded
The curves on this base aren't so tight they're hard to sand. You might want to keep this in mind when laying out your curves.

Simple Router Jig
Coleman used two long, straight pieces of MDF on either side of the router's base, and two short pieces towards either end of the long pieces to make a jig to guide his router. The two long fences trapped his router, and ensured it wouldn't stray from the intended path while routing the grooves with multiple passes.

Rout then Cut
Coleman routed the grooves in the top before cutting the top from the board. This was safer and easier.

Two Options
A strong option is to cut the French cleat in an L shape, then attach the vertical portion of the cleat to the stud (above). This ensures the project is fixed to the wall very firmly. If you want a narrower center cavity you can use a drywall anchor directly above the electrical socket, and screw a narrow French cleat into it (below).

Gluing an Angled Cleat
Because the portion of the French that will get glued to the underside of the top is angled, a simple angled caul is needed It will provide a perpendicular face for clamping, and also grasp the French cleat properly so it can be attached for good

How big?

Outlets with the trim plate removed measure 2-5/8” x 1-1/4″ so that – plus a quarter inch for wiggle room – is the minimum inside width of the cavity. From there, things are less definite. If you use an older charger, it may extend out from the wall as much as 3-1/2″ with a cord inserted, so the depth needs to be greater than it would if you have installed an outlet with dedicated USB ports built right into it. And, if you want to use both receptacles for charging, yours will require a higher cavity.

For the purposes of this article, we assume that you will break down and spend ten dollars on a charger with two USB ports that will go in the upper receptacle. With that expense out of the way, you probably have the rest of the required materials in your shop.

After prototyping numerous designs from simple to sophisticated, I settled on the one you see here. It’s large enough for more than one device, and since it’s laminated from solid wood pieces, it lends itself easily to custom sizes and wood types. If you don’t love my design the only limiter is your imagination. My design will give you a good idea how I engineered the basic necessities, but the final look can be quite different.

Milling and gluing

Start by milling your lumber. The size can obviously be as big as needed to meet your needs, but the first stop after the gluing station is the band saw, so make sure it is not too big to fit in the saw vertically. My saw topped out at about 6″, so my block measured 5-3/4″ x 5-3/4″ x 6-1/2″. After ripping the individual pieces to width, I used a cross cut sled and stop block to ensure they were a uniform length.

The cavity where the plug and excess cord will go measures 2-1/2″ wide x 4″ high x 2-3/4″ deep, and it’s easy to create by removing material from your center laminations. The middle ply or plies will be notched to create the opening. Regardless of the size of the wood, the notch must be at least 2-3/4″ x 4″ so the charging plug and cord can fit. Notch as many pieces as it takes to have at least 2-1/2″ in width of negative space.

Glue them together, being careful to keep the top edges perfectly aligned. Clamps with a screw handle, have a tendency to twist things slightly out of alignment as they are tightened, so with each lamination, you may choose to drive a finishing nail in a carefully chosen location (that won’t find a saw blade in later operations) to help register the parts.

Add some curves

With the glue dry, it’s time to lay out the curve. To avoid cutting into the cavity, use an adjustable square to measure and mark the edges of the hidden opening on the side of the block. Draw your curve, staying shy of the cavity by 1/4″. The same arc will be drawn two more times, so a template from thin plastic or 1/4″ Baltic birch plywood is worth making.

The line will be cut at the band saw, but before you do, put a 1/4″ wide dado blade in the table saw and centre it on the point where the curve leaves the block at the top. Use it to cut a 1/8″ groove around the block. If something goes wrong and your band saw cut is not perfectly parallel to the top edge, any evidence will disappear in the slot.

With that insurance in place, it’s off to the band saw. Place the block on its side and make the front cut first. Then, you can mark and execute the two side cuts. I was able to make the cuts using a 1/2″, 3 TPI blade.

After careful cutting with a well set-up saw, there shouldn’t be much sanding to do. Start with 100 grit on your random orbit palm sander and graduate to 220 and finer if necessary. The radius used in the project can be worked effectively with a palm sander, so minimal manual touch ups will remain.

Rout slots

I chose to match the actual shelf to the centre lamination of the support structure in both the examples shown here, and I routed slots to hold my devices vertically. This offers more security and more efficient use of the surface area.

While it was tempting to reach for the standard edge guide that came with my plunge router, I chose to repurpose a router-specific jig I made for routing dados in cabinet sides. Basically, a frame made from two short and two long 3″ wide strips of 3/4″ MDF. The long pieces are screwed to the short ones at 90 degrees, and separated by the width of the router. They corral the edges of the router to keep it from wandering, while the short ones keep everything square when tight to an edge of the board you’re working on.

I clamp the jig to the shelf top and make progressively deeper passes – controlled by start/stop blocks – along my guidelines, assured that an unexpected patch of gnarly grain couldn’t push the bit awry like it might with an edge guide. Think of it as a shelf improvement guide.

For best results, consider cutting your slots before you trim the shelf to its final dimensions. The extra surface area makes operating the router safer and more accurate.

I’m an iPhone user, and a 1/2″ bit makes just about the perfect cut to house my phone and Lifeproof case.


After cutting a notch at the table saw for charging cords to pass through, it’s time to get to the clever French cleat. Nothing more than two pieces of wood cut with opposing 45 degree bevels. When interlocked they create a strong, stable hanger.

You have two options for mounting the wall portion, and which you employ is based on how wide the cavity is. If you opted for a narrow shelf – and assuming you are installing it in drywall, use one or two hollow wall anchors directly above the outlet. If you have made a wider shelf, and have an opening 5″ or more to work with, take advantage of the stud that outlet is attached to.

Put the 45 degree angle on one edge of a 4″x6″ piece of 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick material, and then cut an L-shape from it, and screw that to the stud. Glue the mating part to the bottom of the shelf.

Lastly, glue on the top, apply your favourite finish, “andits” time to charge the phone so you can always keep current with the latest web content from Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine.

Geoff Coleman - [email protected]

Geoff splits his spare time between the workshop, an as yet undiscovered classic rock band, fishing, and his family. The only time he encourages his wife to be a backseat driver is when he’s fishing from the canoe.

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