Overview: The clutter problem, the divider solution and its design
I was recently
clean up my desk
before the holiday
guest season begins.
that’s not a job one
man could finish in
just a few weeks,
so I took an easier
path and built this
room divider to hide
the chaos. it did the
trick and got me off
the hook (for now
My room divider has three sections,
but you can join as many sections
as you like. I used white
oak and chose really expensive wallpaper to cover
the plywood panel, so my materials bill was about
$400. You could build it for about $275 using red oak
and more reasonable wall paper. You’ll also need a
dado blade for your table saw. Prices for those start
at about $40.
Thicker looks better
You could make a divider from
standard 3/4-in.-thick boards. But
I used 1-1/16-in. stock to give it
extra heft and stability. This
thicker wood is called “five-quarter”
because it’s 1-1/4 in. thick
before it’s planed smooth. You
won’t find it at home centers, but
if you have a hardwood lumberyard
in your area, it’s sure to have
it. You may have to pay extra to
have it planed. To order online,
check out walllumber.com or
This folding screen is made from lightly stained white oak and 1/4-in. plywood panels covered with wallpaper.
Meet the Maker
is a designer,
and writer. A
Editor for The Family Handyman,
David splits his
his table saw
Step 1: Make all the parts and prefinish them
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Photo 1A: Close-up of dado blade
An adjustable dado blade
wobbles as it spins. Turn the
center cam to adjust the
amount of wobble and the
width of the “dado,” that is,
the groove. You have to
remove your saw’s blade
guard to use a dado blade,
so be extra careful.
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Photo 2: Cut grooves in the rails and styles
Mark one side of each part and always cut with the mark
facing away from the fence. That way, the grooves will match up
perfectly, even if the cut is a hair off center. A featherboard
holds the board tight to the fence. Outfeed support is a must.
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Photo 3: Mortise the rails
Build a carriage that rides along the
fence to hold the rails upright. You’ll need to
reposition the fence for this step, but don’t
change the blade settings.
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Photo 4: Mark the arch
Drill a pencil hole near one end of a stick and nail the other
end to a wood scrap. Draw an arch across the lower rail, cut,
and then sand the arch smooth.
Each of the frames has two stiles
(A) and two rails (B and C). These
parts are held together with
tenons that fit snugly into
grooves, or “dadoes,” cut into the
rails and stiles. Before you can cut the grooves, you
need to choose the panel materials so you can get
the width of the grooves just right. I took a scrap of
1/4-in. plywood and covered both sides with wallpaper
to make a sample block to check my groove
width. The perfect groove width for my panels was
just a skosh over 1/4 in.
To cut grooves, I used an adjustable dado blade in
the table saw (also called a “wobble” blade). Plan to
spend about a half hour adjusting the width of the
cut to get it just right. Depending on the throat plate
in your saw, you may need a “zero-clearance” plate.
Cut grooves in the edges of the rails and stiles
(Photo 2). Then mortise the ends of the rails (Photo
3). If you’ve ever made upright cuts like this, you
already know how hard—and dangerous—it is without
some kind of support. To steady the rails, I made
a carriage that straddles the saw fence. Don’t forget
to adjust the saw fence so that the end grooves will
align perfectly with the others. Complete the bottom
rail with an arch (Photo 4). Complete the stiles by
gluing fillets into the grooves.
Next, make the plywood tenons that hold the
frame together. Using the same carriage as before, I
shaved down scraps of plywood until they fit snugly
into the grooves. (You should be able to pull the
tenon out with your fingers; if you can’t, it’s too
tight.) After shaving the tenon material to the right
thickness, cut it to size (see Figure A ).
Rip the muntin material on your table
saw. The thickness of the muntins
depends on the panel material you
choose. I cut my muntins from oak 1x4s
and made them 7/16 in. thick so they
would be flush with the rails and stiles.
Prefinish the parts to avoid slopping stain
or varnish on the panels. Be careful to
keep finish out of the grooves; it will weaken the glue bond.
Figure A: Room Divider Details
Use the Cutting
List in “Additional Information” below as a guide to
You’ll also need
four 3 x 3-in.
I finished the
and two coats
of satin Minwax
$210 per roll at
You can download and enlarge Figure A in “Additional Information” below. You can also download the Cutting List as well.
Step 2: Make the panels
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Photo 5: Wallpaper the panels
Cut the plywood panels to size and prime both sides. When
you paste on the wallpaper, let it overhang the panel and trim off
Cut the plywood to size and glue the wallpaper to both sides using wallpaper paste or following the manufacturer’s directions. See “Panel Possibilities” below for other panel ideas.
Step 3: Assemble the dividers
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Photo 6: Put it all together
Glue both rails to one stile, then insert the panel. Work the
panel into the dadoes carefully to prevent wallpaper “roll back.”
Finally, add the other stile, make sure the whole assembly is
square and clamp it together.
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Photo 7: Add the muntins
Glue decorative muntins to the panel. For longer muntins,
you may need a weight to hold them down until the glue sets.
Don’t distort the panel with too much weight.
Here’s the assembly process I followed:
Glue the tenons to one stile (A) and then
apply glue to the rails, tap these pieces
together and carefully insert the panel.
Next glue the tenons to the opposite ends
of the rails, then align the remaining stile.
Carefully persuade the panel into the
groove and then draw the joints together
with clamps. While the glue is setting, cut
the muntin strips and glue them to the
face of the panel (Photo 7).
TIP: The Golden Rule of Glue-Up
Before you grab
the glue bottle,
the whole project.
want to discover
or misfits after
glue is applied.
Mark the hinge locations and chisel the
mortises to the depth of the hinge plate
thickness. Pay attention
to the direction of
the hinges; they’re
opposite from the left
section to the right
section. Once the
hinges are screwed in
place, apply felt strips
to the bottoms of the
rails and you’re ready
to set up your room
Each section of the
divider is simply a
wood frame that
encloses a panel.
Dave covered his
plywood panel with
wallpaper, but there
are lots of other
Wood on Wood
The simplest panel
option is 1/4-in.
plywood, finished to
match the frame.
You could also
choose a contrasting
Cover the panel with
fabric to match
upholstery or curtains.
with spray adhesive
(3M Super 77 is one
brand) and then
carefully lay the
fabric over it.
window film to clear
acrylic panels. You’ll
find both at home
centers. For a larger
film selection, go to