Final major project - Flat pack desk

Upon selecting a final major project problem (to solve) I expressed my frustration for bad flat pack furniture. Its requirement for extra fixings, processes and above all the painful often divorce causing assembly stage which people found spurred me into this project.

I was going to originally design a pack which you could pickup, however adding a chair and a bedside table to the mix would lengthen my project by about 14 months, considering i only have 10 months, time is quite important.

The main purpose of the project is to not limit design to just the aesthetic selection and leave the headache of assembly to engineers to bodge in a screw + hole (as ikea seems to adore).

Does anyone have any sage advice when considering a more user centered product which is having stress analysis undertaken so i can create a more thinner elegant profile (25mm thickness i was thinking for the table top).
What is more concerning is that i don’t cover aesthetics in my degree, as it is more design engineering related (Computer Aided Product Design).

The main aim of my project is to successfully create something for the first time buyer, or person moving out of home. It is also being tailored around simple slot together principles which removes the need for included tools, needless processes (drilling pilot holes for screws and fixtures) and is aimed to be as sustainable as possible.

Bad sketches to come!

When I moved out for the first time I built furniture out of stolen milkcrates and zip-ties… but didn’t most people?

interesting, and seems you have put some thought to it.

I urge you however to think “bigger picture”.

You should consider that “flat pack” is a solution, (to cost and shipping issues), not necessarily a category or end result.

For example, wouldn’t the ultimate solution to the problem you’ve described about difficulty putting FP together be that i_t doesn’t have to be put together_? You might want to think more “out of the box” (pun not intended), to other solutions such as furniture that doesn’t need assembly (ie. the PU foam Up! Chairs), or furniture that uses other available materials (ie. the milk crate thing), so as to avoid shipping costs.

It’s a interesting topic, but I just make mention of all this to keep you focused on the problem, not the solution. Having the furniture (ie. table, bookcase, whatever) should be the ultimate end game, FP is only one method to get there in light of the potential issues (ie. shipping, etc.). You should first determine what the real problem is (weight, volume, foreign production, etc.) then find a solution to address that. FP is only one possibility.


If you look at how you can reassemble the table when you move and have it brake into leafs so it could fit in a coupe or hatchback (car). For dinning tables you are quite far from ground braking as most tables can be flat packed (sorry). Make something permanent and nice, that can be taken across town in at most two trips on the subway.

Apologies, thread title edited as i should have specified, I am aiming this product for use as a desk, with a view to using it as a dining room table if i restrict the leg locations to the corners. The flat pack is a storage solution, which i intend to capitalize on if the user needs to store the desk for a period of time. Also the non use of specific fit fixtures, fittings and tools means I do away with the user having to find them after moving.

Flat pack furniture is a staple of modern society, i have applied the ethos of not restricting design to just aesthetics, and i am aiming to improve the user experience to reduce headaches. the specifics of the desk will be decided when i follow through on the detail design process, i am only concerned with the assembly and aesthetic at the moment, as i have a viva in two weeks which i need to present my final selected concept.

As to materials, I have been thinking either using steel inserts to carry the loading at the joints, coupled with injection molded recycled plastic (undecided, detail design) with an inlay of some sort, or to a more traditional pine/bamboo material with a view to using alternate colour legs to achieve the aesthetic i want.

My direction is pretty solid, however i am just wading through mountains of research, images for mood boards (eurgh) and looking at overcomplicated assembly techniques so i can see where people are going wrong.

These are my 4 finalists, I am concentrating on mechanism and ease of operation, Yes its a chop, i am not giving anything away until i do the renders :slight_smile:

Thanks for the critique, i know i am in the early stages and I am stumbling through this quite well seeing as its my first proper attempt at furniture, and also seeing as its my final major project for my degree :astonished: scary.

I hope i answered all your questions.

Buy some pink foam (or blue) and build some models to side of the legs (and the hole table), use a 4x8 sheet of cardboard for other areas. Or go foam core for the scale model. and work out everything in model form. I think that this will have the best results for you in your decision. I’d also talk to someone in CE, ME, arch something like that.

I’m going to have to agree with rkuchinsky here. Flat pack furniture exists because it is cheaper to ship. That’s why you find it at big box stores, because it is of lower quality and cheap all around (maybe besides Ikea, but even a lot of their stuff is not the greatest). I think it would be great if you could spin your solution as a very high end piece of furniture that will cut the manufacturers shipping costs significantly on say a dining room table.

Your project has a pretty fundamental problem in that tables and legged desks are already almost universally flat packed, and typically feature very easy assembly (4-8 nuts threaded onto studs in the legs). I’m sure when I say this someone will find one, but I can’t think of a single dining table that ships assembled. It’s just too much air to be shipping around.

Durable, easy to assemble flat pack cabinets are a much trickier proposition (ask me how I know :wink: ).

If you’re just looking to build a table without screws, another hint- these problems were solved a long time ago. Knock down tables designed to be packed up and moved in a hurry predate the invention of the screw thread by centuries. Look at medieval style trestle tables and wartime campaign tables for a couple examples.

just looking at your sketches, it seems to me you are falling into the trap of overthinking things, trying to be clever. The best result is often the most simple one. For example, why rely on some overly complicated hinge thingy or special design for assembly?

The most simple method I would think would be to have a female threaded insert in the table top (or just a machined threaded hole), and each leg would have a male threaded screw on the top of each leg. screw each leg into the bottom, done. It’s also good such that the load on the top is perpendicular to the locking mechanism so no chance to break or come un-done. Even simpler (though maybe less secure) is a post and beam type construction where the top just sits on top of the base, or has pegs in each leg that goes into a hole…

if it’s something that get taken apart and put back together frequently, you might also want to look at simple things like laundry drying racks that accordion fold up, or folding deck chairs. no loose parts, nothing to lose, nothing to fuss with.

best advice i can give is K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid).


PS. I don’t have pics but also did a similar flat pack type of furniture in high school. It basically was constructed like technic lego.

a bunch of 2x4s with holes drilled every 4in or so, a bunch of wood poles and a top surface. the beauty of it was you could pretty much make anything out of it, and assembled with no tools or additional parts, plus everything took up a minimum of space when not assembled. it was a little wonky due to my building skill at the time (i did it all at home with only a saw and a drill), but i would imagine if done to a better tolerance could be pretty stable).

There are many rather mundane folding tables that, if scaled properly, would make nice portable desks. Check out folding tables at WallyWorld or other places - they come fully assembled, often without any packaging, and require no tools. They are typically stable and durable, especially the more recent rotomolded plastic-top varieties. If you have to re-invent something, you could certainly make the top and legs a lot more elegant, technical, or from more expensive materials. Adding drawers or other storage might be another avenue of differentiation. I’ve got some photos of slick “flat pack” or portable furniture - I’ll see if I can dig 'em up and post for you.

So, Ive been bashing my head with solidworks recently (and max) and i do have a render, but first your questions

Firstly it isn’t a folding table/desk, there is an intelligent jointing system, in which the legs slot into the base of the table (the interesting ergonomic error prevention enabling me to force the user to just only be able to put the leg in one way), so the unit can be flat packed into a compact space, a feature adding in the ability for the bottom of the table to fix the legs while moving home would be a benefit, and i will be looking into it.

Please excuse the poor shader/texture as solidworks is an absolute whore when it comes to scaling textures (also the lack of bump/displacement mapping is vexing to say the least).

Now, the aesthetic is what i have been pretty stuck on, i am thinking about bringing a subtle print on the top into play, maybe something leafy just subtly burnt into the top just before the protective laquer is applied might spruce it up. How do you decide something like this? like the only logical thing i can think my lecturers will bring up is the cost of this added process?

what do you guys think? apologies about the vagueness of the details but i do want to bring this into production at some point, as i want this to really succeed :slight_smile:

Honesty dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to do here. Is this more of an aesthetic furniture design piece (which in that case it looks like a folding card table)

Firstly it isn’t a folding table/desk, there is an intelligent jointing system, in which the legs slot into the base of the table (the interesting ergonomic error prevention enabling me to force the user to just only be able to put the leg in one way), so the unit can be flat packed into a compact space, a feature adding in the ability for the bottom of the table to fix the legs while moving home would be a benefit, and i will be looking into it.

I’m thinking of the scissor action of an ironing board, how the legs fold out and fold in eliminates user error. A card table with attached legs that fold out forces the user to “put the leg in one way.” The importance of any ergonomic issue is directly proportionate to the frequency and intensity of a user encountering that issue. You could also solve this (as most tables do) by use four interchangeable legs that go on one way (as already mentioned)

I guess my point for you to think about: Your novel secret assembly method to solve the problem of difficult assembly / disassembly is better solved by other cheap products. If that really is the problem(which you stated in the beginning) I can think of about 10,000 ways to attach one thing to another in one orientation.

You’re a student, right? I look at this and think so what? It’s not beautiful, its not useful and it’s not interesting. So what is it? As already mentioned focus on the problem, the person moving out for the first time. Is this user’s primary concern when buying a table, easy to setup and take down? Or is is cost, aesthetics, durability, size, features, built in storage, multipurpose? A simple feature like built in cable management for use as a desk would be something

In regard to the wood-burning design afterthought, let that go. Solve the big picture first. You said this is a 10 month project, how much time do you have left?

Sorry to be harsh, but I’m being honest. When you are young and only a have a few projects under your belt, it’s easy to think that your ideas are awesome and will sell for millions of dollars. I really want this to be awesome, but I can’t tell you that it is when it ain’t.

Is it a requirement that you have multiple parts that are assembled by the end user? Don’t disregard folding legs so quickly (unless that option is already ruled out). “Flat pack” doesn’t necessarily mean “comes in pieces”. A folding tables with a much less “temporary” appearance would be really great portfolio piece

I hate to say it but I don’t see the current leg joining system as being very “intelligent”. Getting the mating parts precise enough to hold snugly but still loose enough to allow easy assembly will be a very fine line for manufacturing to walk, likely driving the price up. Aiming for your target consumer will mean that it needs to be relatively inexpensive… Also, the tall, thin legs are going to work against you as far as table stability goes. The assembly won’t cause a divorce, but the massive instability of the table might. Maybe the legs are part of the stress analysis you were writing about?

+1 for the comments already posted. I’d also like to add (as I may have mentioned before), try not to be too “smart” about your solution. A
only fits one way" method is good, but can also frustrate users if they somehow don’t get it (and you should always assume your users are a dumb as bricks). Better is a solution that fits any way, then it can’t go wrong or be forced.

But ya, you aren’t showing much, so there’s not too much to comment on aside from what has been said. Aesthetically, not much happening, and the use/function/problem still doesn’t seem to be fully considered.

I also hope I’m not being too harsh, but you do seem to want feedback, so there it is.


critique is good, dont be afraid guys heh.

You’re a student, right? I look at this and think so what? It’s not beautiful, its not useful and it’s not interesting. So what is it? As already mentioned focus on the problem, the person moving out for the first time. Is this user’s primary concern when buying a table, easy to setup and take down? Or is is cost, aesthetics, durability, size, features, built in storage, multipurpose? A simple feature like built in cable management for use as a desk would be something

In my survey 64% of 500 target consumers put necessity first, aesthetic/size, features were placed after. Don’t get me wrong, i would love to produce something beautiful, with crazy inlays, but my budget is going to be mainly spent on material, distribution and minimal manufacture. I am hoping with good material selection and surface treatment the material sings more than the curves.

I have quite a hard task with the competition weighing in at £10 more expensive than what i am currently pricing my table, hence simplicity in the manufacture as the competition are offering similar lack for function for more money, also with the added complexity of additional legs. I also have a minimal wastage target to hit so i want to use all available material from the standard supplier dimension, which i will weigh against ergonomics and room layout averages.


The operation is reliant on horizontal sliding blocks which are attached to the inside of the top to push the legs into a tenon (y axis, insertion is in the x) and then compressed into place using the wedge shaped sliding block to compress the joint to eliminate wobble.

Yes the legs and the jointing will be the main focus of my stress analysis, i will also be conducting fatigue simulations so i can get the material thickness for the legs spot on so they last the duration. I will be experimenting with plastic/plywood horizontal laminates (obviously everything i do has a cost/function analysis, for instance the wooden sliding blocks also double as carrying handles, however alternate methods of fixing will be investigated when i fire up the stress analysis).

phew, what an essay, I hope that cleared up a few points guys, once again thanks for the crit, I feel a bit less directionless thinking about this stuff now.

Hi guys, a little update -

I have redesigned my mechanism after taking your (and my tutors advice) to simplify everything. no removable blocks, just a leg which slots into a hole, with a sliding push block going into a recess of the leg. The aesthetic is different, i have evolved my design to be more aesthetically pleasing, Also can i get opinions on what you guys like to the new approach, the scene is rendered in max which i am learning (its quite a learning curve but results can be spectacular). please help guys i would dearly appreciate it

Here is a snapshot

Hard to see anything in your rendering…

Just came across this the other day, thought you might be interested…


the thing I really like about that table when I first saw it is that those legs could be used on pretty much any surface of similar thickness. Opens up many possible shape,color,material options. BYOS (bring your own surface!)

yeah, I really can’t see what’s going on there. you need to show better details. maybe an exploded view?

hi guys, yep sure i had to render out a few more, excuse the leg flushness as i am modeling this in max as the importer from solid works is a bit weird, so here we go!

i am working on an assembly shot of everything disassembled for manufacture, hopefully that will make it more clear. also i need to sort out the grain so its flowing in one direction, then highlight the seams where the laminate joins the ply, but i will do one headache at a time :slight_smile:

That table is quite sick, i like the ability to chuck it onto any surface you have laying about from doors to big sheets of ply, very cool. I talked to a few lecturers in-between posts about how i can make my table more likable, as the previous shape was pretty strict and formal. seeing my target market includes students and first time buyers i felt i could stand out from the bland chipboard squares which everyone is doing.

i design flat-pack furniture now. i have done contract, residential casegoods, and other forms of manufacture.

the key to flat pack is cube. the size of the box. however, there is a trend emerging…

you identified unique problems, but i’m not certain you are addressing them.

that table posted by RK illustrates something that really has some teeth for this market: no-tools assembly. i’m not talking about customized cam systems or threaded parts your can twist together, no it has to be better than that.

it’s all about horse-sense, really. reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary, just clever application. those tie-downs on that table illustrate that. use something, as it was designed, to create something unexpected and make it beautiful.