Age Range: 8 and up
One of the best ways to encourage your children's budding creativity is to give them a place to practice their talents. This sturdy, portable artist's easel is compact but holds colorful paints, brushes, pencils, markers, and more. And since it has two sides, your kids can enjoy drawing and painting with friends and siblings.
The frame is inexpensive to build, but the dry-erase boards can make the costs add up. To keep the price down, use ¼-inch plywood instead and cover it with chalkboard or magnetic paint.
Once you're done, set the easel up in the corner of a bedroom or playroom to create an artist's corner—and keep the mess all in one place. It's a perfect way for your little ones to discover their inner Picasso!
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The basic construction of this easel is simple: Hinged, square-cut boards make up the legs, while cross braces and side brackets hold it together. All the materials to make it can be found at a home center and a home goods or stationery store. But since the easel is made from a hardwood, parents will need to do the cutting and drilling. Kids can help out by measuring and marking the parts
and, if they are comfortable holding a drill, by driving the screws into pilot holes.
Lay out the pieces
Using a tape measure, mark the midpoints (4 feet) of two 8-foot oak or maple 1x3s to make the four legs. Using a combination square, mark a cutline at each of these points.
On a third 1x3, measure out and mark four shorter lengths: two 24-inch sections for the cross braces and two 14-inches sections for the side brackets.
Hey, kids! A combination square helps you make a straight line at a perfect right angle. Just hold the ruler part flat on the wood, and brace the square head against the edge while you mark your line.
Cut the wood
Put on your safety glasses, and clamp a 1x3 to a worktable, making sure the cut mark hangs over the edge of the table. Using a jigsaw, carefully cut the pieces of the frame, stopping to move and reclamp the boards before each cut.
To parents: Sawing is best left to an adult, but kids can help out by catching the pieces as they fall. Just make sure they're standing far from the saw—and don't let them lift up on the wood as you cut, because that can pinch the blade.
Mark and drill the brackets
Each side bracket will pivot on a single screw and lock in place with a slot that slides over a second screw.
Clamp a bracket to your worktable. Measure ¾ inch in from each end of the bracket, and, using a combination square, make lines at those points. Then find the middle of each line, and make a small cross mark. Make a third cross mark at the center of the whole bracket.
Using a drill/driver fitted with a 3/32-inch bit, make a pilot hole at the center of the cross mark on one end of the bracket.
At the other end of the bracket, extend the cross mark into a ¼-inch-wide slot that runs from the middle to the lower edge of the bracket. Using a drill/driver and a ¼-inch bit, make a hole at the cross mark at the top of the slot. Do this for both brackets.
Cut the slots
Using a jigsaw, and with the bracket clamped to the worktable, cut along the slot lines to meet the ¼-inch hole. Repeat this process with the other bracket.
Drill the dowel holes
Clamp the bracket to the table so that the cross mark in the center of the piece hangs over the edge. Using a drill/driver fitted with a 1¼-inch hole saw, make a large hole centered on the mark. This will fit the dowel that holds a roll of paper in the middle of the easel.
Hey, kids! The hole saw cuts out small plugs—don't throw them away. Paint them with your favorite designs, and glue a magnet on the back. Now you have decorative magnets for your easel.
Attach the hinges
Line up two 4-foot legs end to end. Lay a strap hinge across the butted ends, allowing space for the hinge knuckles, and mark the wood at the hinge holes. Using a drill/driver fitted with a ⅛-inch bit, make pilot holes at your marks. Then attach the hinge by driving ¾-inch screws through the hinge holes and into the wood.
Repeat for the other pair of legs.
Attach the cross braces and brackets
Lay down the two hinged sets of legs about 2 feet apart. Find the vertical midpoint of the legs at 24 inches. Line up one of the cross braces across the face of the legs so that the ends are flush with the outer edges of the legs and the top is at the midpoint mark. Drill one 3/32-inch pilot hole at each end, through the cross brace and into the legs. For the best holding power, the holes should be diagonal. Attach the cross brace with 1¼-inch screws. Repeat with the other cross brace.
Stand the easel up and open the legs wide enough so that the ends of the side brackets are flush with the ends of the cross braces. Mark the legs through the two holes in the bracket (the pilot hole and the slot hole). Using a 3/32-inch bit, drill pilot holes into the legs at these marks.
To attach the side brackets, slip a 1¼-inch screw through the pilot hole, then slide a washer over the shank at the back. Drive this screw into the leg, leaving it loose enough for the bracket to pivot.
Drive another screw directly into the opposite leg; leave about ¾ inch of the screw sticking out. The slot on the bracket should slide over this screw.
Mount the boards
Position a dry-erase board over the legs, its bottom aligned with the top of the cross brace. Using a ⅛-inch bit, drill pilot holes through the four corners of the board and into the legs. Attach the board through these holes using 1¼-inch screws.
Put on the plastic trays
Line up the plastic trays on the cross braces on the front and back of the easel, and mark the trays where you want to attach them. Lay the plastic trays on a piece of scrap wood and, using a ⅛-inch bit, drill through the marks on the plastic.
Use the holes in the plastic to mark the cross braces for pilot holes, then drill them with a ⅛-inch bit. Attach the trays to the cross braces with ¾-inch screws fitted with washers.
Add the paper
Slide the dowel through the hole in one side bracket, through the paper roll, and out the other side. Then pull the paper up through the opening in the top of the easel and down over one of the boards. Secure it with the magnets you made, and you're ready to paint and draw!