Wave Laptop Stand (Making 3D Shapes in Illustrator)

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About: I'm the former Frontend Engineer for Instructables. Problems with the site? It may have been my fault... Like what you see? Sing my praises!
I wanted a nicer laptop stand. I wanted to to make something with a beautiful, organic form. And I work at Instructables, so I have access to an awesome Epilog laser cutter.

The shape that you see in the images below is the result. I'm pretty happy with it; it's really pleasing to the eye, and is a very stable platform for my Macbook (though it should work for most laptops 12" or wider.)

The third picture on this step is my old laptop stand, which will give you an idea of why I wanted to make a nicer one (yes, it's a piece of plywood on four coffee tins.) The new stand has a number of benefits. It:

  • Raises the screen up higher, closer to an ideal height for my eyes (and putting the webcam at a more natural angle.)
  • Tilts the body down, for easier touchpad and keyboard use, for the occasional times when I type on the laptop in its stand.
  • Makes the desk feel less cluttered.
  • Mirrors the form of my ergonomic keyboard.

This instructable has details on how this particular laptop stand was designed and constructed, but I've also included some useful information on how to design a 3D, slot-fit object in general. My approach was slow, since I opted to use a 2D vector drawing tool to design the whole thing. I'm very interested to see if any readers know how something like this might be created in a 3D CAD program.

Step 1: Brainstorming and Initial Design

I had a vague idea of what I wanted. Waves, maybe; the intersection of two waves travelling perpendicularly. The result might be a saddle shape of some sort.

The first step was to break out a pencil and start sketching. I played with a couple of ideas before settling on the one at the bottom of the page. The basic idea was a distorted plane, with three points touching the desk surface and three points hitting the bottom of the laptop. The side view (on the right) shows how the whole thing should be squeezed to angle the laptop.

Step 2: Transferring to the Computer

As I mentioned in the intro, This entire object was painstakingly designed in 2D. I know in theory that it could be done much faster in a CAD program, but I didn't know how. To design in 3D, one would need to:

  • Design the 3D shape of the object.
  • Figure out how to create slices through the object.
  • Programmatically cut out interlocking slots for each intersection of the slices.
  • Export the resulting shapes as 2D outlines.

If any readers know how this would be done, please leave some info in the comments! [Note: See great comments at the bottom of this instructable from users trialex and theBull on how Google Sketchup might be used to do this design.]

Anyway, back to this design method. I decided to design from the side view, first. The image below shows the cross sections that I came up with. You can see the gray trapezoid around the whole thing, showing a flat bottom and an angled top for where the laptop would rest. Within that, I drew two shapes. The fat one is the plane through the center of the stand, running front-to-back. The thinner shape is the shape of stand along the left and right edges. Let's call these the "spines" of the stand.

I added vertical lines for where I was going to want all the cross-sectional slices (the ones that will run left to right.) Each of these lines would then be used as guides to make the actual cross sections.

Step 3: Extrapolating From the Basic Shapes

Next, I created the cross sections by measuring the slices of each part of the spines. These measurements (center spine and edge spine) gave me two parts of the cross-sectional shape, which I then used bezier curves to connect smoothly.

A couple examples are below. I started by drawing a vertical grid, once again. This spacing was to make things wide enough for my laptop (going from center to right edge) with additional guides for later use. For each vertical slice along the spine, I transferred points to this grid. Transferring points is easy: I copied parts of the shape, dragged them directly over the new grid, and marked points.

The first example below is the front-most piece. I took the left-most line from the spines and measured out the middle spine on the left side and then the edge spine on the right. Then, I played with the bezier handles until I had a curve I liked and that could be copied across the rest of the shapes. In this case, I was simply drawing out the handles to be two guides inwards, each.

The second image below is the second cross-section; I just repeated the process for all the measurements on the second spine cross section.

After a bit of work, I had all nine cross-sections mapped out. I now decided that I wanted two more spines, to go in between the center and the edge spines. To do this, I found the height of each cross section between these spines and transferred them to a new spine (side) shape. You can see it in the third image.

Step 4: Adding Slots

I had to do some tests to figure out how wide to make my slots. Using the same material, I cut out a bunch of rectangles with differently-sized slots and saw how they fit. I settled on slots 0.195" wide for the 3/16" plywood I was using. They were snug, but didn't require a hammer to push together. In retrospect, I should have made them looser, with "nodes" to help the slots bite. You can see an image from Ponoko's manual for this (it's the second one.) That would have allowed easy assembly without too much forcing.

Okay, once I knew what kind of slots I was using, I made some little slot templates to make adding them to the spines and cross-sections easier. The idea was to measure the place where the slots met using the top-most curve of each shape. You can click through the two series of images, below to see how it was done. The image notes have all the details.

Step 5: Layout

Once all the shapes were done, I tweaked them and made clean outlines of each. For the cross-sections, only the right half of them was drawn, so I doubled them over as mirror images and joined them.

I them laid out the pieces according to the size of the sheets of plywood that I had on hand. I'm not going to pretend that this is some sort of optimal arrangement; I fiddled until they fit, barely, and called it done.

On this step, you can find the vector files for these shapes in several different file formats. If you just want to download this and get to work cutting it out, one of these should do the trick.

Step 6: Laser Cutting

I fed the vector layout to our laser cutter, and let it rip. It took about twenty minutes to get both layouts cut out. For reference, I used 100% power at 18% speed. You can see images of the pieces being cut out and punched out, below.

Step 7: Assembly

Assembling the laptop stand was actually a bit painstaking. The problem was that the slots were still too tightly-designed, and the when I had to fit nine at a time for each spine piece, I actually had to use a wood mallet to get everything squeezed together. I took care to support each intersection below with a piece of wood and then hammered everything together, going over each joint to get things flush.

After about 30 minutes, it was done! You can see the completed stand in the pictures below.

Step 8: Admire Your Work, Think of Improvements

Below are a bunch of shots of the stand with my laptop on it, and how it looks in my workspace. The angle is perfect for the occasional stand and it's very stable. It also feels airier and provides a lot more ventilation when things heat up. There's plenty of room for my cables and such.

Improvements, for the future:

  • Design it in 3D! See step 2 for my thinking on this. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments.
  • The slots should be looser; glue can be used instead of friction to keep everything together. "Nodes" can also be used for a nicer fit. See step 4 for details on this.
  • Though the stand is very strong and stable, there is just a bit of flex on the rear legs. I'd eliminate that with a thicker shape that keeps that last cross section a bit fatter in the middle.

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188 Discussions

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nagutronMindmapper1

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Looks amazing, Mindmapper1! Glad to see it working in a different material. Definitely let us know if acrylic works out.

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pposada

5 years ago on Step 2

You can check this free software from autodesk ( http://www.123dapp.com/make ) you can easily construct 3d models with 2d pieces, there are various tutorials and i´m not so sure but i think people can share their models.

This other software is specialized in chairs made up of 2d pieces, there is an open library of designs and a dummie for making ergonomic and structure tests. ( http://sketchchair.cc/ ).

I hope you find them helpful for your future projects!

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Mindmapper1

5 years ago on Introduction

This is excellent made it out of 4mm MDF and it is very stable, strong and does not flex at all. Next plan to be made of acrylic sheet. thanks for an excellent instructable.

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nagutronMindmapper1

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

That is *great*. I'd love to see photos -- post some! MDF is a great idea. I can imagine the slots being much more consistent than with the plywood I used.

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nagutronChasingthesun73

Reply 6 years ago on Step 4

There's a link to it here: http://blog.ponoko.com/2008/11/03/how-to-create-better-nodes/

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MRedu

6 years ago on Introduction

Very very nice. This would even look nice as an ornament in the living room!

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sethhepler

8 years ago on Introduction

 i joined this website just for this one comment:

Sorry to say this, but i am in disbelief that this is generating as much feedback as it is. check out the work over at www.grasshopper3d.com
this kind of stand can be made by any architecture student in there sleep if they are familiar with rhino and grasshopper. not faulting you, but you have crossed into a realm of parametric modelling where this would not be taken seriously seeing as how it was created with anything adobe. In a scripting sense this form would be extremely basic to create. I think you should invest a couple hours into learning grasshopper (free plugin) for rhino (not free, just crack). You can change density of the grid, extrusion distances, attractions, and material thickness with simple sliders.

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sethheplersethhepler

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

 you can see examples where students and practicing architects have built there stuff out of grasshopper. i have written a definition where the ribs generated by the surface automatically notch themselves, flatten out into line drawings, number themselves (for large installations), and line up ready to be exported. extremely practical.

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nagutronsethhepler

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Hey, thanks for the link. Yeah, I would definitely have preferred to have designed this in 3d, but like you say it was a simple shape so I used the tools I knew.

Grasshopper looks pretty easy to use. I code, though, so I'll probably script in Rhino directly when I decide to pick it up. Thanks for the suggestion.

Of course, if you model this or something like it, we'd all welcome some screenshots here or a whole instructable of your own!

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pixelpartnernagutron

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Nice work! I also spend much time for my design in the SVG app Inkscape. There is a (fresh) free Java application doing exactly your type of work in minutes : http://gregsaul.co.nz/SketchChair/

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bigjeff5pixelpartner

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Just an update, but SketchChair is still not yet available.

It has been fully funded via Kickstarter since May '11, but the software has yet to be released.

I'm really looking forward to it when they do, though, because it looks slick!

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eyerobotsethhepler

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You have to keep in mind, that the people that come to this site are the average person on the street. Not groups of students from some tech school, And if someone takes the time to learn how to do something like this in their spare time, With practically no help, Then they are to be congratulated, Because true invention, Is creating an idea that you yourself didn't know yesterday, Even if it's only a wheel.

Aside from that, I do love high tech designs.

I was wondering if it's possible to create a stand that actually conforms to the shape of a human lap, Or even if one can be made that can be used wether your sitting indian style, Or with your legs straight out. Just a thought, cause thats why my laptop sits on my desk all the time.

But I love the design, Because of the overall amount of airflow promoted in this project.

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Masharaeyerobot

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

I'm a Industrial designer, and i do come here a lot, because I am usually amazed with how people get around to do things by themselves. Sometimes, it's true, you think "man, look how much work this took, and you could have done it in a much easier way by doing this and that" but i still come because many times I find very simple and direct ways to do things, that my degree didn't teach me.

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80$man

7 years ago on Introduction

B E A U T I F U L

Very nice! I would have to build one!

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flyingpuppy

7 years ago on Introduction

Could this be done with a sheet of plastic thin enough to use a scissors or box cutter on? You know, like the pendant lamps on this site that use plastic pieces? What I mean is, if you don't have a lazer cutter, could this still be done at home?

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nagutronflyingpuppy

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

I don't think so, unfortunately. The slot joints between the pieces need to be fairly strong, and that comes from the material having some thickness.

Without a laser cutter, you could try foamcore (which will still be quite weak) or using traditional woodworking tools like a scroll saw to cut wood.