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Portable, collapsible *standing* desk for laptop? Answered

Portable, collapsible *standing* desk for laptop...

I've been trying to find one of these, or a design for one. I've found collapsible desks, but they're sitting height. I've found standing desks, but they're not good for stacking/carrying in a full cargo area. They also don't look suitable for setting up on possibly uneven ground.

I travel from farm to farm in my work, and I would really like a secure place to put my laptop in order to work on it. My back is in bad shape, and so hunching over to use a typical desk/table-height surface is very painful. I need the surface to be about 45" high. I bought one of those "attach to tripod" laptop mounts, but my laptop is too heavy and it wobbles even on a tripod that is well-epoxied and solid (see image). I have a TV tray table but it's definitely wobbly, and it seems extending the legs would just make it worse.

On some farms I can leave it more safely in the bed of my truck, so I would love to have a "desk" that can sit securely at about 20" and also extend to about 45" (ie, retractable legs); I carry quite a lot when I go to a farm, so it would be great to have just one desk that I can use in and out of the car. (I would really have loved for the tripod to work--not that it would have retracted once I epoxied it to keep it from wobbling anyway.) I can live without this, though, it's just my current Holy Grail.

What I really need is something that folds, is easily carried (by someone with a bad back--no more than about 15-20 lbs), and will hold a 17" laptop at about 40" tall, without wobbling and on a surface that may be somewhat uneven. I need to be able to pull it out and set it up right away, without taking time to screw legs in, etc etc. Oh, the smaller, it is, the better--these are farms, there are animals moving around, the work areas are often cramped, and I'm clumsy. It's better to have it able to be out of the way and small such that there's less chance something will bump it and knock it over.

I have been pondering modifying this to the right height:
but am not sure it will be stable on possibly uneven ground--or even on a flat ground, if it's made taller and narrower--or that I will be able to carry it at that height. It might be too much material, too heavy for me. It might be too bulky.

Maybe something made with telescoping metal pipe? But I don't really know how to do that. I'd love a flat surface on top, and strong heavy legs coming off it--simple and not bulky--but would it get be able to fold up small enough to transport?

I wonder if I could modify a roller stand (like this) as a base and put a flat surface on top of the post--it would even be slanted at a nice angle for typing, I think, as long as I put a stop across the bottom of the surface to keep the laptop in place. But I also don't know if that stand would wobble on an uneven surface.

Anyone have any ideas, suggestions? Directions to explore? Link to plans I can buy? I am kind of hoping to not break the bank here, so it would be great if I could build something rather than buy an extraordinarily expensive pre-made item.

Definitely if I can build something decent I will take pictures along the way and make it into an instructable. It seems like this is something that ought to be out there.


I am also looking to build some sort of portable laptop stand. The Stanton Uberstand Laptop Stand would be a good one to reverse engineer. Just make it a little taller. It is made for DJ's, and folds up to a flat 12"x12" (so it fits in a dj's record case). But it is only like 12" tall or something like that. So if it was telescoping so you could get more height out of it (I need about 24"-30" or so), it would be pretty perfect.


Hi I went through the hassle of becoming a member of this forum to suggest this instead of reading through all the suggestions, so if this is repeat or just plain stupid I am sorry. I immediately thought of a pulpit. Maybe that way there is a "retired" one somewhere to saw and add wheels. I hope you have luck, I am all for modification- I no longer can work as a nurse due to MS. Godspeed Tricia

What truck do you have? Just a thought, but maybe a simple platform mounted on a short square post would suffice, stick it in a post hole back at the box. Height adjustable (and kept from sliding into the pocket) by a wood dowel, drill a few holes thru the post and slide in dowel crosswise; not adjustable but more stable is wood blocks (one on each end) under the platform that rest on the side of the box. Not ideal of course, but as portable as the truck and for transport just pull it out and lay it in the bed. If you want more portability with quick setup, just make a simple wood base with a socket on top for the post, flip-up feet hinged to the bottom. Main part can be a chunk of 4x4. Now me, if I knew I'd always be working over suitable dirt, I'd mount a few "prongs" to the bottom, 6-8" and maybe re-bar, just stab that base straight down wherever, should be stable enough for a laptop. But then, that's me. :-)

You can see my truck here:

So I now have a wooden platform for mounting whatever I want, and will probably be building some shelves and stands for some of my equipment on it. But my main need is for something that I can pick up and carry away, when I can't get the truck close enough to the working area and need to use the laptop some distance from the truck. (I would LOVE something that can be used both in and out, but I need something that can be used out.)

I am most likely to be working on uneven ground, but it may be dirt, concrete, clay, rock, pasture grass, etc. Stabbing into the ground isn't going to be an option, no. Thanks tho.

I'm having trouble visualizing "a simple wood base with a socket on top for the post, flip-up feet hinged to the bottom." Can you give me more of an idea of what you mean? I'm visualizing a wooden base that I could stick a 4x4 in, from the rest of your description, but I don't get where the hinges come in.

Two separate pieces does sound like it might be very much the right direction. A lot of the standing laptop desks I've seen, while looking for this design, are made such that the bottom and the top are shaped really awkwardly, but if there was some kind of quick disconnect they (or something like them) would work well. I don't really know how to find or build something that connects and disconnects quickly, and stacks well when disconnected. Any more thoughts that way? Very exciting.

And yes indeed, if there was a base with a quick disconnect, I could prop the top part in a built-in base in my truck and use it there, simply not pull out my portable base. Oh yes. I've been thinking more along the lines of something that folds, but something that comes apart--as long as it goes together *quickly*--sounds like it might be perfect.

*gurgle* *sputter*
That's Not A Truck!

*grumble grumble*
...gonna have to draw this, don't have a scanner hooked up, old CAD program doesn't do image export...

I'm going to have to fake it with GIMP!!!

Of course it's been awhile, could use the practice, so it's good.

Apologies in advance for the scrolling. :-)

Now then, first image is original concept. On a real truck the box sides have pockets for posts, hooking bungee cord hook ends, etc. On my Ford they're about (square corner numbers) 1-5/8" x 2", piece of normal 2x2 would drop in. Platform is a chunk of plywood with a 2x2 post, use angle brackets or blocks to stabilize, version shown has the side blocks that would rest on top. For example, rear corner pocket measured 6" deep, center pocket 10", size post accordingly. If not using side blocks then size post for snug-to-tight fit.

2nd image is base, depending on where you place the hinges (the round shapes) the feet can flip up or down, depending on what is best for you for storage. Four sides, four feet.

3rd image shows socket, just a build-up with wood slightly less deep than effective post length and sized down from base (4x4?) to post (snug fit). No pins etc should be needed with sufficient depth, drop in top, pull out.

4th image takes explaining. You know about those hinges with springs in them, to make doors self-closing? This (hopefully) uses them to automatically flip the feet up, offhand though it might take some doing to get the orientation right. Now, the thin piece is mounted to the side of the post, pivots on a small lag bolt. On the other end a small round post is sticking out over the leg, could just be a long bolt with nut. On top of the foot is some steps, lag bolts, small blocks, whatever is sticking up more than the strap post diameter. The thin piece, the strap, can be metal or wood, long as it's sturdy enough.

In operation, flip down foot to where you want it, set the strap, spring tension will hold it in place. If using lag bolts then the heads will provide extra insurance against kick-out. You can set two (90 deg apart) before putting the base upright then set the remaining two. To take down, well an additional detail is the strap is "wobble mounted" to the base, there's enough clearance under the lag bolt head (and washer?) to swing the strap post clear of the foot, and yes the hole in the strap is oversize a bit. So just push the foot down a bit, disengage strap and push to the side, foot swings up, strap hangs down. A metal strap (1/8"x1" perhaps?) should allow the feet to fold up flat as possible in the gap made by the hinge body.

Although, looking at it, guess you could use a tighter pivot mounting, swing the strap up and clear, foot swings up, then fold the strap down. Well this is just a crude drawing, if you build it you'll figure out what works best for you.

You're not going to be balancing a pig on it, but it's more than good enough to keep a laptop supported. And no pins, knobs, or fiddly-bits to lose.


Okay, so I spent a while on this--I got it much better once I realized you were talking about actual *hinges*, not the bars that you can attach to doors to pull them closed (pardon my ADD, makes reading long paragraphs and getting every detail a bit difficult sometimes). It's really interesting, sounds doable. But over the weekend I picked up a "Workmate" someone left on the curb (gasp! heresy) and had it set up in my front yard cleaning off rust etc. It seems like anything with 4 solid legs is just not going to take uneven ground well. I spent a while playing with it and with my tripod, trying to figure out why the tripod could sit stable and the Workmate could not; it seems it's the 4 legs that all need to have a level plane. I had to move it, move, it, move it again trying to make it sit level. Sometimes I couldn't even put it near where I was trying to put it (this was all experimenting with the uneven ground, not just trying to work on it). Even with the legs locked in position, I could easily get the tripod to sit without rocking. But the top of the tripod is wobbly when the laptop sits on it. (I do know that there are tripods which ought to be able to support this much weight, but haven't seen anything like that for less than $300.) I am discouraged and just not sure which direction to go, now.

Yep, the ancient engineering principle, 3 feet sit flat, more don't. Why the 3 legged stool was made. Three points minimum (not in a straight line) identify a 2D plane, any more may not all be in only one plane. So three of the Workmate's feet will be flat on any ground but one may not and will have to be lower, since three are on a plane. (It may seem it could be higher or lower, but four feet could identify up to four different planes, with at least one of them one foot will be lower.) So you need an "extension foot" bolted on to that leg, could be something with a slot, or hinged (like your leg, hip bolted to the workmate leg, foot on ground, lock knee in place). Slots may slip but that's not too likely (could use two bolts with knobs to lock down), while knees have a lot of force on them so they often bend without a really hefty lock. Of course that's one adjustable to get it stable, to get it flat and level may take three. With one and sensible placement your coffee mug shouldn't go anywhere but don't expect the dog's ball to stay there. Does that help?

.... I'm not worried about the Workmate being stable. That will be used on a flat surface, once I've gotten it cleaned up. I'm just discouraged that--after futzing with it outside and comparing to the tripod--it looks like I can't use something with 4 level feet as a laptop stand, and I don't know how to make something like a tripod.

Which is why my design had 4 adjustable feet. ;-)

If it comes to it and the feet are long enough, you could adjust it to sit over a small rock if needed!

Heh, tripod is easier than you think. Start with a thick disk of big enough diameter. Grab protractor. Lay out three lines from center that are 120 deg apart (3 x 120 = 360 which is a circle). Looks like a pizza cut into 3 equal large slices.

Now, measure how thick your tripod leg is. For each pizza slice line, on each side draw a parallel line that's half that thickness away, drawn from the edge to close to the center. Looks like you're cutting strips off of each straight edge of each slice.

Next, for each of those strip lines you just drew, measure in from the edge the thickness of that leg (if using square or round stock, for rectangular use the large end measurement) times 1.5, thus for one inch you'd mark off one and a half inches from the edge on each strip line. Across each pizza slice line, connect those marks. From that connecting line out to the edge, between the strip lines, just scribble that area to death, that's what you'll be removing to make the pockets for the legs. Your pizza now has three notches out of it that are centered on the slice lines.

Now, draw a circle that's slightly smaller than the notches. Looks like maybe you're trying to cut out a better looking small pizza without the notches. Pick out a measurement you think is reasonable, say one inch. For each strip line, draw a line parallel to the strip line on the other side of the notch that's the reasonable measurement away from the strip line, drawn from the edge to the small circle. Now the big part. For each big slice, from the small circle to the edge, between the reasonable lines, scribble that area out, it goes away.

When done, you will have a circle with six arms sticking out, each set of arms making a straight-sided pocket for a leg. To simplify things, you can flatten the three big curves of the circle down to straight. Why, you could even have done it on paper and had a template you could just drop on any proper sized chunk of wood or metal, don't have to start with a disk.

Now, for each leg you center a hole on the end, that is it will be centered on the long dimension and half the thickness (or largest end measurement) in from the end. For each set of arms, measure down half the material thickness and measure in from the edge half the leg thickness (or largest end measurement). That's where you drill the crosshole that will be square to the pocket sides and thru both sides.

After that you just need three carriage bolts and some knobs, put the leg ends in the sockets, slide in the bolts thru all the holes (pocket sides and leg), tighten knobs and set the carriage bolt heads. Tripod.

Since we made the pockets one and a half times deep, even if the leg tops are cut square you should be able to swing them all the way up and down. You could play with making the pockets shallower for less travel, so they only swing out so far before hitting. Think about it, cut out some cardboard model pieces if needed, and you can see if the pocket was just barely deeper than one time deep (just enough for clearance) a combination on the leg tops of an angle cut and an arc centered on the hole would be the best way to have the leg swing out only a fixed amount, no locks needed if that's what you want. (Hint: point of angle on the outside, arc on inside.)

If you want at least one adjustable length leg to level out the top of the central piece (in theory all that's needed, keep turning the tripod until the two non-adjustable ends are on a level line), well, that'll be another post if needed. Meanwhile you can think about what sort of platform to stick on the central piece, don't forget to space it away a bit for knob and finger clearance. Include gloves.

PS, this visualizes better with sausage, ground beef, and chopped onions. Pepperoni, green pepper slices, and mushroom pieces are too chunky, throws you off. Which is too bad, I love mushrooms.

Sorry to offend your sensibilities :P but that IS how I use it: as a truck with a built-in shell. It is full of my work supplies and I haul trailers with it. It's got the same engine as a full-size Chevy/GM pickup. I am VERY happy that the seats fold down entirely so that I have a cargo area the size of a pickup bed. If my work supplies were a little more weather resistant, I'd have gotten a pickup--but my supplies are leather, wool, untreated wood, delicate tools, (electronics!) etc etc so they would not take being stored in a covered pickup bed with no climate control--not in the nasty hot humid weather we get in FL. Shrug. Bonus: the seats are better on my poor pitiful back than anything else. Lovely. I am much more functional now that I'm not exhausted from pain before I even arrive at a job. (I love this vehicle.) ~ ~ ~ Going to go over your drawings and see if I can make more sense of them when I'm more than half awake. Thanks :) GIMP is our friend. It's very kind of you to spend so much time trying to help me out here.

That was, what, over a hundred words to "defend" your vehicle? Over an offhand grumpy comment? Ha-ha-ha-ha! Thanks, I needed a good laugh. Look, just let me know if it needs any more explaining, although if you get to building it things should explain themselves. And lighten up a little, okay? It's the weekend! ;-)

Oh dear, I was trying to be amused, not grumpy. Sorry it came across that way. Glad you laughed, that was the idea.

Heh. Yeah, I heard those mix-ups happen often on them there intrawebs, knew not to take it personal in any way. "That's why you use emoticons so it doesn't happen!" LOL, LMAO, etc whatever.

Those bolt to the floor of the vehicle. I need something that will stand on its own outside of the vehicle, wherever I happen to be working. Sometimes I can't park at all close to where I'll be working. Unfortunately, I think that having an arm would overbalance something standing on its own, unless the base were too wide. It would be great to have a piece at the top, like theirs, which is removable and folds flat--thanks to the discussions so far that sounds like the best way to get started. It's the base, hopefully collapsible to take up the minimum amount of space, AND also stable/non-wobbly, AND also capable of handling uneven ground, that's giving me fits.

Looking at that picture, I see a camera tripod, a board, and the little adapter plate that would normally attach the camera to the clip-in on the tripod bolted to the backside of that board. Then you have a collapsable table and you can detach the tabletop to use the tripod for your camera.

That's a photo of what I've got now. It doesn't work. I am mightily disappointed, but it doesn't.

Ah, bummer. My mistake. I've stuck chairs on top of my tripod for sitting on uneven surfaces, like the side of Pike's Peak to watch the race. It worked pretty well for me, but of course I bought a heavy-duty tripod 'cause I knew I probably would be using and abusing it.

try an artists easel. it wont be free but it will be easy(hopefully) to find

The easels I have seen are not any sturdier than the tripod. They wouldn't be able to support my 17" laptop without wobbling as I type on it.

maybe a 4 legged tripod? wouldnt that be called a quadpod?

A big easel would easily, but they're not cheap of light... A music stand maybe? How about a custom build tripod..

Is this something I can make? Do you have any sources for plans or instructions?

Well three telescopic poles and some clever hinges... I may build one at some point...

Okay, how do I make/find a telescopic pole that isn't flimsy? What kind of hinges? :)

Hmmmmm...how about a nice, big piece of scrap lumber laid flat for a table, and three lengths of 2x4 as legs, mounted in lockable or ball joints somehow? Ugly, but sturdy and workable.

Even a 2x4, at that length, gets wobbly unless it is further supported. I need a small surface, one just large enough for the laptop, because this needs to go in my truck with a LOT of other stuff; that makes it even less stable. I do appreciate the suggestions, just hoping for something I haven't already played with. The collapsible hobby bench, listed above, is a big sheet of plywood with legs that are braced, but I think it might be too heavy (for my bad back), might not be sturdy on uneven ground, and might not even be sturdy at all with a narrow work surface and 45" tall. If I knew much about lockable joints, that might help a lot. Do you have any knowledge in that direction? Most of what I know about carpentry I learned on the Web ;) or from exploring the options available in local hardware stores; the hardware there likely isn't a complete collection, but since I don't know what other hardware might be called, I don't have a clue how to find it.

Sadly, I do not, but I will try to point you in the right direction. I have to go to bed now though.