Whether you want an easel to hold a canvas while you paint, or you need to display paintings and other graphic projects on a sturdy easel, you can build your own custom easel with the use of a few ordinary tools. This project is especially useful if you need many easels for an art show or other event and cannot afford to purchase ready-made easels in large quantities.
Acquire four 8-foot lengths of 1-by-2 lumber that are very straight. Avoid pieces that show proclivity toward bending into a "hockey stick" shape. Avoid pieces that have many knots and gouges. Set one length aside for a moment.
Cut three pieces to the same length, 66 inches each. This will form a standard floor easel.
Gather the three sticks of wood together in a sandwich. Use a C-clamp to clamp the three pieces of wood together at one end of the sandwich, approximately 3 inches from the end of the sandwich.
Drill a 1/2-inch diameter hole through all three pieces of wood. Position this hole 1 1/2 inches down from the end of the wood and yet above the C-clamp. Drill the hole through the wider 2-inch face of the wood.
Insert a 1/2-inch diameter stove bolt, one that is 2 inches long, through the holes. Add a washer to the protruding end of the bolt. Screw a 1/2-inch wing nut on the end of the bolt. Do not overtighten this nut. The centre "leg" of wood that is sandwiched between the two outer "legs" of wood should be able to swing back and away from the outer legs to form a tripod. Space the middle leg back and tighten the bolt so the tripod stands on its own. The middle leg should be about 32 to 36 inches away from the two front legs for stability.
Determine where you want to place your cross member, a piece of wood that a picture or canvas can rest on. Lay a 48-inch carpenter's level across the face of the front legs, horizontal to the floor, to find this location. The level should be at about waist height. The level will form the cross of an "A." When the bubble indicates "level," and the vertical location of the cross member meets your approval, place a mark at the corresponding spot on each of the front legs.
Measure the distance between these two location marks on the cross members. Add 8 inches to this measurement. Cut another piece of 1x2 lumber to this length to form the cross member.
Turn the cross member, narrow side facing you. Measure in from both ends 4 inches. Use a drill to make a pilot hole all the way through the wood at both ends. You should be drilling through the narrow side of the wood, not the wider face of the wood.
Align one of the pilot holes with the cross member mark on the front leg of the easel. Drive a 2-inch long wood screw through the pilot hole and into the leg. Drive a 2-inch long screw through the other pilot hole on the cross member and into the other leg. The cross member should now be attached to the two legs. The 2-inch width of the cross member should be facing up towards the ceiling so it can provide a ledge for a picture.
Drill a small pilot hole on the back side of the attached cross member, in the centre of the cross member. Twist a small brass cup hook into this pilot hole.
Measure and cut a piece of light chain approximately 30 inches in length. Use wire cutters or bolt cutters to cut the chain. Attach one end of the light chain to the cup hook. Use pliers to bend and close the "hook" so the chain cannot separate from the hook.
Drill a second small pilot hole in the back leg of the easel and twist a cup hook into this hole too. The location of this back hook should be level with the location of the hook on the front cross member.
Pull the chain toward this new back leg hook so it is taut. Hook the chain over the back leg hook. Close the hook with pliers. Trim away any excess chain. This chain will now prevent the three easel legs from separating too far from one another. You can close up the easel to make it portable---by loosening the top wing nut---but when the easel is open it will only open so far because of the chain.
Paint or stain your easel to suit.
Add a second cross member across the front legs if you want a "double decker" display easel. Locate this second cross member about 8 inches above the floor.