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How to Build a Portable

Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Overview:

If you haven’t helped assemble a portable throne like this one before, skip to the
photos near the end of this document for “plans” as there are no drawings
included here yet. I aspire to update this in the future with more diagrams and
better photos of attaching the brocades. For now this is a verbal and
photographic essay. The labels on the photos will help acquaint you with the
terms I’m using for the various pieces.

Plywood: For the teaching throne we built for Dzogchen Khenpo Choga
Rinpoche’s San Francisco Bay Area teaching events and retreats, I purchased
furniture-grade 3/4” oak plywood throughout except for two pieces that are not
visible from the public (the shelf and the back riser), where we substituted 3/4”
MDF. A lower priced 3/4” plywood made of pine or fir is an option to consider if
your materials budget is tight and you plan on painting it. Make sure it is
finished on one side and face that side out.

Major Sections: The teaching throne is comprised of two major sections that
are not physically attached, but which slide together so that the shelf in the altar
rests on a projecting lip of the seat top. I’ll refer to these two sections as the altar
and the seat in this document. The overlap of the altar’s hinged shelf over the
seat top of the seat prevents a gap where anything stored on the shelf could fall
down inside the area below the shelf. It also makes the shelf additionally strong.

Terms: The seat top rests squarely on all four of the risers, and is held in place
only by friction and gravity, with blocks attached to it’s bottom keeping the risers
square with the seat top when it is moved. The vertical seat back sits on top of
the horizontal seat top, and is attached to the riser with two 4’ tall 2x4s which
each have four 5/16” or 3/8” holes that align to holes of the same diameter
drilled in the back riser and the seat back where 1/4” diameter carriage bolts
pass through. We recommend clamping the pieces together when drilling the
holes so that the alignment is good for assembly. Mark the pieces so that
assembly is easy, but place the marks on sides that are out of sight of the public.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
Assembled Dimensions: The assembled altar is 18” deep, 29-3/4” tall, 33-7/8”
wide. The assembled seat is 18-3/4” tall (without cushion), 32” wide, 32-3/4”
deep (riser box only, not counting lip on the seat top or the seat braces). The
lip of the seat top juts out 1” in the front. The assembled height of the seat back
resting on the seat top and riser is 51-1/4” tall. I actually decided on the size of
the seat based on a throne cushion that I bought from a Tibetan store.

Cutting Advice: Most pieces were cut at Home Depot on their panel saw by
one of their employees. Before I went to Home Depot, I drew out the cuts on a
sheet of graph paper like a puzzle to minimize waste, including numbering the
sequence of the cuts for each sheet, with all the measurements. Unfortunately
I’ve misplaced all my original drawings and plans or I’d share those as part of
this document. It’s challenging for Home Depot to be highly accurate in their
cutting, and they encouraged me to go to a wood shop, frowning at my large
number of cuts I needed. An option is to have Home Depot do the basic cuts to
get the 4’x8’ sheets of plywood more manageable, and then do the final cuts
with a hand circular saw at home where you have a little more control. All the
dimensions given below are the finished dimensions. For certain
measurements there ended up being quite a bit of play from what I had
originally planned.

Materials and Tools:

Wood Components:

1 – 3/4” plywood altar front, 33-7/8” wide by 29-3/4” tall

2 – 3/4” plywood altar sides, 17-1/4” deep by 29-3/4” tall

2 – 3/4” plywood altar top & bottom, 17-1/4” deep by 32-3/8” wide

2 – 3/4” plywood seat side risers, 18” tall by 32-5/8” deep

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
2 – 3/4” plywood seat front & back risers, 18” tall by 30-3/8” wide

1 – 3/4” plywood seat top, 32” wide by 33-5/8” deep

4 – molding strips, attached to underside of seat top,

1 – 3/4” plywood seat back, 32” wide by 32-1/2” tall

2 – seat studs (for attaching seat back to back riser), each one is 2” x 4” x 48”
(these two pieces should come from a very straight knotless, kiln-dried 2”x4”)

Metal Components:

1 – box of finishing nails or deck screws 1-1/2” length (we used nails, but
screws are stronger)

2 – shelf brackets

1 – piano hinge for shelf. 24" minimum. 30" maximum.

2 – piano hinges for risers (12” minimum. 18” maximum, but this length may
scratch wood floors)

4 – carriage bolts, 1/4” diameter by 3” length

4 – washers for carriage bolts, 1/4”

4 – wing nuts for carriage bolts, 1/4”

4 – interior door hinges (comes with removable pins & screws)

8 – safety pins to attach the kata to the seat back brocade

8 – pushpins to attach the brocades to the plywood

4 – corner brackets for inside the altar to add strength

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
8 – screws for the corner brackets

Note: it is good to buy some extras of any removable metal components, in


case some get lost in transit.

Finishing Materials:

1 – bottle of wood glue to glue all nailed or screwed joints

1 – pint of stain, we chose the reddest stain, which was labeled “maple.” I’ve
seen other thrones painted white and red. Designs can be painted on instead of
using brocades.

1 – pint or quart of clear sealant such as Deft or Tung Oil

Note: drying time is about 48 hours after final coat to reduce fumes and
stickiness.

Tools Required:

1 – small finishing hammer

1 – sanding block and paper to round edges and corners prior to finishing

1 – 5/16” or 3/8” drill bit for carriage bolt holes

1 – 1/16” drill bit for door hinge pilot holes

1 – drill bit to match shelf bracket pin (see packaging)

1 – electric drill

1 – circular saw

1 – square

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
1 – 3’ straight edge

1 – tape measure

1 – Black permanent marker

2 – clamps

1 – brush to apply finish

1 – rag to clean glue and finishing drips

1 – drop cloth to use during finishing

1 – nail set (to push heads of finishing nails below surface)

1 – inexpensive plastic tool box to carry all of the pieces and disassembly tools

1 – pin punch (or angled needle nose pliers) to remove the hinge pins

Note: you’ll have to always carry tools to remove the pins from the door hinges
when breaking down the throne. Bent needle nose pliers or a small hammer
with a pin punch will do the trick. We bought an inexpensive plastic toolbox to
store these tools as well as the removable components from the throne. We also
keep all of the flat tacks and pushpins in this toolbox for attaching the brocades.
The toolbox can be stored under the altar or seat if the throne is set up for a long
time in one location.

Brocade list:

Front Altar Brocade: various types are available for different purposes, we
opted to use the “empowerment” embroidered double dorje style, since we
wanted to shy away from the "teaching" style brocade which typically
incorporates several swastikas into the design. The swastika symbol, although
widely used in Tibetan Buddhism, has developed such negative connotations in

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
the West due to it’s appropriation by the Nazis, that we felt it is better not to use it
so prominently when teaching to new students who may not be aware of the
original significance. The front brocade is pinned to the inside of the shelf area
using push-pins. If you don’t have a Tibetan store near you, a very good source
for buying these brocades and other Tibetan Buddhist ritual objects is Potala
Gate, based in Eugene, Oregon website www.potalagate.com and phone 800-
992-4611. The owners are Lama Jigme & Kyizom. Please tell them I sent you.

Quilted Seat Back Brocade: a standard Himalayan 35" x 35" geometric square
quilt that is pinned to the top back of the seat back using push pins.

Kata Edging: a long white silk greeting scarf that is pinned neatly around the
edge of the seat back using safety pins and flat silver or gold thumbtacks.

Quilted Seat: we purchased a seat specifically made for a throne from the
Tibetan Gift House in Berkeley, California. It has a 32" x 32" geometric quilted
top, red cotton sides and bottom, enclosing a 3" block of polyurethane foam.

Pillows: We supplement the padded seat with a couple pillows and a back
support. Rinpoche adjusts these to meet his needs for a comfortable seat.

Side Altar Brocades: These are optional. We have used ones that

incorporated the eight auspicious symbols or Tibetan lettering of Om Mani

Padme Hung.

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How to Build a Portable
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Photos:

These are photos of the completed throne in various stages of assembly.

Above: The two riser segments, ready to be assembled. Each segment is made of a side
piece and a front or back piece.

Note: when you are carrying the disassembled halves of the riser, be sure to carry them hinge
side up, because if carry one hinge side down, and while doing this lose control of the
outside section, it can flop forward and possibly break the piano hinge.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: The two pieces of each riser segment are joined permanently by piano hinges. If you
use 18” piano hinges, one risks scratching floors wherever it is assembled, so you may want
to use 12” or 14” hinges, or trim an inch off an 18” hinge.

Above: This shows the joining mechanism, standard door hinges, just before pins are
inserted. The pins are inserted by hand. You may want to sharpen the tip of the pins a bit
with a file so that they slide in more easily. You can use a hammer, but there’s no need tap
them down all the way since that does not add much strength and makes it harder to remove
them. Carry a pair of bent needle nose pliers OR a finishing hammer paired with a pin punch
(see Tools photo) to remove the pins after the event. In transport and storage, it is a good

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne
idea to always stand these with the hinges near the ceiling so that a segment does not flop
open and break a piano hinge if you only pick up one side.

Above: Bottom of inside of altar with shelf in transport position (shelf can be seen in upper
left corner) and showing one of the four angle brackets added for strength inside the altar.

Above: Altar shelf in raised position. Note removable shelf bracket holding it up, and the
piano hinge that permanently attaches the shelf to the altar. One of the other four angle
brackets added for strength can be seen inside the altar in the upper right.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Underside of seat top, showing four pieces of molding, which create the friction fit to
the risers.

Above: Door hinge pins in place. Riser is assembled, ready to set seat top on risers. Attach
the seat studs to the back riser before setting the seat top on the risers.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Seat top extends out 1” providing a lip for the altar shelf to set on.

Above: Hidden side of seat back showing markings to attach seat studs using carriage
bolts.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Assembled seat back. Carriage bolts attached with washers and wingnuts.

Above: Seat detail from side. Note that seat back rests lightly on seat top, and not directly
on back riser. The seat top can actually be removed when the seat back is in place. When
we drilled the holes through the seat back and seat studs we shimmed up the seat back by
about 1/16” so that the fitting would not be too tight. When we drilled the holes for the
carriage bolts, we used a drill bit that was a little larger (5/16”) so that the bolts slide in and
out of place for ease of assembly and breakdown.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Sliding the altar and seat together. Note how the lip of the seat fits under the shelf in
the altar to prevent a gap where any of Rinpoche’s items could fall down and get lost, a
common problem with some other throne designs.

Above: The altar and seat in final position. Only the seat top lip extends inside the altar.
There’s ample hidden storage for a minidisc recorder, box of tissues, spare water bottles, a
small trash container for used tissues, pechas, drum or whatever Rinpoche wants to keep in
there while teaching. The altar and seat sections are not physically attached, but stay
together due to their weight and the friction on the floor. The bottom of each section is just
unfinished plywood, so there is a lot of resistance to any sliding around except on a very
slippery floor.

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How to Build a Portable
Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Assembled appearance, prior to Above: Assembled appearance, fully decorated


brocades being pinned on. with brocades and implements at the Dzogchen
Spring Retreat 2006.

Above: Assembled appearance, fully decorated at the Dzogchen Spring Retreat 2006. Note the custom
3” thick square cushion that covers the entire seat, and a custom wedge cushion to support Rinpoche’s
back if he wants to lean back. There are also two other smaller cushions he can use to sit on, if he
chooses.

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Tibetan Buddhist Teaching Throne

Above: Some of the main metal components. Clockwise from top: door hinge pins, pushpins,
finishing nails, washers, wingnuts, carriage bolts, shelf brackets.

Above: Some of the tools. Top to bottom: marker, pin punch, bent needle nose pliers,
finishing hammer.

Respectfully Submitted,

Bhadra Hazlitt Krog


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