We Built Our Own Easels, and You Can Too! (Maybe…)

The Problem

Our studio is already full of easels. We have somewhere between 12 and 15 of them depending on whether we're counting the slightly broken ones that we use only in a pinch. That sounds like a lot but it isn't because there's not one of them that I get to call "mine".

My wife Mindy and I have used the Vitruvian space as our own studio since we opened. Whenever one of us needs an easel, we simply grab one from the general population, set it up somewhere in the studio, and use it there until the next class starts, when it gets sent back into circulation for students. This has worked for years and we can't really complain – we get to choose from a whole roomful of easels whenever we want. How many artists get to do that?

And yet, it's not quite working for either of us. Speaking for myself, drawings and paintings unfold gradually over time, and whenever I have to surrender my easel it feels like an interruption. Imagine if a musician had to swap instruments – arbitrarily, over and over – during a recital. It would be weird and disruptive and would diminish the performance. Call me selfish, but I want to have an easel that nobody uses but me – one that stays put, set up just the way I like it, and doesn't get dragged around the room and messed with before every new class session.

Fundamentally, an easel is just a tool. Its only job is to hold your art steady while you work on it. That’s it. Any easel that can do that, and is appropriately adjustable, will do the trick...But the easels that really catch my eye aren’t the ones that merely do the job, but manage to do it with a little style.

But what kind of easel?

Fundamentally, an easel is just a tool. Its only job is to hold your art steady while you work on it. That’s it. Any easel that can do that, and is appropriately adjustable, will do the trick. But I’m also looking to strike a balance between “function” and “form” – in other words, appearances matter just a little bit. The easels that really catch my eye aren’t the ones that merely do the job, but manage to do it with a little style. I know it’s silly, but that’s just how it is for me.

I'm also hard to please, apparently, because although there are dozens of options to choose from out there, I've not quite found "the one" – the easel with such a compelling combination of features and aesthetics that I just have to own it. Nearly all the candidates I've seen, despite their many strengths, make tradeoffs and compromises that inevitably disappoint.

The Options

The easels I've looked at lately seem to fall into 3 categories:

  1. Too cheap
  2. Too complicated
  3. Almost... But not quite.

Note that "too expensive" isn't on the list. I'll pay handsomely for a good easel because in addition to being a tool, it's also a kind of companion that I'll spend many, many hours with – and I'm choosy about the company I keep. In my opinion (and within reason) there's no such thing as too expensive... assuming it's the right easel for me.

So let's take these in order...

Too Cheap

Simple, inexpensive easels have their place and can serve a variety of purposes quite well, so when I say "cheap" I don't mean it disrespectfully. I'm well aware that plenty of artists do beautiful work on very basic, inexpensive easels. But nevertheless, in my experience "budget" easels tend to be lightweight, break easily and become less stable over time. This category includes most A-Frame and T-Frame models I've tried. They're good straight-forward easels for light or occasional use, but I'm looking for something more solid and robustly built.

Too Complicated

I'm a little surprised at how complex some easels have become. I suppose artists use their easels in lots of different ways, and manufacturers do their best to meet those needs with more and more available features. The result is a host of offerings, some of which seem a little over-engineered.

For me, easels in the "too complicated" category feature things like double-masts, cranks and winches of various kinds, electric motors, or the ability to pivot to a horizontal position making a weird kind of table. While there's nothing wrong with any of these features per se (double-masted easels are good for supporting very large canvases, for example), they all come with a surplus of joints, hinges and clamps that are prone to break and don't contribute any functionality I'm actually seeking.

An example of what I mean can be found in the Best Manhattan easel, which features a pivoting “carriage” that can be adjusted independently of the primary easel frame. While I can imagine this design makes the easel more adjustable – and I’m sure some artists love it – I found its dense array of struts and knobs befuddling as I examined one in a store. After 15 minutes of twisting and prodding, I still didn't know why it has to be so convoluted.

A typical "A-Frame" easel. Serviceable and inexpensive, but not the most robust option.
Best Manhattan Easel
The Best Manhattan easel: complicated.
(image from CheapJoes.com)

Almost... But not quite.

The irony here is that the easels we already have at the studio are pretty close to what I want – sturdy H-Frames that have withstood over 12 years of constant abuse. While we've had to replace the hardware a few times (mostly due to stripped threading on the bolts), they're as stable today as when we bought them. They're good, solid workhorses.

Quality H-frame easels are available at a variety of price points, starting at around $300 for something like the Best Classic Dulce – which is very similar to what we have at the studio. If you're willing to step-up in price a bit, $800–$1,000 will get you something with more heft, like the Best Santa Fe easel or the Mabef Master Studio Easel.

At the high end, there's a handful of "Cadillac" models available (or is it Lexus?... Anyone a fan of The Wire?). These tend to be "professional" calibre easels that are even larger, accommodate a huge range of canvas sizes, and may even feature counterweight systems for easy adjustment (more on this later). Among these is the Sienna counterweight easel for $1,300, or the Hughes easel, which starts at $2,199 and tops out at $4,699.

A basic H-Frame easel. Solid and sturdy, but with some limitations.

So why don't I just get one of these? There are two problems: One is the lack of a large shelf for my palette. I ditched using a hand-held wooden palette years ago in favor of glass. I love using a glass palette for lots of reasons, but they do tend to be heavy. Some kind of "taboret" (a french word for a small artist's table) is a must, and ideally I'd like one that's attached to the easel – that's the "shelf" I'm talking about. Such shelves are a feature on most of the easels we already have in the studio, but alas that was a custom option that is no longer available from the manufacturer, so I've got to find an alternative... and so far, what I've turned up isn't quite right.

Our H-Frames at the studio feature an integrated "taboret" shelf that I've grown to like.

The other problem relates to canvas size. Most of the inexpensive H-frame models out there are difficult to use with small canvases while seated. The center mast is designed in such a way that the top support can't be positioned lower than about 4 feet off the floor. If you sit to paint (which I do sometimes) and you're working on a small canvas (which I do often), there's simply too much space between the upper and lower painting supports. This leaves the top of smaller canvases unsecured, and prone to fall forward onto the floor... or onto your palette, which is a huge bummer.

While it's possible to improvise a solution to this problem using clamps or other hardware, why should you have to? Remember, an easel's only job is to hold your art steady while you work. In my opinion, any design that doesn't do that consistently is flawed – even with small canvases while seated. Most high-end easels don't have the same problem, but of course they still lack the taboret shelf.

The top canvas support won't drop low enough to meet the top of small canvases while seated. Not ideal.

I admit it may seem drastic, but after lots of fruitless searching I started to wonder whether building an easel from scratch might be a possibility. The obvious advantage is that I'd be able to have everything I want and nothing I don't. The disadvantage is... well... building a f#@%ing easel.

The Solution

I admit it may seem drastic, but after lots of fruitless searching I started to wonder whether building an easel from scratch might be a possibility. The obvious advantage is that I'd be able to have everything I want and nothing I don't. The disadvantage is... well... building a f#@%ing easel.

Neither my wife nor I is an experienced woodworker (Mindy will back me up on this, trust me.) If I'm going to do something like this, I need a plan – a simple plan that doesn't require exotic skills or expensive tools. My initial Google searching didn't turn up much, until I stumbled upon a website called Artist Easel Plans, which sounded promising. Featured there is the Cadmium H-Frame Easel – a sturdy-looking specimen featuring a counterweight mechanism and an optional taboret/shelf attachment. I couldn't believe my luck. When I showed the site to Mindy, her pupils dilated. She's looking for the same kind of easel as I am and told me that if I'm serious about building it, she's in. That's great because she's good with power tools and I can use the help, although now we're looking at building two easels. Damn it.

An example build of the Cadmium H-Frame easel from ArtistEaselPlans.com

I know what you're thinking: this is going to be difficult. And I half-agree with you. The plans for the Cadmium are, in fact, pretty simple – just as advertised. The problem is that they still require a range of tools and know-how that aren't really in our wheel house. But we had an opportunity recently: we've been undergoing a home renovation that involves some custom woodwork. When our contractor (who also happens to be our cousin Brett) learned of our ambitions, he urged us to get cracking on the easels while his workmen – and all of their tools – are at our house everyday. That way, we can make use of gear that we don't already own, like a table saw, a sliding compound miter saw, and a nail gun. If we run into trouble, "the guys" as we affectionately call them, will be around to help us out.


The Plans

The Cadmium's signature feature is a counterweight system that allows for adjusting the height of the easel with "fingertip ease". To accommodate the mechanism, the easel sports a compound frame – an outer stationary fame which supports most of the weight, and an inner "slider" frame that moves up and down on a tongue-and-groove track. To counterbalance the weight of the slider (which carries with it the center mast, painting supports, the taboret, and your artwork), the plans suggest using barbell plates suspended on a simple rig of ropes and pulleys – as the slider moves up, the weight moves down and vice-versa, much like how an elevator works. The overall effect is that when adjusting the height of the slider, the whole assembly feels lighter than it actually is because the counterweight provides a nice assist.

Our well-worn copy of Bob Perrish's <em>Cadmium</em> H-frame easel plans.
Our well-worn copy of Bob Perrish's Cadmium H-frame easel plans.

This whole business puts the Cadmium dangerously close to the "too complicated" category described above. But I've been "counterweight curious" for a long time, considering options like the Hughes easel and the Sienna counterweight easel, so I was inclined to give the Cadmium a shot despite the complexity. Any remaining reservations I had evaporated when I discovered that Bob Perrish, the man behind Artist Easel Plans, isn't "just" a woodworker (no disrespect to woodworkers intended), but is an accomplished painter in his own right who actually knows what it's like to use an easel every day. I figured it was worth the $35 for the plans to find out more.

I should note here that the plans aren't available in digital format – there's no PDF. If you buy them, you'll have to wait for Bob to mail you a hard-copy. I wasn't in a hurry so I didn't really mind, but I'm just so used to being able to click that "Download Now" link.

The plans arrived a few days later and they were exactly what I was expecting. At 23 pages, they're quite thorough, with plenty of clear diagrams and photos. The build procedure is laid out in sequential steps, each one anticipating the next, and Bob's descriptions make it easy to understand how all the pieces should fit together. He also includes a comprehensive parts list, including Rockler.com part numbers for some of the harder-to-find items.

Be aware, however, that these plans are definitely written for an American audience – if you want to try building one of these in most other parts of the world, be prepared to deal with US measurements and metric conversion.

The Build

With Bob's clear shopping list to guide us, getting all the required materials was easy. We got most of the stuff at Menard's, but Lowe's, Home Depot or any other well-stocked hardware store will do the trick. The only pieces we had to order online were the 5-star knobs and T-bolts, which are "specialty items" and not stocked at the store.

Our first big decision was to choose what kind of wood to use, which is mainly a matter of price, aesthetics and personal preferrence. We decided to go with oak because that's what our existing studio easels are made from, and it performs well under duress. But if you choose to go with hardwood, you should probably plan to use a nail gun. Once we started assembling the easels, it became clear that tapping dozens of finishing nails into solid oak by hand would take forever, and probably require pre-drilling the holes. But the guys had a pneumatic brad nailer lying around that made short work of it, so thank heaven for power tools.

Bob has already done the math with respect to the dimensions of boards to buy, but we improvised a little there. He suggests buying a number of 1x6's and "ripping" them down to the required widths (a "rip cut" is made parallel to the wood grain, so in this case it means feeding the boards length-wise through a table saw). But Menard's offers a range of pre-cut, pre-sanded boards in many of the sizes we needed, which meant less ripping and less chance of cutting off our fingers, which is fine by me. (Thanks for the tip, Brett!)

A word to the wise: consider the quality of your boards carefully before you buy! Look for blemishes like knots, gouges, dents and dings, and be sure to check for warps by holding each board up to your eye length-wise – like you're looking through a telescope. We had to rebuild one of our easel frames because we failed to notice that the wood was warped, preventing the easel's counterweight slider mechanism from working properly. This was one of our bigger rookie mistakes.

Once the boards are cut and the hardware is procured, it's time to get building, and you'll want to make sure you have plenty of space to work. The longest of the boards is well over 6 feet, so it's not something you can do in a closet. Also, some kind of sturdy table will be a real asset so you can clamp the boards down to something while you glue and nail them together. We made heavy use of our kitchen island for this purpose – just take care that you don't damage your furniture.

Some of the easel components prior to staining.
Some of the easel components prior to staining.

The actual build went about as smoothly as we expected, which is to say some of it seemed easy, and some of it not so much. One thing I found consistently surprising, however, was how long it took. We worked on the easels in the evenings after dinner. In the plans, each step seems pretty straight forward – "We can knock that out in a couple of hours." I would think to myself. But each evening, two hours would turn into four, then into six, and we ended up putting in a lot of late nights. I honestly don't know if the slow pace is because of our sheer inexperience, but we found that cutting and assembling wood with care isn't a speedy business. All told, it took us about a month to complete the easels, from our first read of the plans to final assembly. We didn't work on them every day, and that month includes time spent back-tracking to redo steps that we screwed up. But if you plan to build one, you should probably budget the same amount of time, assuming a similar level of experience and that you'll chip away at this in your spare time, like we did.

There are other variables to consider. The taboret shelf is optional, and is also one of the more complicated components of the design. You could choose to omit it and save yourself some time. You could also choose to paint your easel instead of stain it. We opted for stain, but that requires subsequent applications of a clear-coat finish. Three coats of polyurethane looks beautiful, but it does add to the completion time for the project – each coat has to be dry and sanded before the next one is applied. It turns out that wood finishing is a bit of an art form in its own right, so I spent some additional time absorbing YouTube videos on the subject before attempting it myself.

We didn't go off script very often – Bob's plans are very well thought out, so there's little reason not to take his advice. But we did opt for black hardware where possible because we preferred the look of it to standard zinc hinges and carriage bolts. We also purchased some sandbags to use as counterweights. We tried the suggested barbell plates, but the movement of the iron plates seemed likely to dent and scrape the wood. The nylon sandbags are soft-sided, so they're much kinder to the finish.

We made heavy use of our kitchen island as a kind of work table for glueing, clamping and nailing boards together. No, we didn't damage it. Yes, we should have put down something to protect it as a precaution anyway.
Applying stain to the easel components prior to assembly.
My easel frame and a few other components sit drying after a third coat of polyurethane.

The Easels

So what are they like? I'm happy to report that we absolutely love them! First off, these are by far the biggest, and heaviest easels we've ever owned. Bob calls this "an easel for a lifetime" and that's no joke – decades from now, I imagine being able to pass this down to some lucky student. Each one stands 7 feet tall (with casters), and weighs just shy of 80lbs (that's not including the 25–35lbs of counterweight). They're just beasts. This means that they're extremely stable – there is absolutely no wobble or creak anywhere, and you can lean-in on them while working and they just won't budge. That's all great, but you need to be sure that a) you have room for one, and b) that you're strong enough to move it. Some of the weight is due to our decision to use oak – which is dense and heavy – and attaching casters to the bottom will help with mobility, but make no mistake: these are very robust easels.

Second, they look beautiful, which I credit more to the design than our woodworking prowess. The compound frame contributes a satisfying thickness to the easels, and the luster of the stain and the 3 coats of polyurethane makes them look like fine antique furniture. More than one friend has remarked that they look like something you'd find in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and that's not much of an exaggeration. This kind of aesthetic is a mixed blessing, however. On the one hand, I'm happy to own such a beautiful thing and even happier to have made it myself. On the other hand, I need to use this for real work, which means it's likely to get dents and dings and paint all over it. It's tempting to fetishize an easel like this and want to keep it pristine, but that would be counter-productive. I'll say it one last time: an easel is just a tool – like a hammer or a screwdriver – and it's pointless to be precious about it. With an easel like this, however, "letting go" will take some real effort.

Third, and perhaps most appealing, the cost of the easels is extremely reasonable. All told, we spent somewhere around $500 USD on parts and materials for both of them – that includes buying additional wood to fix our mistakes, and re-purchasing hinges and bolts after we changed our minds and decided to go with black hardware. If you're efficient and choose the most inexpensive materials, Bob says you could build one for as little as $150 USD. For an easel of this quality, that's an absurdly low cost – provided you're willing to invest the work.

The Last Word

In the end, I'm really happy we did this. The easels meet our needs perfectly, and we get the satisfaction of having built them on our own (aside from borrowing some tools, we didn't need help from "the guys" after all). It was also a lot of fun. We both enjoyed having an end-of-the-day project to putter on, and while Mindy and I had our disagreements during the build, we're still married and even have some good memories of the experience.

So should you try making one, too? I think you should, with the caveats already mentioned: make sure you have appropriate space, both for the easel itself, and for the build procedure. Woodworking isn't exactly a "low impact" activity – you should expect lots of dust and fumes and the usual risks that come with using power tools. Also, while the plans make the build as easy as possible, it's not exactly easy for novices. Perhaps Bob addresses this subject best in the Q&A section of his website:

QUESTIONHow hard are these projects to build?

ANSWER  -  Some woodworking experience is necessary for sure. Assembly is done with some finish nails, some screws and glue. The wood will have to be cut to size which requires a table saw. A drill and simple hand tools like a hammer, screwdriver, measuring tools are needed. If you are experienced with a table saw, everything is very simple[...] If not, you could ask people you know to cut the wood for you and you could assemble it as well.

So there it is. If you're looking for a beautiful, sturdy new easel, and you have the means to build one, you can order your copy of the plans here. In the meantime, check out our Cadmium builds in the gallery below. Let us know what you think in the comments!

Our Cadmium H-Frame Counterweight Easels:

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  1. for those of us who are not very good with wood, do you build these and is it possible to send it boxed partially put together with a few instructions only. what i mean is where it’s basically put together and delivered in a flat position with minor instructions where the buyer can build it upright in a few steps. thank you.

  2. On July 15th, 2023, my (first) Cadmium H-Frame easel was finished after six weeks of 3 1/2 hour days. Wow!!! I wanted a work of art as I paint in a sun room (9ft ceilings) off the living room overlooking a Delaware bay. I got one and it was awesome!!! I selected Walnut (base, center rail, back braces, top and bottom supports, block inserts, and most of the Taboret) and Birch (frame, slider, filler piece, and Taboret accent pieces) .hardwoods for a two-tone effect which, given the gorgeous natural grain if these woods brought out by the use of OLLIES furniture oil and Bob’s easel design …,it is so beautiful, I can’t take my eyes off it!
    Here is what I did:
    To offset the very high price of the wood, I had wood boards ( 21BF of Walnut and 18BF of Birch) (6″ – 8″ wide, 11/8″thick and 6 – 8′ Long) thick shipped to me mill-direct for about a 30% discount. My local woodworking shop planed one walnut board to 7/8″ for strength (base sideboards and small block inserts) and the rest 3/4″. Taking Bob’s advice, all screws were predrilled, countersunk 3/16″,soaped, covered with a plug made from dowel stock and sanded to match the surrounding surface. No nails were used throughout.
    After making the Base, the Frame and the Slider, I attached the Frame with a 30″ brass piano hinge. The construction of the remainder of the easel went well until I got to the part Bob variously calls “adjusting knobs (p2, 9), adjustable knobs (p17 Four and Five Star knobs (M&T List), p10, 12), 2 star handles and star handles (23). The hardware stores call them clamping knobs and Lowes has a drawful of various types.

    My Taboret is a modification of Bob’s design. I paint generally with the frame tilted 8.5 degrees back. In order to ensure that the table was perfectly level, I attached it with a piano hinge and fashioned two slotted arms, one on each side with a clamping knob to secure the table parallel to the floor. I added two 2” bubble levels, one to the edge of the righthand drawer and another into the lower support board.
    This may give others some ideas about modifications to make their easel their own. Mine were useful and my own. Nobody has a easel like mine!

  3. Well I just love the idea of converting my easel for ease of use (without a massive board) – but this is bit beyond me I’m afraid, unless I can buy myself one “off the self” 🙏

  4. I’d love to try this project. But I don’t have a table saw, nor do I have access to one. I have just about every other tool one would need. so, do can I get by without the table saw?

  5. I would like to an easel. What I see looks like a work of art itself. Is there a list of plans that I am missing, or is it the Cadmium H plan only? Also, can I pay by check and receive plans when the check clears. I am older and am not sure of how to set up a PayPal account. If I had enough walnut or oak which would you recommend?

  6. Hello. I have an ‘H’ easel, no brand name and it’s pretty simple. I’ve owned it for several years and it’s worked just fine for me. A while back however, the top wooden piece that holds the canvas won’t stay put. The black knob is a ‘star’ shaped knob with a machine screw in it. This fits through a threaded hole in the removable wooden piece. The screw is supposed to touch a thin narrow piece of metal that is attached with one tiny screw. When slid onto the grooved center piece of wood of the easel, the piece just slides down. It never did this before and I don’t know how to fix it.
    I’ve looked at it and taken it apart, put it back together but still have the same issue. It won’t tighten. I really need this top piece to hold my canvas in place. Otherwise, the canvas just flops over.
    I’ve searched online for parts and remedies but so far I haven’t found anything. If anyone has any ideas or thoughts on this issue please let me know.

    1. Hi, I’m not sure how many years ago you posted your question, but anyway, the star knob/machine screw pushes against the the metal strip pushing it towards the wood of the canvas support binding it place, so that it won’t move. If it’s slipping, try bending the metal slightly to ensure that there is the most surface area of the metal touching the wood. Also, rough up the mating surfaces of the metal, and the wood for better grip. Hope this helps…

  7. Hi David, I’d love to try this. Your results are gorgeous! Do you find that canvases are low enough to paint on when seated, at the lowest position? From the photos, it still looks a tiny bit high in relation to the chair. I have a Best easel with the same limitations you mentioned for small canvases. I glued a piece of pegboard to a piece of mdf, drilled though a number of the holes and I insert shelf supports to hold the canvases and I added a vertical glass pallet, but it’s a pain to put in place and sometimes the boards or canvases are not exactly right to work with the pegboard holes and I left it leaning against the wall with a heater so now it’s warped. 🙁 I’d much prefer to build a new easel that will accommodate my needs. I also hate the shadow cast by the top locking piece on my easel. do you have that issue with your new one? Thanks for this great and inspiring post.

  8. If it is 7ft. tall then it probably isn’t worth building for a standard height ceiling, because you would only have about a foot or so of counterweighted movement or the easel, right? Did you ever consider posting a youtube video of the easel in action? I assume it is pretty similar to the Richeson counterweighted easel or similar builds. Thanks for the great post! 🙂

  9. I just ordered the easel plan and am looking forward to building it. Maybe. If not, I will resort to engaging a rent-a-son, at least for the wood cuts. I remembered seeing an article about your easel building odyssey in Plein Air Magazine, clicked on your blog, and enjoyed it very much. It’s very informative. After spending time this morning banging away on my current easel with a mallet to get the darned upper holder to move, I decided I’d had enough.

  10. Hi David, I just purchased the plans and plan to build this for my wife as a birthday/xmas gift.(her request)!! Have read all your posts and saw several that asked for an estimate on the cost and did not see a response to the question. I realize it depends on the type of wood and hardware that you use, but can you tell me what yours ended up costing? The type of wood you and you & your wife used? A ball park figure would be extremely helpfull!!

  11. I have just inherited a Barclay Easel. However, it has come to me without a crank. I am wondering if you have an outlet for easel hardware that could supply me with the missing hardware.

    1. Sheila, I’m not aware of any resource like that. Most of the hardware on these easels is stuff commonly available at hardware stores. You might try specialty woodworking suppliers like rocker.com, but I have no idea if they could help. Sorry I don’t have any more information to give you.

  12. Hi David,
    Im a small girl who lives in an apartment. Will never Attempt this.
    Help. Maybe someone could start a small business (like you). Lol and sell them! Any chance of buying one?
    I know you have answered several times but maybe it will get you started..

    1. Lol. Sorry, Terri, but I don’t think we’d do very well in the easel manufacturing business. It’s amazing my wife and I managed to build two of these things without getting divorced!

  13. Dear David,
    I would like to purchase your plans for the studio easel. I live in the UK so are you happy to send plans here and if so, how much will it cost?
    John Simmons

  14. These easels that you two have made are beautiful. I was looking for an easel and nice ones are priced way out of my price range. You have convinced me to make my own I have purchased the plans from Bob Perrish’s site and can’t wait to get started on my own easel, I hope that it turns out as nice as yours did. Thank you for posting your story and sharing.

  15. David,
    Very nice easel you have built! I am interesting in giving it a try as well. One question I’m unclear of. Is the front palette table included in the plans you got from Bob Perrish for $35? On Bob’s website, it states, “This front section taboret and workspace is an option to build and add onto the easel.” Not clear what that means? Do you have to pay more for this “option”? If so, it is not clear how.


      1. David,
        Thanks so much for the info on this easel. I ordered the plans from Bob and they came in the mail in just a couple of days! I plan to take my time with it and work on building it over the spring (and maybe into summer!). Nice tip about using black hardware by the way, I will do that as well.

        A couple of questions for you:
        1) I also like the idea and look of your sandbag counterweight. Can you tell us where you purchased them and what you actually put in them as the weight? (sand? other weights?).

        2) Also, after assembled, will it fit through a standard-sized door? My plan was to build it in my “workshop” in my garage and then transport it to my “studio” in my basement. Would you recommend doing the assembly in the actual studio instead?


        1. Chris, it’s a while ago now and my memory is a little hazy, but I believe we purchased the sandbags from – no joke – “The Sandbag Store”. Here’s a link to the product we ordered: https://www.sandbagstore.com/handled-shot-bags.html

          I don’t recall the exact weights we purchased, but they were roughly equivalent to the weighted plates Bob suggests in the plans.

          With respect to fitting through a door, I suppose it depends on the door. The easel base is collapsible and the whole thing will fold roughly flat, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble moving it length-wise through a standard doorway, assuming it doesn’t have to go around any tight corners. Also, the easel base is attached to the main frame with a pair of hinges, so, if necessary, you could always separate the base from the frame by just removing the pins, and then reattach them once you’ve got everything in place.

  16. David: I really like the easel that you built. Question, I have been
    trying to find Bob Perish’s address so I can order the plans to build
    myself an easel. Where can I find his address so I can contact him.
    Any help would be appreciated. Charlie Stewart

  17. What is the skill level requirement to build easel? I’m very handy, have power saws, drill press, sanders etc. but have never built any furniture (easel) in part experience. What is approx. cost of material? What is approx assembly time? Thanking you in advance for your answers.

    1. That’s odd, Jose. I just visited the site and it’s working fine for me. I don’t have his email address, but I believe Bob Perrish is on Facebook. Perhaps you could find him there.

  18. Hi David,
    I’m loving the easels man, really keen to give this a go myself. However, my space is limited… Any chance you could tell me what the base depth is, it would be really useful to know before buying the plans.

  19. I have wanted to build my owl easel for years so when I found your post, I immediately purchased the plans. Someone above asked about small plastic/rubber standoffs on the wood plates that will hold the canvas. Is that part of the plans as well?

  20. This is such a beautiful site and description of this process! I have had each of the problems you describe with easels (including the Manhattan, who is currently sitting in my garage thinking about what it did to my fingers and my painting), particularly the inability to use small panels in that annoying dead space illustrated in your photo above. I have also been frustrated with the height restrictions and find I often have to paint sitting down if I need to access the bottom portion of a painting. I am curious whether your easel addresses this last issue, and I would really love to see you adjust it with the counter-weight system. I wonder if you might consider posting a video that shows you adjusting it to both height extremes with a canvas (lowest position and highest position)? And perhaps raising/lowering a canvas with the counterweight? I am unsure what parts need to be unscrewed, loosened, etc. or if it’s as smooth as say, the Hughes. And if you can move a canvas around without it falling if you paint with the easel tilted slightly forward, as I do. I have had three paintings face-plant from my current Santa Fe easel because of this, literally jumping off the ledge when the crank settled (since the easel is tilted forward a hair for glare). Obviously you two have had similar experiences with design flaws and I am all about building one of these if it would solve my remaining issues (but don’t want to invest a month only to find out I can only raise it to the same height as my current one, etc)! Would love to see it. 🙂

    Thank you so much for all your beautiful work and for sharing your experience with us!

  21. Would you consider sharing the materials list? I’m having a carpenter friend scope out the cost of materials and time to build before we move forward with building the easel.


    1. Chris, I’m glad you’re interested, but I’m not going to share the materials list here. The build plans (and all their content) belong to Bob Perrish, and selling them is part of his livelihood. The best way to learn more about the procedure is to purchase the plans directly from him.

  22. A simple crank easel is what I now require – no tilt, no horizontal, no bells and whistles, and no plastic twist knobs, plastic castors, or yellowy beach wood (reminding me of Windows XP folders). A modern crank is over £400. If I’m going to spend that amount I may as well double it, or even triple it, and purchase an antique crank that has the elegance and simplicity I want. As you say, something that catches the eye and has a certain style.

  23. I’ve been a wood worker for 30 plus years , and while I’m not saying you can’t build this easel using these plans, not much about them makes it easy. I guess I’m used to quality plans that I have used from Woodsmith, American woodwork and the like. These plans left me scratching my head a lot.

    1. I really have to agree. I built this easel using the plans and I did a bit of the same head scratching. I have been a woodworker professionally and there were several times where I thought this could be hard for a beginner. I do have to say that the easel came out awesome and it works beautifully. Just a few thoughts. I would build the exterior frame then construct the slider frame by laying it out inside the base frame then clamp and screw. I find relying completely on the plan measurements and cutting all pieces in advance can provide room for error. Cutting the slot in the top for the bar stock that the slider moves on. Sounds simple and in the plans its just stated cut the slot using a hand saw. Problem here is most hand saws will not cut a slot wide enough to fit the stock. I ended up attaching sticky sand paper to my saw after cutting the slot and widening the cut. There are many ways to make this cut such as using a band saw etc. The point is think about this cut early on in the process.

      In the end it is a beautiful easel and I am very happy with the final product. It just might be difficult for a beginner.


  24. It looks like you added small rubber or plastic standoffs to the top and bottom supports so that the canvas does not directly touch the wood supports when it is held in place. What are they and where did you find them?

  25. Hi its great to see that people are building there own. Where did you get the hardware for the adjusting of the bottom slide piece and top ? The black knobs that make it easy to loosen to adjust then tighten? I have searched but can not find . Ive tried my cabinet shop where i buy drawer slides and pulls. they don’t have them.

    Thanks Philip

  26. Does Bob’s plans for the Cadmium H-Frame counterweight easel also include the plans for the taboret shelf or do you have to order them separately from Bob’s web site? Also, my studio ceiling height is only 7′ – 4″ so I am thinking I would have to make the easel about a foot shorter than the plan calls for. Do you see any issue with doing this?

    1. Hi Steven,

      The plans do contain instructions for building the shelf – it’s not a separate purchase. Regarding the easel height, I bet you could find a way to build it shorter, but I’m not sure what the best approach would be. Since I’m in no way a qualified woodworker I don’t want to hazard a guess here. My advice would be to ask Bob directly. I think he’s pretty responsive to questions about the plans on his website.

  27. David:
    I have a very good friend who is a professional artist, 67 years old, who paints in the style of a Jackson Pollack. It would be really nice to build him a solid and manageable easel that can handle large canvases. He sometimes does works that encompass two or more canvases to avoid dealing with one large one. If I built him Bob’s easel and purchased two light adjustable saw horses as outriggers, would that transport him to artist Nirvana? LOL


  28. On the pictures of your cadmium H-frame easel, pictures 4 and 5, you show two metal pieces on the top clamp mechanism, one on each size of the main mast. Can you tell me what you used and where you located them? I build my own easels and am looking for these pieces, but I don’t know their name or where to buy them. Thanks

  29. I would highly appreciate if you could just give me the dimensions of this amazing easel you have build.

  30. David,
    If you are in need of a custom designed shelf for your Easels, draw up a rough plan and e-mail it to me. I can make just about anything you want. I have a complete woodworking shop – table saw, jointer, planer, bandsaw, router table, drill press and many hand tools. I would be willing to make you a prototype at cost and we can work on it until you are satisfied with the final product. So get out your pencil and paper and start drawing.


  31. Thanks for an amazing site. I’m a technical illustrator and only get to do my own work when clients are not chasing me.
    Carry on the great instructions. I’ve learnt a lot from it.



  32. David, is there some particular reason why the carriage of this easel doesn’t go lower? About a year ago I had a commission for a life sized standing portrait. I had to take it off the carriage and rest the bottom of the canvas on the foot of my entry level mabef easel in order to be able to work on the top. Regardless, your easels are beautiful. I have the plans for the Cadmium. I guess I would ask you if you think the parts could be adapted to be able to lower the carriage to say ankle level?

    1. Hi Ross,

      Yes, there is a reason. In it’s lowest position, the bottom of the slider frame sits about 10″-12″ off the floor. The taboret assembly is then bolted to the slider at a height of your choosing. The height I chose puts the taboret about 26″ off the floor – high enough for me to get my knees under it while seated, even when the slider is all the way down. This makes sense for me because I don’t do large paintings, and this is the position I anticipate using the easel most often. With the slider all the way down, it also eliminates the need for counterweights, making the whole easel a little lighter.

      If you want the easel to accommodate larger canvases, however, you could just choose to attach the taboret at the very bottom of the slider frame. In fact, I could choose to do the same in the future – it would just require drilling some additional holes in the slider in the desired positions. I considered doing this by default, so the taboret could be more adjustable, but decided to wait and see if that’s something I really need.

      I’m not sure if it will go quite to “ankle level”, but it will definitely go a lot lower.

      Hope that helps.

    1. I’m afraid not, Beatriz. This isn’t our design to sell. Even if it was, we don’t have the means to produce enough of a product like this to sell the easels ourselves.

  33. hi David, thanks for the wonderful post. Can all the mechanisms – other than the wood panel – be ordered online, if need be?

    1. I doubt it, Betty. This is a custom easel with its own unique dimensions – components from other easels likely wouldn’t fit. You might be able to recycle things like knobs and bolts, but then these items aren’t expensive, so you might as well get new ones.

  34. Amazing. They reflect the passion of your work. Plus, a few modifications and you could probably work one into a guillotine. Oklahoma might buy it.