Fits-All Desk Organizer

An expandable storage solution that addresses the mess

Overall dimensions: 24 5⁄8"w (36 3⁄4" open) × 12 1⁄2"d × 15 7⁄8"h

In this digital age, almost any tabletop can serve as a home office. But laptops and smart phones haven’t completely eliminated the need for the real world office supplies. Unless they’re corralled, pens, staplers, stamps, and envelopes can easily create chaos. This project will address the problem in several ways.

Featuring three drawers and an assortment of slots and cubbies, this organizer offers lots of options. It even has a till with a concealed power strip so you can power up your electronic gadgets. But the neatest thing is that it adjusts in length. You can expand the two-part design to match your existing desktop space, or close it up for a more compact look.

Construction is quite straightforward—dadoes reinforced with screws for the case and routed lock joints for the drawer corners. I made the organizer from red oak and finished it with a gel stain, followed by a shellac topcoat. Check out the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide, below, for the list of needed materials.

Prepare the parts

1 Referring to the Cut List, cut the long and short backs (A, B) from 1⁄2"-thick plywood. From red oak, rip a 1⁄4 × 9⁄16" edging (C) and glue it to the left edge of the long back (A), clamping the panel and edging as shown in Photo A.

2 Cut the large and small dividers (D, E) from 1⁄4"-thick plywood. Rip red oak strips of 1⁄8 × 5⁄16" edging (F) and glue it to the top edges in the same manner. After the glue dries, scrape and sand the edging flush, and then trim to length.

3 Glue edging (F) to the front edges of the dividers (D, E).

(This will leave a small amount of visible end grain at the top corner, where it shouldn’t be noticed.) Scrape, sand, and trim, as before.

4 Prepare stock for the long and short crest rails (G, H), cutting them slightly longer than the dimension given in the Cut List. Using a table-mounted router and 1⁄8"-thick slot cutter, rout a centered stopped groove along the top edges of both back panels (A, B). Raise the cutter height about 1⁄32" and rout a matching groove along the bottom edges of the crest rails, as shown in Photo B. (This offset will allow the crest rails to overlap the thinner plywood on both sides.) Now glue the back assemblies together.)

Using a tablesaw, rip a pair of 1⁄8"-thick × 1"-wide red oak strips. Radius the strips to fit the grooves, as shown in Figure 1, for use as splines to attach the crests to the backs.

5 Mill the stock for the shelves (I, J, T, U), sliding base (P), draw divider (N), uprights (K, L, M, Q, R , S), and filler (O).

6 Referring to the Cut List, crosscut parts I, J, K, L, M, P, Q, R, S to length as shown in Photo C. Cut the drawer divider (N) and the sliding main shelf and drawer shelf (T, U) 1⁄4" longer for now. Leave all the pieces 1⁄4" wider than listed.

Cut the joints

1 With a 5⁄8"-wide dado set in your tablesaw, reference the bottom edge of the tall and short uprights (K, L) and cut 1⁄8"-deep dadoes for the main shelf (I) in K and L where shown in Figure 1.

Next, reference the top edges of the sliding tall upright (Q) and the sliding center upright (S) and cut a 5⁄8" dado 1⁄8"-deep for the sliding main shelf (T).

Referencing the right edges of the main and bottom shelves (I, J) cut matching 1⁄8"-deep dadoes for the drawer divider (N) as shown in Photo D. Reset the fence and cut a dado on the top face of the main shelf (I) for the center upright (M). Do the same for upright (S) in sliding base (P). Cut a 1⁄8"-deep groove on the bottom face of (J) for filler (O) where shown.

2 Adjust the dado set to 1⁄2" wide and attach a sacrificial fence to your tablesaw’s rip fence. Referencing the bottom ends, dado the tall and short uprights (K, L) for the bottom shelf (J).

Now referencing the top ends of the sliding tall and short uprights (Q, R), cut the dado and rabbet for the sliding base (P). Finally, dado the sliding tall and center uprights (Q, S) for the sliding drawer shelf (U).

3 Cut the 1⁄2 × 3⁄8"-deep rabbets along the back edges of the tall upright (K) and the sliding tall and short uprights (Q, R) for the long back (A) and short back (B).

4 Cut all the pieces to final width, cleaning up any tear-out from the dado work. Temporarily clamp the case parts together so you can measure and then cut the drawer divider (N) and the sliding main and drawer shelves (T, U) to final length.

5 Chuck a 5⁄8" straight bit into a handheld router equipped with an edge guide. Rout a 1⁄8"-deep groove for the power strip compartment front (V) on the top face of the sliding base (P) where shown in Figure 1. Stop the groove at the dado for the sliding center upright (S).

6 Again using the router and 5⁄8" straight bit, rout a 1⁄8"-deep × 4 1⁄2"-long stopped groove in the sliding short upright (R) and the sliding center upright (S) for compartment front (V). Carefully square the ends with a chisel.

7 Drill 1 1⁄2" holes through the main shelf (I), the sliding base (P), and the main back (A) where shown in the Hole Details (Figure 1). Rout or jigsaw the slot in the main shelf.

8 Referring to the Cut List, cut the pieces for the compartment front (V), lid (W), and lid anchor (X) to size.

9 Using a handheld router equipped with a 7⁄32" straight bit, rout 4 1⁄4"-long stopped dadoes in the main shelf (I), the sliding main shelf (T), and the compartment lid (W) for the dividers (D, E, Y) as shown in Photo E. Stop the dadoes on the shelves (I, T) 1 1⁄4" in from the front edge. Stop the dadoes on the lid (W) about 1⁄2" in from the edges.

Corner Notch Template

Bandsaw a notch out of the corner of a piece of 1⁄2" MDF, and clean it up with files and sandpaper. Attach two fences so that they overhang the template on both sides. This will enable you to use the jig from either side.

To notch the backs and uprights, first mark and then bandsaw away most of the waste. Next, chuck a flush-trim bit in a table-mounted router and adjust the height so the bearing is slightly higher than the thickness of your workpiece. Hold the template so that both fences are in contact with the edges of the workpiece, and guide the bit’s bearing along the edge of the template.

10 Make a template and rout the outer corners of parts K, M, Q, R, S, as described in the Corner Notch Template sidebar on the previous page. Also, use the template to notch the upper corners of the back assemblies (A/G and B/H).

Assemble the organizer

1 Drill 3⁄8" holes 1⁄4" deep for the plugs, and 3⁄16" clearance holes for screws where shown in Figure 1.

2 Finish-sand all the parts to 220 grit, and dry-fit the bottom and top assemblies together to check for problems. Disassemble.

3 Now, turning to the bottom assembly, glue and screw the center upright (M) to the main shelf (I). Attach the drawer divider (N) and then the bottom shelf (J). Add the uprights (K, L) to the sides. Glue the filler piece (O) into the groove in the bottom shelf.

4 Make the sliding top assembly by gluing and screwing the sliding center upright (S) to the sliding base (P). Attach the sliding drawer shelf (U) and the sliding main shelf (T) to the sliding center upright. Add the sliding tall upright (Q) to the other side.

5 Chuck a tapered plug cutter into your drill press, and make plugs from a contrasting wood. Plug the holes, trim off excess plug material (Photo F), and then sand the plugs flush. After trimming and sanding the plugs in the sliding center upright, slide the compartment front (V) into its grooves.

6 Glue and screw the sliding short upright (R) in place. Plug all the remaining screw holes in both units and sand flush.

7 Dry-fit the short back (B) in place, trim if needed, then mark the dadoes for the small dividers (E). In the same manner, check the long back (A) for fit and mark it for the large dividers (D).

8 Chuck a 1⁄4" plywood panel bit into a handheld router, and, using a straightedge guide, rout 1⁄8" deep divider dadoes in both back pieces (A, B). Switch bits and rout a 5⁄8"-wide stopped groove for the lid anchor (X) in the short back (B) where shown in Figure 1.

9 Handsaw 1⁄8"-wide × 1⁄2"-long notches at the corners of the dividers (D, E) to overlap the ends of the grooves as shown in Photo G.

10 Put the dividers (D, E) in place and attach the backs (A, B) to both units. To allow for wood movement, only glue the dividers to the backs. Now fasten the backs to the uprights with 3d finish nails.

11 Drill three 3⁄4" holes toward the back edge of the compartment lid (W) where shown in Figure 1.

12 Dry-fit the lid anchor (X) and compartment lid (W), and trim as needed to fit between the sliding short and center uprights (R, S) on the sliding unit. Using a chisel, mortise parts X and W for the hinges. Glue the lid anchor into its groove.

13 Cut the short dividers (Y) to fit into the dadoes in the lid (W). Notch the front corners to overlap the ends of the dadoes. Glue them in place, but only spread glue in the center of the dadoes for about 1 1⁄2" to allow for wood movement.

Make the drawers

1 Cut the parts for the drawers (Z, AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF) to the sizes in the Cut List. Sand or plane the front and side pieces so that they fit in their respective openings.

2 Mount a drawer-lock bit in a table-mounted router. Set the fence so slightly more than 1⁄2" of the bit is exposed, and adjust the height to approximately 3⁄8". Make a cut in a piece of scrap. Check to be sure that the two vertical parts of the cut are equal as shown in Figure 2. Adjust the bit height as necessary. Now cut both ends of each drawer face (Z, CC) with the pieces held flat on the table. Use a pushblock to keep the fronts perpendicular to the fence as you push them past the bit.

3 Without changing the bit’s height, reset the fence so slightly less than 1⁄8" of the bit is exposed. Hold a test piece on end with its inside face against the fence. Make a test cut and check the fit against one of the drawer fronts (Z, CC). Adjust the fence as necessary, and then rout the front end of each drawer side (AA, DD).

4 Set up a 1⁄2" dado blade on the tablesaw, and cut a 1⁄4"-deep dado, 1⁄2" in from the back end of each drawer side.

5 Mount a 7⁄32" straight bit in a table-mounted router, and cut 1⁄4"-deep grooves for the drawer bottoms in the inside faces of the drawer fronts and sides (Z, AA, CC, DD). Clamp the drawers together so you can measure for the drawer bottoms (FF, GG). Cut the drawer bottoms to fit.

6 Drill the drawer fronts for pulls.

7 Sand the drawer pieces to 220 grit. Now assemble the drawers, reinforcing the joints with glue and finish brads.

8 Glue a drawer stop (HH) inside each drawer opening. The stops should be positioned under the drawer fronts (Z, CC) approximately 3⁄4" in from the front edge of the drawer opening.


1 Stain all the surfaces.

2 After the stain dries, finish the entire piece with three or four coats of shellac, sanding between coats.

3 As a final touch, go over everything with paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool. Buff to a warm luster.

About Our Author

Ken Burton has been working with wood professionally since 1982. A graduate of the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he operates Windy Ridge Woodworks in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania. During the school year, Ken is the department leader for the Technology Education Program at Boyertown Area Senior High School.

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