Easy DIY easel to display 36 index cards

Woo oho! I just made a (prototype of) a ...um...easel(?) that can display *THIRTY SIX* 3" X 5" index cards on my desk while consuming virtually no space. AND it folds down for storage/transporting into a flat folder not quite 9.5" X 11" X .5" thick. AND it can be kept in a regular 3-hole binder between uses.

Best of all, it took only about a half hour to make, and required only a few office supplies I bet everyone who reads this site has on hand right now. :)

Okay, I'll tell you the worst drawback up front: with the layout I settled on, you do not see the entirety of all the cards at a glance. The easel is a 'three panel' design, each panel roughly 9" X 12". Each panel can hold four rows of three cards in portrait orientation. You see all of the top row of cards, but the rest are staggered below the row above, leaving only about the bottom two inches of each card in view. This works fine for my purposes: I turn the portrait ruled cards 'upside down' and use what is now the wide bottom margin to write the most important information -- a title, the scene number/short tag, the character name, whatever. By flipping up the card above, you can see the whole card.

Obviously all dimensions can be tinkered with: change the dimensions of the panels, use fewer (or more) rows to expose more (or less) of each card, use landscape instead of portrait -- whatever suits your needs. Keeping the final product the right size to insert into the three-ring binders I use for each writing project was the master criterion for me.


3 file folders. (I used straight cut (one full length tab) manila folders because that's what I had on hand.)

36 paper clips. (I used the smaller of the common 'trombone' style. I'm thinking of using the little round ones in the 'final' version, just because I think they'll look nice.)

Other needed supplies: three-hole punch, scissors, a ruler, pencil, rubber cement (possibly glue sticks would work okay), a disposable magazine or piece of cardboard, and something similar to an X-acto knife.


Cutting the Folders to Size:

1. Take one of the file folders (from now on I'll refer to this as 'Folder A') and use the punch on the long tab. (As in, if you clipped this folder into a binder, the opening would be toward the rings and the fold toward the outside edge.) Set this folder aside.

2. The next file folder ('Folder B') needs to be a little narrower than the shorter side of Folder A. Mark a line from the fold toward the open edge a distance 1/8" less that the short wing of Folder A, and cut both flaps of Folder B along that line. Note: Don't cut off the fold! The two sides should stay connected, you cut the free edges. (In my case, the smaller side of Folder A was 8 7/8", so I cut Folder B down to 8 6/8".) Set aside.

3. Folder C you DO want to cut apart. Draw a line parallel to the fold just an eighth inch from it, and cut that line through both flaps. This gets rid of the fold and the part that's otherwise got a bit of permanent curve. Again measure, draw a line, and cut so each half of what used to be Folder C is an eighth inch narrower than Folder B's new width. (In my case, 8 5/8" wide.)

Installing the Paper Clips:

1. Put one of the "C" pages in front of you in portrait orientation. Measure down from the top, and draw four lines across the page at 1/2", 2 1/2", 4 1/2", 6 1/2" from the top.

2. Measure along each line, and make a mark at 1 3/4" in from each side, and a third mark at the center of the line. This gives you 12 marks.

3. Indicate a 1/4" segment along the lines, one centered on each of the marks. (BTW, I just eyeballed this, but be as precise as you need to be to keep yourself happy.)

4. Using the X-acto knife, cut through each marked segment to create a 1/4" slit. Put the cardboard/magazine underneath before you cut, yes?

5. Slide a paper clip into each slit. Working from the side with the pencil marks, push the narrower 'tongue' of the paper clip through the slit until the top of the clip rests against the slit. Set this page aside.

Note: Paper clips aren't symmetrical. What you will see on the 'good' side is a loop with the open-end on either the right or the left. If aesthetics matter to you, slide each paper clip so these openings are all on the same side. Or create a pleasing pattern. Or be a non-conformist and stick them through randomly. It won't affect function. ;)

6. Repeat steps 1-5 with the other piece from Folder C.

7. You will basically repeat steps 1-5 on Folder B, but it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you do your drawing and cutting on the correct side. Pretend to yourself that Folder B is a book, and set it down so that you are looking at the BACK cover. That is, the opening is to your left and the 'spine' (fold) is to your right. Now go ahead -- measure down, draw lines, make the marks, indicate the segments that you will cut. It is ALSO IMPORTANT that you put your cardboard/magazine INSIDE Folder B before you cut your slits. You do not want to cut the slits though the 'front cover' too!


1. Lay Folder A open in front of you, with the three-hole punched tab on your left. (Folder A forms the outside cover of the easel when it's folded up -- you will only glue to its inside surfaces.)

2. Spread the 'back cover' of Folder B with rubber cement. It doesn't have to be a full-page coverage, but be sure to dab on each of the paper clips so they won't shift around as you try to use them later. I also painted a nice stripe around the whole page close to the edge, plus stripes down between the columns of clips and some squiggles in the relatively open area at the bottom.

3. Turn Folder B over (leave it closed shut) and lay it on top of the left side of Folder A. The 'open' edges of Folder B should run along beside the crease in Folder A, but keep it a tiny bit away. This prevents the creases from getting too thick to fold shut easily. The 'spine' of Folder B will be lying parallel with the left outer edge of Folder A, far enough from the punched holes that it won't interfere with them. Press down and rub to make a good bond between the back cover of Folder B and Folder A.

4. Take one of the 'Folder C' pages. Spread the rubber cement on the 'marked' side of this page as in Step 2.

5. This page gets turned over and glued onto the right hand side of Folder A. Align the C page so its edge matches up with the outside edge of Folder A -- this leaves about a 1/4" gap between the other edge of Page C and the crease in Folder A, again helping the easel be easy to fold. Press/rub well.

6. Open out Folder B, creating a three-panel wide stretch.

7. Take the other page from Folder C. Again spread glue on marked side as in Step 2.

8. Turn this page over and glue it onto the left panel of Folder B. Align the C page so its left edge lines up with the far left edge of Folder B. This will leave about 1/8" gap between the edge of page C and the crease of Folder B. (At this point you should be seeing three side by side panels, each with 12 paper clips showing.) Press/rub well.

9. Time to fold the easel. The right page is longer than the left page, so you should always fold the easel up left page first THEN right page. Set the easel aside for a few hours to let the rubber cement to dry well. I put a thin towel on top of the folded easel and then added a couple of heavy books, trying to create pressure on both the areas thick with paper clips and those that weren't.

And that's it.

Whew! It took about three times as long to explain as to do.

Anyway, the way to use this should be obvious. Open the easel not-quite-flat and it will stand up on its bottom edge. Slide your index cards into the paper clips, arrange and rearrange as needed.

When you don't want it in your face (or to hide details of your Great American Novel from prying eyes) simply fold the easel (yes, the cards can stay in it) and tuck the easel away somewhere. Or, as I plan to do, use the punched edge to clip it into your project binder.

Fast, easy and cheap.

It could easily be prettified -- cover the non-paper clip sides with decorative paper, maybe. Monday I will pick up some colored folders and some cute paper clips and turn out a couple more easels. See, I need one for my scene cards, and one to hold my Character bio/description cards. Hmm. Maybe a third to keep track of settings and clues and Red Herrings....

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Sounds great!

Can you post a picture? :-)