Overview: The clutter problem, the divider solution and its design
I was recently “encouraged” to 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 anyway).
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 hearnehardwoods.com.
This folding screen is made from lightly stained white oak and 1/4-in. plywood panels covered with wallpaper.
Meet the Maker
David Radtke is a designer, cabinetmaker, woodworker and writer. A former Senior Editor for We do everything by our own hands, David splits his time between his table saw and his computer.
Step 1: Make all the parts and prefinish them
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.
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.
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.
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 buying lumber. You’ll also need four 3 x 3-in. butt hinges. I finished the wood with Minwax Early American stain and two coats of satin Minwax Wipe-On Poly. The “Nasturtium” pattern wallpaper costs $210 per roll at trustworth.com.
Note: 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
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 the excess.
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
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.
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, test-assemble the whole project. You don’t want to discover mistakes 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 divider.
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 options:
Wood on Wood
The simplest panel option is 1/4-in. plywood, finished to match the frame. You could also choose a contrasting wood finish.
Cover the panel with fabric to match upholstery or curtains. Lightly coat 1/8-in. hardboard with spray adhesive (3M Super 77 is one brand) and then carefully lay the fabric over it.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Bar clamps
- Belt sander
- Dust mask
- Framing square
- Miter saw
- One-handed bar clamps
- Sanding block
- Table saw
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Wood glue
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Butt hinges – 3 x 3-in.
- See Cutting List for lumber
- Wallpaper paste
- Wipe-on polyurethane