Make a simple but incredibly useful Laptop Stand for around $15 and 30-60 minutes! Great for use in bed while typing, browsing, and especially watching movies.
When I use my laptop in bed, it's often uncomfortable. I have to balance the laptop on my lap and sit up, or on my chest when laying down. This laptop stand makes both laying and sitting laptop use a whole lot more comfortable, and it's simple to make... about $15 and 30 minutes. Let's do it!
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Step 1: The Background
I use my laptop in bed a lot, as it's more comfortable for me. However, it's hard to balance the laptop on my chest and type with my hands sideways, so I needed a laptop stand. I found this one, but I'm a cheapskate and it looked simple, so I decided to make one myself. Turns out I spent just over $15 and took 30 minutes in the garage to make it, and it worked great for months! I just made another one, so I've chronicled it here for your building pleasure.
Another commercial stand is the Lapdawg laptop stand - possibly the worst name ever.
-wood strip, .75 in x 1.75 in x 6 ft. Just about anything of the right size will do.
-hard board, MDF board, etc - I used MDF the first time due to the clean white melamine coating, but the plain hardboard looked better and seemed more durable.
-two knobs attached to screws/bolts
-two big washers
-two socket anchors
-2 very short wood screws (for the lip)
-4 medium wood screws (for the legs)
-4 small nails
-4 plastic checker pieces (optional)
-circular saw (could use a hand saw, but it'd be messy)
-(Optional) dremel w/ sander bit
This was made to be simple and quick. You don't really need too many measurements; just line things up and saw away. I only measured the tray itself (11 x 20 in). The rest are self-evident as you're going along. Even the lips were circular-sawed freehand. Be careful where you put your hands! (If you want to keep them).
Step 2: The Legs
-Cut in 4 pieces
First, get the .75 in x 1.75 in x 6 ft stick. The height/width dimensions are not important, just something about that size. You should have at least 6 ft. Cut it the stick in quarters (in half, and then each part in half again). This should yield (4) 1.5 ft sticks. Great.
-Round the corners
With the circular saw, cut off the edges on one side of each stick. Be careful! This is to round the corners so they don't stick out as much. Optionally, you can take a dremmel and smooth the edges here (I made them very round... really doesn't make any difference).
Pair up the pieces, and stack them so you can drill through 2 at a time. Now drill a hole big enough for your big screw/bolts and socket/anchors through 2 posts, and then the other 2 posts. This makes sure that the holes are aligned. Make sure you're holding the drill completely vertical! (unlike what I did this time... still came out ok).
Step 3: Leg Hardware
Now install the leg hardware. Put in the socket/anchor, and put a small nail through the hole so it doesn't turn. It should fit snugly, and the nail isn't really necessary. Then put the knob through the washer and feed it through the opposite side into the socket. Repeat for the other pair, and you should now have two working joints.
Finding the Hardware
The black knobs + screws that I used are very hard to find. Most places do not have these. Big chain hardware stores (lowes/home depot) carry similar 3-prong triangle knobs with screws attached, but the screws are usually not very long. For alternatives, the easiest thing to find would be a normal bolt and a wingnut. Instead of turning the knob/screw into the T nut, you turn the wingnut on the stationary bolt. Same effect, different parts.
Those stores also have wingnut/bolt combos - basically a bolt with a wingnut on the end. If you can find one long enough, these are probably the best alternative.
Optional jackfishjoe checker mod:
Thanks to an idea by Strapped-4-Cache , which was tested out by jackfishjoe , we have a great mod for the joints. Normally the joints are held in place by the friction of the wood, and the pressure of the bolts holding the wood together. This requires a lot of pressure and can be a pain sometimes. A better way to do this is to insert plastic checkers pieces so the "teeth" grab each other and prevent movement.
-drill a hold through the center of 4 checkers
-carve a circular impression/hollow in each leg for the checkers to be inset slightly. This will be on the sides facing each other, so the knob goes through each checker.
-assemble the legs like so: knob - washer - wood - checker - checker - wood - socket.
The checkers should face each other and lock into place via the teeth, and when assembled you shouldn't really be able to notice the checkers. This will allow you to use less pressure to lock the feet in place, and avoid cracking the wood (or having the platform slump down and accidentally drop you laptop).
Step 4: Make the Tray
Now take the big hardboard/MDF board and cut off an 11 in strip. Then cut the width down to 20 in. You can adjust these measurements for your laptop, this was for a Powerbook G4 Aluminum 17 in. It's not even mine. Remember to leave room for the lip, and you don't want to make the width too small - It's got to fit over your hips.
Cut two more very small strips of hardboard, these will serve as the lip. Make sure they're straight (or straight enough), then line them up on one end of the tray and nail them down. Put a screw on either end of the lip, since nails don't seem to hold very well. Use short screws so they don't poke out the bottom of the tray.
Step 5: Attach Legs
You should now have two legs with working joints, and a tray with a lip. Now line the legs up to the edges of the tray, mark the spaces, and drill holes. I drilled the top hole for a leg, put a screw in, then drilled the bottom and did the same. This way they stay aligned, no measurement needed. If I line the top of the leg with the top of the tray, it fits just right for me. If you're skinnier/fatter, you'll need to adjust the leg height. You can do this by drilling a bunch of evenly spaced holes in the legs (every 1/2 in) and then two holes in the tray. This way you can unscrew the tray, and choose a different height. Once you find one that works, you wont need to change it.
Step 6: Celebrate
Your stand is ready to use. You'll have the tighten the knobs quite a bit, takes some force or a neat trick. Balance the stand on it's side, move the leg and knob together. Then hold the knob still and move the leg back. In this manor you can tighten the knob much harder than if you were to move the knob by itself. Careful not to overdo it; the soft pine (in this case) legs are prone to crack, as seen in my previous stand.
You should be good to go. Tighten to where the legs wont move under the weight of the laptop (plus your hands as you type). Put the laptop stand over body, and put laptop on stand resting on the lip. Use laptop freely and abundantly, full of newfound semi-ergnomic convenience. Great for surfing, watching movies, etc. You may notice your arms get tired with long typing; make sure the laptop is as close to you as possible, that you don't have to raise your elbows off the bed to type.
Step 7: Other Thoughts
The most noticeable area of improvement is the joints. They have to be tightened fairly tight to stay put, and this puts a lot of strain on the relatively soft wood. The commercial stands have ribbed disks that go between the two sides to lock the joints in place, and therefore use less pressure. If you can make something similar, or find something cheap, let me know.
Update: view Supafly's comment below for the "leg-nail" mod. Supposedly it works great, and it seems the best/easiest way to assure no slipping. Thanks supafly! If you can't find his comment below, then here's a basic description: Drill holes in the bottom leg starting near the joint and going out along the leg. When you assemble the leg and open the joint, you can put a nail in one of the holes and it'll stop the upper leg from sinking. You can move the nail from one hole to another to accommodate different angles, and you can remove the nail to allow the whole thing to collapse.
The length of the legs will be determined by your stomach size, arm length, and how comfortable you want to be. I make it as short as will fit over my gut. If you wanted to get creative, you could cut out the portion of the lip/tray that touches your stomach, as long as there is enough lip on either side to hold the laptop from sliding off. A small indent like this may give you an inch or so (till the laptop is resting on your stomach), which may make a difference in comfort.
If you make one, please post up and let us know how long it took, how much it cost, and what it's like to use it. If you have suggestions, post them up. Good luck!