Introduction: Customized Laptop Tray

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Laptops are designed to be portable and used in a variety of locations. Whether you're lounging with it outside or just surfing the web from your couch, having the option to take your laptop virtually anywhere is great! But having a laptop sit on your legs can be uncomfortable and recent studies are suggesting adverse long term effects from such use.

While there are numerous types and styles of laptop trays available for purchase, making your own is less expensive, relatively easy and allows you to completely customize it! 

Step 1: Sizing & Materials

Picture of Sizing & Materials

First, decide what size and shape you want your tray to be. It can be oval, rectangular, curved or any shape you'd like. If you decide to use a square or a rectangle, use a carpenter's square for accuracy and measure diagonally to check how square it actually is. 

I wanted to make a laptop tray that was big enough to support large laptops and I decided to use a simple rectangular shape. The measurements for my tray came out to 19 inches wide by 15 inches deep.

Second, decide what material you will use for the tray. Plywood is a great choice for its workability, strength vs. weight and its beauty. However, there are a lot of other materials that would make a very unique laptop tray. You could consider using plastics or something similar to plexi-glass.

Step 2: Tray Surface Preparation

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I used 1/2 inch plywood for my laptop tray and had to sand it quite a bit to get it smooth. I used a belt sander to sand both sides down. Then I sanded the edges and rounded the corners off. Using a router to round the edges is a great idea and would give your tray a more professional look.

Step 3: Tray Surface Design & Application

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This is a really fun step! You can create a design for your laptop tray and choose one of a multitude of ways to apply it to your tray. A quick list of design applications: Painting by hand, spray paint, engraving, wood burning, vinyl and stickers just to name a few.

The ultimate way to apply your design to your tray would have to be using the Epilog Zing laser engraver! Using the Zing would allow you to create designs that wouldn't be feasible if you were engraving or wood burning by hand.

Since I don't have a Zing or the tools to engrave or wood burn, I choose to paint my design by hand. To start, I drew a sketch of the design and then used image editing software to touch it up and make fine adjustments. Then I printed the design out on paper and checked the sizing on the tray. Once the sizing was right, I cut the design out using a utility knife to create a stencil. The stencil was laid on the plywood,  taped down so it wouldn't move and then the design was traced onto the wood using a pencil. From there, I painted the design in and used an eraser to remove any visible pencil marks. After the design was painted on both corners of the tray and dry, I lightly sanded down any high spots of paint to make it uniform.

Step 4: Tray Preservation

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 To preserve the wood, you'll have to apply some type of protective coating. There are several types of coating that you could use: stains, sealers, shellacs, varnishes or wood preservatives. I used a clear polyurethane varnish and applied two coats on the both the top and bottom surfaces allowing the coats to fully dry in between applications. 

Step 5: Cushion Design & Sewing

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To increase the comfort of your laptop tray, consider sewing a cushion for the underside. Your cushion can be just as creative as your tray shape and artistic design. The design of your cushion should take into consideration the cushion material going inside and how you plan to attach it to the tray.

My cushion bag first took shape as a drawing. I drew each piece to be cut and added 1/4 inch to each edge for a stitch tolerance. I sewed a rectangular cushion bag 15 inches wide, 10 inches deep and 2 inches thick. To hide all of the stitching, the bag was sewn completely inside out and then I used the zipper opening to turn it right side out. I included a zipper to add small foam squares that would act as the cushion. These foam squares were cut from a larger piece of foam and I did this because I thought it would provide a better cushion than just a single foam block.

Don't limit yourself to only considering foam when choosing the filler for your cushion. Think about all of the different materials you can use for the cushion: foam block, foam pieces, beans, feathers, fleece, bean bag filling, pillow filling or even bubble wrap!

*** Here I'll go into more detail about sewing the zipper into this bag. Since my bag was shaped like a thin box,  I measured the size of fabric I would need to fill in that corresponding side (including the zipper tolerance). The dimensions turned out to be 15.5 inches long by 2.5 inches wide (the extra 1/2 inch is for an additional 1/4 inch along each edge).

I cut a straight line (as long as the zipper) down the middle length of that piece and horizontal lines (about 5/8 inch) where the zipper was to start and stop. I laid the fabric outside face up and then laid the zipper upside down on top of it. Now as you're looking at them, I matched up the right edge of the zipper (would be left edge if it was right-side up) with the left edge of the middle length cut. This matched the left outside face of the fabric with the left outside face of the zipper.

I sewed that together with a regular sewing foot getting as close to the zipper as possible. Once that was sewn, I repeated the process with the right edge of the zipper. I've found that this technique sews the zipper in almost perfectly without adding slack or stretching the fabric.

Step 6: Fastening the Cushion to the Tray

Picture of Fastening the Cushion to the Tray

Now all there is left to do is fasten the cushion to the tray. There are several ways to do this and the options I considered were: Velcro, screws and glue.

I chose to fasten the cushion to the tray using four screws. To accommodate the screws I sewed in a flange (or strip) all the way around the perimeter of the cushion bag. The screws would go through the flange at each corner. Please refer to the first picture for a visual of the flange. Centering the cushion on the tray was done by measuring and marking the screw locations with a pencil mark.

To prevent the plywood from cracking or splitting, I pre-drilled the screw holes and used masking tape to mark on the drill bit the desired hole depth. I used 1/2 inch long screws but because my plywood tray was only 1/2 inch thick I also used two small washers per screw to make sure that the screw points didn't penetrate through the top of the tray. 

Then you're done! Now you can take your laptop anywhere and use it comfortably and in style!

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Bio: I'm an engineer who loves to solve problems by creating new products and finding useful ways to improve existing products. I like working in ... More »
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