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I find using my laptop on my actual lap to be very uncomfortable. For one, it gets really hot. For two, if I have anything plugged in to the ports on the side, I can’t sit cross-legged for fear of bending the port or unplugging my external hard drive in the middle of an upload or video export. I find putting a pillow between my lap and the computer to alleviate some of the problems, but it’s really not stiff enough to prevent wobbles. I’ve also been thinking it’d be nice to have a mousing surface while laptopping; the trackpad aggravates my carpal tunnel. I came up with this design for a laptop desk using a piece of stiff material (MDF, plywood, or even a few stiff layers of cardboard would work), some upholstery foam, and a fabric cover. Now I can use my laptop more easily while traveling away from my desk to motels, friends’ houses, or even just my couch. Read on to see the plans for making your own.

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Materials and tools:

  • stiff material (MDF, plywood, or several layers of cardboard), cut to desired size
  • upholstery foam sized to match stiff material
  • fabric for cover
  • spray adhesive
  • scissors
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • iron
  • needle and thread

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Create a sandwich from your stiff material and foam. Use your spray adhesive to stick them together. Size up your fabric by placing it face up on the table with the foam/wood sandwich on top. Wrap the fabric around the sandwich and pin. Mark the pin line on both sides and remove the fabric.

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Line up and sew this line on your machine or by hand. Trim the excess seam allowance.

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Turn the cover right side out and put it over your foam sandwich. Place the seam at the back (so it won’t hit your legs or the computer). I then lifted the fabric away from the desk top surface and sprayed more adhesive between the MDF and fabric to create a smooth flat top that won’t shift or bunch while I’m using my mouse, but this step is optional. Fold the ends like you’re wrapping a gift, and press.

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Hand sew the ends shut and enjoy your laptop in a new found comfortable position! If I had this to do over, I might angle the foam piece so that it forms more of a wedge than a rectangle, which would angle the computer’s keyboard towards me. Create whatever shape you like!

Becky Stern

Becky Stern is head of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. Her personal site: sternlab.org


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    This seems to be a huge waste of space, in addition to the fact that it uses heavy materials and has no handles. You guys just did a piece about a laptop case from a hard old suitcase; why not use that and double up rather than make a bulky, one-use item?

  2. Becky Stern says:

    @Anonymous I’m using it right now, and it’s totally great! You can make it with other toppers, even multiple layers of cardboard, which would make it lighter. The upholstery foam’s not heavy at all. I used what I had around. You could certainly use the hard suitcase for the same purpose, drop us a line when you’ve made yours! I did make the modification I mentioned above about using a wedge of foam instead of a rectangle. It slopes towards me now and is very comfortable. The mousing surface really makes a big difference in my laptop-only workflow. I guess your mileage may vary, and if you don’t want to make one, stay positive and move on.

  3. mimi kirchner says:

    I also have a problem with a too hot laptop. I don’t use a mouse, but I always seem to have a coffee cup that needs a resting place. I have 2 boards I use for lapdesks. One is a scrap of 3/4″ thick corrugated cardboard and the other is a piece of 3/4 inch foam core. I got both out of the trash- I think they were too dirty to sell? I cut them to a nice lap size and though they are not pretty, they are very functional. When the days are very hot and I don’t want any extra heat on my lap, I pile them. I have been using the same pieces for 2 years now. The foam core is beginning to fall apart.

  4. bianca says:

    i use an old skateboard as a laptop desk. I discovered it when i was at a skate park with my boys. It works quite well as the wheels fit on either side of my legs. The non skid deck held the laptop in place. It just needed a layer of fabric over it to use for the mouse. I found a babies rash vest works well and keeps in with the skater motif.

  5. becky says:

    I’m going to try this and use a wedge shape foam and something lighter than plywood. I think I will cover it with a plain dark fabric so that the pattern does not mess with the mouse working properly.