So, if you want to make a special, memorable, beautiful and above all USEFUL gift for an academic, writer, architect, &c., this may be the perfect gift for you.
This particular version is my first attempt at making one myself. It was a gift to my brother-in-law. Since he is a seminary student, and since I had access to a CNC laser, I engraved a Bible passage on the front and a quote from one of his favorite theologians on the back. Yours can be customized however you want--with a painting, a personal note, a favorite poem or quotation, the first line of Beowulf, or anything else you can think of. If you don't have a CNC laser, I'm sure some local business offers custom engraving.
Best of all--despite its appearance, this thing goes together rather simply, and doesn't require any advanced carpentry skills. So let's get started!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Power Drill--this is a must. If you don't have one, you can get a cheap version at Harbor Freight Company, but I'd recommend something that will last. Also, everyone needs a drill
Small Cobalt drill bit--this is in addition to the small wood bits--I used a 5/64 inch
Tin Snips--crucial to the last steps, though a hand saw can work as well
Stuff to cut wood (not pictued)--I left this vague because the tool I used, a wonderful CNC laser-cutter, simply isn't available to most people. A handsaw will do, or a variety of other setups.
Plasti-Dip--Or at least some solution to coat the metal pieces, so you don't have metal leaning directly against your books.
Wood Glue--This is essential. They sell it more places than you think; I generally use Elmer's wood glue, but I'm not particular about brands.
Wood stain--You don't really need to stain your wood, but it's not as hard as you'd think and leaves you a prettier final project.
Old Rag--This is essential if you're staining wood.
Paintbrush--Useful when applying stain.
Electric sander--I wouldn't buy one just for this project, but mine was quite useful when smoothing off the metal prongs and rounding their ends.
Wood (not shown)--Enough for a 9x13 square, some structure, a 12x1.5 shelf, and two 5x7x9 triangles for support bracing. I had great success with some reasonably-priced plywood that had a rather beautiful front; you may want to choose to use different wood.
Hinges (7x)--I used the smallest ones my Lowe's had; if you use bigger hinges, you might only need 6.
Wood Screws--If you work with plywood, you'll probably want to get small screws. I used #4 wood screws 3/8'' long--the smallest Lowes had. Note: if at all possible, use phillips head screws to avoid scratching the wood later.
Washers--Just get small ones.
Sheet of copper--Or a similar metal; your call.
Performix Plasti-dip (or other coating for the metal)--honestly, electrical tape might do in a pinch, but I like the cleanness of this coating material and the fact that I don't have to worry about tape coming loose and sticking to the pages.
Step 2: Cut (and Stain) the Wood
1 9x13-ish rectangle serving as the board where the books rest.
1 1.5x12 "tray" (with curved edges) that will support the base of the book.
2 11x1 piece to stretch the length of the back. (I'm not sure that this bit of structural support is necessary, but it will allow you to assemble your 9x13 board out of smaller pieces).
2 9x1 boards to run along the sides of the back.
The woodstain, brush, and rag I used to tint the wood.
In addition, I eventually cut:
2 9x5x7 triangles, facing opposite directions. (Directionality is important if you're dealing with wood that has a "good" and "bad" side. See the photo on the "attach the supports" step to visualize how these triangles will work.)
1 decorative nameplate. You can copy my general pattern if you want, but this is a good place to come up with your own shape.
Note: Now is the time to add decoration to the face of your project; doing it later is okay, but may take more effort. I also went ahead and engraved the back of my project, calculating first the space that will be available after adding the frame. Once you have cut all the wood, stain it (if desired) on both sides. Let it dry, then move on to the next step.
Step 3: Attach the Frame to the Back of the Backboard
1) Place your main board face-down on the table.
2) Lay the "frame" wood on the board (i.e. everything but the piece that will go on the front and support the book) and make sure that it fits. The arrangement should look like the image below (except that the triangles should match in color and tone, because you'll have been smarter than I was. :-P)
2B) Plan where you want to place the "middle board." Mine was in the middle, hiding the "join" between wood pieces and leaving space for a name plate. Yours can be at the very bottom. That might prevent screws from poking through in the next step.
3) Remove the triangles and set them aside.
4) Glue the remaining pieces down with wood glue. Wait 30 minutes.
5) Screw the pieces into the back with wood screws. This is where length is important--make sure that your screws are short enough that they will not poke through the front of your backboard.
6) Admire your progress. You're at least half way there!
Step 4: Attach the Tray to the Front Face
1) Decide how many hinges you want on the tray at the bottom of your front face. I'd recommend three, though you can get by with two. Measure the approximate locations, and mark with pencil on the small piece of wood. (Note: the outer two should be at the far ends of the piece, so that when you attach the hinge you'll screw into your frame.)
2) Place the hinges centered on each of the marks from the step above. Clearly mark circles through the screw holes.Your marks should be on the small edge of the wood, not on the long flat surface. See photo.
3) This is the most difficult step, so be careful. Gently screw directly into the side of the short piece of wood with a small drill bit, just enough to get the screw started. (Most hinge sets actually come with information on which bit to use.) Make sure your drill is positioned as straight as possible
4) Attach one end of the hinge to this piece of wood, making sure it will fold down as per the illustrations. (The goal is to have a hinge that is at a right angle when the tray is folded up for storage/travel, and flat when the tray is folded down.) Repeat with the other hinge(s).
5) Place the tray against the main board, leaving the tray in its "folded up" position. Mark each hinge's screw location, drill, and screw into the main board.
6) Congratulations! You now have tray that will fold down, upon which you can place a book. Now it's time to flip this thing over (again) and make it stand up on its own.
Step 5: Attach Wings to Back Frame
2) Again measure and drill into the sides of the two triangular "wings" you have. Make sure they line up, and make sure the hinges are set up properly as shown.
3) Again, once you have the hinges set up on the wings, you can measure, drill, and screw the hinges into the back frame itself. (This is why we have a frame--so you aren't screwing into and through the back of the front plate.)
4) Try it out! You should be able to fold the wings out to just past 90 degrees, and it should stand up on its own.
5) This is as good as any time to add the name plate, if you want one. It can cover up any screws that might poke out the back.
6) Almost there--now for the metalworking!
Step 6: Creating the Front Arms
1) Cut two 5-inch strips of copper out with your tin snips. These will be the "arms" that hold books open. Be careful not to fully close the tinsnips, as that will bend the copper unnecessarily.
2) Bend the copper pieces into an arch, with sections before and after the arch remaining flat (as shown.)
3) [optional] cut two other pieces of copper to serve as washers. Place a store-bought washer between the two pieces of copper. The newly-cut piece of copper (or washer) should go against the wood, and your copper arm should go on the outside, when you attach the arms.
4) [optional] Test-screw, if possible, into another piece of wood. Make sure you can tighten the arms to a point where they stay wherever you place them, but where they can be rotated without excessive force.
5) [optional] tape the areas you want to remain copper with painter's tape, and spray the rest with
5) Measure the two places you want to place the arms, and drill one hole for each arm. Again, you are drilling directly into the side of the wood, so be careful.
5) Screw the assemblage into the wood. The hands should turn freely, and hold books open. Bend them in, if necessary, so that they are a bit "spring-loaded" when folded back, but pop inward when folded up to hold books firmly in place.
6) Admire your hard work! You've made a rather fancy little contraption. Now you can read books anywhere, without holding them open yourself!