Introduction: Making a Bent Wood Laptop Tray

About: Problem solving through DIY, Woodworking, 3D Printing, & Making.

This build is my official entry into the Rockler Bent Wood Challenge from the Modern Maker Podcast. I have found that challenges like this make me a better maker by forcing me outside my comfort zone.

For full details on this build and a complete list of all the tools and supplies I used, check out my detailed build article at Southern Style DIY.


Primary Tools

  • Table Saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Every Clamp Available in your Shop
  • Drill/Impact Driver
  • Circular Saw/Track

Primary Supplies

  • 1/4" Plywood
  • Wood Glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood Fi

Step 1: Cut Form Components to Size

My method for bending wood requires a glue form. Before making any cuts on the finish piece, I cut a form for clamping. This will ensure the parts are as uniform as possible. I made the initial cuts with my circular saw and track. I used some non-finish grade plywood since the form will never be a part of the finished piece.

Step 2: Mark & Cut Form for Top Glue Up

Once both sides of the form were cut to rough size, I could layout the dimensions I needed based off the plans. Instead of guessing at the curve dimensions, I used a flexible ruler to create the curves for both sides.

To keep both sides equally aligned, I used blue tape and CA Glue to temporarily adhere the parts together. Once together, I only had to use the jigsaw to make the curved cuts.

After prying apart the sides, I could take some spacers and screw them to the plywood form. I didn't use glue because these will need to be removed and reattached later. It is important to mark and keep track of each piece and its location. This will be helpful in later steps.

Step 3: Breakdown Top Plywood

With the form assembled, I could move on to breaking down the plywood. After ripping to just over-width, I used a fabric tape measure to locate curve sections. These measurements gave me not only the kerf cut sections, but also the length I needed to cut the pieces to.

Each section is made up of two layers of 1/4" plywood, so I cut two identical pieces to rough size at the table saw. After each piece was cut, I could mark the kerf cut locations on both.

To cut the kerf cuts, I used my table saw crosscut sled. This allowed me to easily keep track of where all kerf cuts were located as well as easily move the piece between cuts, safely away from the blade.

Step 4: Glue Up the Top

Once all cuts were made, I could use the form and a TON of wood glue and clamps to laminate the two top pieces together. I laid the first piece on the bottom of the form, spread glue across the entire piece, then clamped both the second layer and top form together.

For laminations, I found that more clamps helped to a point. I used as many cheap, spring clamps as I could do ensure the edges were as evenly clamped as possible.

Step 5: Breakdown & Saw Form for Middle Glue Up

Once the top layer glue had dried, I could unclamp the top from the form. I also disassembled the bottom frame and used my jigsaw to cut away the middle, interior section. Once cut out, I tried another clamping method using form holes for clamps to get a better grip.

Fabric tape continued to be invaluable in this step. The flexibility was essential, again, for the curves necessary.

Step 6: Cut Middle Plywood

Before making additional kerf cuts, I cut to rough length on two pieces. While each full layer consists of two laminations, the entirety of the project is four layers in all flat layers, but only two whenever curves are present.

I found it helpful to keep track of the inside and outside of each curve. The kerf cuts are only on the inside and different pieces required cuts on one side or the other, and sometimes both.

Step 7: Glue Up the Middle

The top glue up went more smoothly than the top. One big reason was I had done one glue up already and knew what to expect. Another was all the curves go in the same direction. This means I could clamp directly to the form without sandwiching, except for gluing to the top piece.

Step 8: Final Form Cuts for Sides

As with the middle, I disassembled the form, added CA glue and tape, then cut the corn to final size. This final cut creates the leg openings on each side. This will be the first cut that has to be made on both sides of the form. I cut one side, then used it to mark the cut for the other side.

Step 9: Breakdown Side Plywood

As before I used fabric tape to measure the curve locations and mark the plywood. Each set of kerf cuts seems to get easier than the last, but requires more to get the large curves I am going for.

Step 10: Glue Up Sides

The sides proved easiest to glue up. After one layer was clamped in place, I added the second layer on top. This was much easier so I could stagger the glue application/spreading over large surfaces.

The sides were also easier because I could focus on one side at a time. Once the first side was clamped up, I could move over to the other side.

Step 11: Flush Up the Exposed Edges

I intentionally cut every layer over-sized. This gave me some extra wiggle room during the three glue ups.

Now that the glue ups are complete, I need to flush the layers to each other. I used my power plane to take very small passes with next to no tear-out. I wasn't sure if this method would work, so I did a few test cuts to make sure it would.

The power plane made this process incredibly quick. Someone with better sharpening skills than me could probably use a hand plane, but I used the power plane because I had it.

Step 12: Sand & Finish

The plywood I used had a fairly good finish already on it, so needed minimal sanding on the flat surfaces. However, the edges and kerf cuts needed to be smoothed out. I used my random orbit sander up to 320 grit on all the edges and flat surfaces.

For the curves and edges, I used an old orbital sander pad as a sanding block to hand sand. This let me use the same sandpaper as my orbital sander and keep the finish consistent. The pad was also perfect for easing over the edges without giving a fill round over.

Once everything was sanded to 320, I went over everything with a tack cloth before using a rattle can of polyurethane to finish the piece. In total, I did 3 coats with a light sanding of 320 and dust removal with the tack cloth between. This created a perfectly smooth finish that's essential for surfaces with heavy contact like laptop trays.

Step 13: Enjoy!

This project really pushed my skills and experience as a maker. I learned a ton during the process and boosted my confidence with complicated projects. I usually design projects with hard angles, but I want to incorporate more curves as a direct result of this project.