What is a Field Desk?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Field desks are portable desks that are utilized in encampments situated near a field of battle. The concept of the field desk has been around for centuries, with versions of this type of equipment appearing as early as the 18th century. The desk is still in use today, although the choice of materials is very different from times past.

Older versions of the field desk, such as those used in the 19th century in the United States, were usually made of sturdy sections of wood and brass fittings. While some of the desks were solid pieces that were much like those found in many homes and offices of the day, they were smaller in scale. This made it easier to transport them to the encampment, and also to remove them when the camp was abandoned and the army moved on.

Some of the earlier field desk designs looked much like a suitcase mounted on legs. Models of this type feature legs that would collapse and fold, and a body that included a case to house documents and writing materials. The lid of the device served as the desk surface. This type of field desk was easily the most lightweight and portable of all designs.


By the 20th century, the portable field desk was taking on a new look. Some were made with collapsible bodies that could be unfolded to create a functional writing desk. These same desks could also serve as a small conference table. Fittings were included to help provide stability while the desk was in use. Lightweight metals began to replace some of the wood components, which made the war field desk even easier to transport from one site to the next.

Antique field desks are considered collector’s items in some quarters. The desks find their way into homes and are used as hall tables or end tables in an eclectic living room design. Since many of the older desks were constructed using sturdy materials, they are fully functional and are ideal for use as a writing desktop on a patio or under a tree.

Even today, the military field desk continues to be an important piece of equipment. The desks of today are usually constructed with lightweight aluminum, and easily fold up for easy transport at a moment’s notice. This basic design also makes for quick set up, since the portable field desk of today is more or less a simple cube that contains drawers in the body and a lid that swings away to create a desktop suitable for writing or supporting lightweight computer equipment.


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