How to build your own flexible portable room divider

Written by j.e. myers
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Room dividers are a great way to define space in a large open room. Room dividers that are flexible and portable are doubly useful. You can build your own divider unit to a custom size and height, and finish it to complement the room’s decor

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • String (optional)
  • 1 inch by 2 inch dimensional lumber
  • Circular saw or chop saw
  • Carpenter's square
  • Wood staples
  • Hammer
  • Nail and brad gun (optional)
  • Sheets of drywall, luan, panel or plywood
  • 1 1/4 inch wide by 3 inch brass hinges with matching wood screws
  • Paint or wood stain

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  1. 1

    Determine the overall length you would like the room divider to span when it is fully opened.

  2. 2

    Determine the height of the room divider: most room dividers are 5 to 6 feet in height. Panels that are very tall will have a tendency to be top-heavy and can tip over.

  3. 3

    Design an accordion-folded, or zigzag shaped, room divider so that it fits within the overall length of the space allocated. A 6-foot long space, for example, could be filed with six individual room divider panels that are joined together to form a zigzag pattern of panels in sequence. If imagining this is difficult, use lengths of string laid out on the floor to map the zigzag pattern within the space.

  4. 4

    Experiment with the individual panels so they form angles of no greater than 90 degrees and no less than 30 degrees in respect to each other--and yet still span the length desired. This particular spacing will make the connected panels stand upright, unsupported except by each other in the zigzag pattern. If you space the panels wider apart, at 100 degrees, or more closed, at 25 degrees, they may become unstable and tip over.

  5. 5

    Measure the final width of each panel, as plotted on the floor with the strings, and the number of these panels needed to form your room divider unit.

  6. 6

    Use a circular saw or chop saw to cut 1 inch by 2 inch dimensional lumber to the desired length (height) of a panel, subtracting 3 inches, to form two side rails for an individual panel. Make sure all your wood cuts are square on the ends; use a carpenter's square to draw the cut lines and check the cuts after they are made.

  7. 7

    Use a circular saw or chop saw to cut two lengths of 1 by 2-inch dimensional lumber to the desired width of the panel to form two end rails.

  8. 8

    Use a circular saw or chop saw to cut as many 1 by 2-inch pieces as needed to form inside braces for the panel, planning for one inside brace for every 16 inches of height. Measure the width of one end rail and subtract 3 inches to make these inside braces.

  9. 9

    Lay the two long side rails down on the floor so the 2-inch width of the wood lies flat against the floor. Cap these side rails with the two end rails, one at each end, so that the side rails fit inside the end rails. The end rails should be flat on the floor like the side rails. This will form a rectangular shape. Insert the inside braces inside this rectangle, flat, on 16-inch centres.

  10. 10

    Join all the rails to each other at the joints using wood staples, two or three staples to each joint.

  11. 11

    Cut two sheets of drywall, luan board, wood panelling or plywood to cover both sides of the joined frame.

  12. 12

    Lay one sheet on top of the frame so it lines up cleanly with all the edges of the frame. Use finish nails or brads to attach the sheet to the frame, placing a nail or brad every 4 inches along the length and width of the frame. Flip the panel over and repeat with the other sheet.

  13. 13

    Construct more individual panels as needed to complete your room divider.

  14. 14

    Install three decorative brass hinges, each 1 ¼-inch wide by 3 inches tall, along the left hand edge of the face of the first completed panel. Attach the hinges at three points: six inches down from the top of the panel, six inches up from the bottom of the panel and in the middle of the panel. Use brass wood screws to attach the hinges to the face of the panel, not on the skinny edge. One side of the hinge should be attached to the panel, while the other side should swing free.

  15. 15

    Attach the free side of the hinge to the second panel in the series, in the same three locations: 6 inches down, 6 inches up and centre. This second panel should zag in the opposite direction from the first panel. When you stand and spread the two panels apart they should remain upright on their own.

  16. 16

    Attach a third panel with three more hinges so it zigs in the opposite direction from Panel 2. Attach a fourth panel to Panel 3, zagging in the opposite direction. Test your four panels now: they should zigzag, zigzag and stand up on their own.

  17. 17

    Complete the attachment of any more panels. When spaced correctly, the entire series of attached panels should stand up on their own in a stable manner.

  18. 18

    Finish the panels to suit, either with paint or wood stain.

Tips and warnings

  • If you have more than six panels, consider breaking the unit into two sections: the two sections will be lighter and easier to move.
  • Panels over 6 feet high are not recommended if heavy materials, such as drywall or plywood, are used; if the height of a heavier panel is disproportionate to the width of the panels, this creates a tipping hazard.

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