Some of my favorite DIYs have been born from the need to solve a problem. In this instance, my problem was needing more tabletop space in a studio that was always needing to be rearranged depending on the task at hand.
As it usually happens, I realized it would be easier for me to build my own and get exactly what I needed than to pay top dollar for something that mostly worked.
I thought about it for weeks before coming up with a way to make a transformable desktop that would not only be easy to adjust by myself, it would be simple enough for you to build without owning a lot of power tools. I’m so proud of how this one turned out!
Some days I need as much floor space as possible to work on a DIY, so a corner workspace made the most sense. Other days my husband needs a space to have a conference call or finish a project for grad school, so we both need a clear work surface at the same time.
I’ve also been using this space for my first employee (yay!) to put together fiber packs and package looms, so I need a long surface for those assembly line days. This transformable desk is perfect because it is made of two pieces of plywood on each side that overlap like a perfect puzzle piece in the middle.
You can have a corner workspace one day and an extra long workspace the next. Thanks to the beauty of powder coated hairpin legs, my new desktop space looks like a million bucks and retains that light, airy feel needed in such a small room.
-one 3/4″ x 4′ x 8′ sheet of Purebond plywood. This specific plywood is thick enough for a beautiful desktop but is also formaldehyde free, so you can breathe easy. You’ll want to get this cut in half lengthwise so that you get two 2′ x 8′ lengths. Then cut each of those lengths at the 5′ mark so that you end up with two 2′ x 3′ cuts and two 2′ x 5′ cuts as shown above.
–six powder coated hairpin legs
–24 #6 x 3/4″ flathead screws
-10 #6 x 1 1/4″ flathead screws
–four 1/4″ 20 x 13mm threaded insert nuts
–four 1/4″ 20 x 1 1/4″ flathead machine screws
–1 qt. Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in semi-gloss or preferred sealer
–Gorilla wood glue
–3″ natural bristle brush
-5/16″ drill bit
-1/8″ drill bit
–orbital sander (optional)
-80 grit sandpaper
-120 grit sandpaper
-2 to 4 clamps (optional)
–carpenter’s square ruler
Here’s a visual on the threaded insert nuts that you’ll need. They allow the two pieces to be screwed together and unscrewed a number of times without stripping the wood. Shout out to Dustin Stewart for introducing me to these little workhorses.
This plywood has a birch veneer (blonde), but you can see the other side has a reddish finish. Pay attention to the sides you want to use as you are glueing and screwing all of your pieces together for consistency’s sake.
Step One: This step is merely to double check your angles are all nearly perfect before gluing in place.
Place one piece of 2′ x 5′ on the floor. It doesn’t matter which side is up since this will be the bottom piece and it will not show. Then place a 2′ x 3′ piece of wood on top of it so that three of the edges are flush. Be sure you have the blonde side up.
Step Two: Place your second 2′ x 3′ cut of wood down so that it creates a right angle with the 2′ x 5′ cut of wood from Step One. This bottom piece will not show so it doesn’t matter which side is up.
Step Three: Place the second 2′ x 5′ piece of wood on top of the piece from Step Three. Be sure the blonde side is right side up. Check to see that all edges are flush with each other and fit tightly together where they overlap.
Step Four: Repeat a similar process with all of your pieces but instead of placing them at a right angle, overlap them so that they form a long 2′ x 8′ desktop. Again, you are merely checking to make sure all of your angles are straight and right so that there are no gaps.
If there should be one piece that is shorter than the other, fit things together so that there are no gaps where everything overlaps and just sand down or cut off the overlap on the outer edge.
Gently place your 2′ x 3′ cut of wood on top of your 2′ x 5′ cut and make sure your three edges are flush. You can clamp these together if you have clamps available, but you can also skip that and move quickly to the next step.
Step Six: Measure in 6″ x 6″ from each corner of your 2′ x 3′ and pre-drill a hole that drills into the 2′ x 5′ plywood beneath it but doesn’t go through it. You don’t want holes coming through your desktop!
You can measure about 1 1/4″ from the bottom of your drill bit and mark that spot with tape so that you don’t press to far. Repeat this process of measuring and pre-drilling holes in all four corners of your top 2′ x 5′ cut of wood (which is the bottom of your table on that side), and then make a mark in the center and pre-drill a hole there as well.
This will secure the two pieces of wood together. If any glue squeezes out between the two pieces, quickly wipe it off with a wet paper towel or sand it off later. Repeat the process with the two other pieces of wood.
You will likely have to flip them over at some point in this process to get to the bottom sides where you’ll screw them together. Just be sure you keep the blonde sides of the wood on the unscrewed side of both pieces.
Step Eight: Fit the two pieces together so that they overlap at a right angle. They should both be upside down at this point. Measure out a perfect square so that it’s centered where the two pieces overlap. It needs to be perfectly centered, so measure twice (or three times).
Step Nine: Just for visual’s sake, I’ve drawn where the square needs to be positioned when you remove the two puzzle pieces so you can see how you’ll be drilling through the top one and halfway into the bottom one.
Step Ten: Prep your drill with the 5/16″ drill bit and mark it with tape so that you only drill down about 1 1/4″. With your two puzzle pieces still overlapping, pre-drill a hole in each corner of your square. Wiggle it around a bit as you drill out of it to give yourself a slightly larger hole. This will help your threaded inserts to go in but still fit snugly.
Step Eleven: Separate the two puzzle pieces where they overlap. Set aside the piece that you drilled straight through. Hammer your threaded inserts into the piece that you didn’t drill all the way through. They need to be flush with your wood.
Step Twelve: Place the two puzzle pieces back together as they were in Step Ten and screw the two pieces together with your four 1/4″ x 20 x 1 1/4″ flat head screws. This will bolt your two puzzle pieces together in the center. You should be able to unscrew these, place your two table pieces into a long table shape, and bolt them together again through the same screw holes as long as your measurements were centered.
Step Fourteen: For a stable table, you’ll need two hairpin legs attached to the area where the pieces overlap. For this design to look nice and be stable in both a corner position and a long position, I suggest placing your last two hairpin legs centered over the square you drew so that they are about 1/2″ away from the square and facing each other.
Mark your holes, pre-drill about 3/4″ deep, place your legs in the appropriate places, and then screw them in.
The final steps include sanding your table down on the tops and edges with an orbital sander or by hand using two different grades of sandpaper. Then wipe the table with a damp cloth and apply your stain, paint, or polyurethane following manufacturer’s directions.
I chose a poly because I love the look of natural blonde wood, but you may prefer a darker stain or even a painted tabletop. Just be sure you stain or paint all of the edges when they are not bolted together because if you transform them, different edges will be showing.
These still have that mid-century charm with a bit of polish, and since they are powder coated, the color won’t scratch off like they would if they were just spray painted. This table may look dainty, but it’s a workhorse!
Once you are ready to transform your desk from one shape to another, clear your desk top, unscrew the four center bolts, reposition your two ends so that the holes align again, and screw it back together. It allows for a beautiful desktop space by keeping it’s lovely lines in either position.
You’ll end up with tons of polyurethane left over for other woodworking projects, too. The legs are the most expensive part of this table, but I also think they add the most impact for making this look like a polished, finished piece of furniture.
I’m so pleased with how this project turned out and hope some of you will enjoy how functional this design is as well! –Rachel