I usually carry a laptop computer with me when I travel to keep in touch, and to check what things are worth before buying them at estate sales, yard sales or bidding in auctions. I have a broadband access card for the laptop, so I can get online from anywhere. I've always wanted a built-in laptop / notebook computer tray for my truck. The commercially made units are pricey though. Several models I have looked at cost close to $300. Ouch! I suppose I could make one like the commercially made units, but they are made of metal, and I'm not much of a metal-worker. The commercially made units also bolt to the floor and take time and tools to install and remove. I always thought there had to be a better way.
One day I had a brainstorm. I figured out a quick and easy way to build a laptop tray for my Tacoma that only cost a little over $30! That's 1/10 of what the commercially made units cost! And it only took me an afternoon to build it. This instructable will show you how I did it. Please Visit my web site for more information on this and my other projects.
Before you all start writing me and saying how unsafe it is to use the computer while driving, don't panic. I don't use it while driving. I use it while stopped, usually at sales. It's a lot more convenient than trying to balance it on my lap or the armrest.
Step 1: Brainstorming
I drew up my idea. It looked good, but I needed to know what size PVC pipe to use. I measured the inside diameter of the cup-holder and found that it is almost exactly the same size as the outside diameter of a 2 inch PVC pipe coupler. So the tray would be made of 2 inch PVC pipe and fittings.
Step 2: Buying the Parts
Step 3: Making the Arm
Next I cut up the length of PVC pipe to make the short pieces I'd need to connect the parts together. I cut 2 pieces at 2 inches long, and one piece at 3 inches long to go in the middle of the arm (see drawing in earlier step). These measurements are pretty arbitrary, but I didn't want to cantilever the laptop out any further than I had to. I just wanted it to clear the shift lever and armrest. Dimensions for your particular vehicle will probably be different.
Once I had all the pieces of the arm cut, I dry-fitted the parts together to see how it looked. I also removed the metal grate from the top of the drain fitting.
Next I test-fitted the arm in the cup-holder. It fit great, and it looked like I had just the right clearance.
Step 4: Making the Tray
I drilled four holes in the PVC drain fitting. then I placed it in the center of the plywood and transferred the hole locations and drilled them out to match the the holes in the fitting.
I drilled out a hole where the laptop cooling fan will be for improved air-flow. I forgot that I had the laptop upside-down when I measured the position of the cooling fan intake. I almost drilled the air hole on the wrong side of the board (as can be seen by the circle drawn on the upper left of the board). It wouldn't have mattered much, since I could have always flipped the board over, but I wanted the best looking side up.
I used countersunk bolts to attach the tray to the drain fitting, that way the heads of the bolts wouldn't be sticking up. Once the plywood tray top was bolted onto the PVC drain fitting, I test assembled the whole unit and tried it out in the truck. It fit great!
The last photo shows the tray being tested in the truck. It works well and looks great. The PVC pieces aren't glued together yet at this point. I wanted to make sure the arm was just right with a full scale test first. Even just fit together dry, the friction of the PVC pieces held the weight of the laptop just fine. I was very happy with the position of the laptop. So I glued the PVC pieces together. I like the way the tray will just pull right out when not needed or if I have a passenger. No tools needed. Due to the snug fit of the coupler in the cup-holder, the weight of the laptop locks the tray in place. But if I lift up on the tray a little, I can swivel it around to different positions. It locks again when I let go of it. An unexpected bonus!
Step 5: Painting and Adding Velcro
The second photo shows the finished tray with the laptop in place. It is a real thing of beauty, if I do say so myself.
The last photo shows a passenger side view of the laptop tray.
Step 6: Power for the Laptop
I mounted adhesive-backed Velcro on the bottom of the inverter. I used only the hook side of the Velcro. I discovered that the hook Velcro stuck quite tightly to the carpet in my truck.
I mounted the inverter by sticking it to the carpeted side of the center console. The Velcro sticks to the carpet as strongly, or maybe even more strongly than to the loop Velcro. It pulls right off if I don't need it, or if I have a passenger. Though most passengers don't seem to mind it. It doesn't take up much leg room.
Step 7: Counting the Cost
PVC Pipe & Fittings - $14.89
Nuts, Bolts & Washers - $0.90
Spray Paint - $4.80
Velcro - $10.69
Scrap Plywood - Free
Total - $31.28
Not bad! That's only about 1/10th of the cost of the commercially made automotive laptop trays I've seen for sale.
After using this setup for a few months now, I have to say I am very happy with it. The tray (even with the mass of the laptop on it) doesn't move at all when I brake or corner. I made it a really snug fit in the cup-holder just for that reason. Also, the off-center weight of the laptop locks the pipe in the cup-holder even more tightly. The tray has already paid for itself several times over by allowing me to more easily research items at sales.
Please Visit my web site for more information on this and my other projects.