Regular readers will know that I now do all my work using an iPad. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go over the technical details again.
But I will tell you about this excellent new lap desk I have. Better than that, I made it myself, so follow along to see how you can make your own.
When out and about, I combine the iPad with an Apple wireless keyboard and Incase’s truly excellent Origami Workstation, a combined keyboard case and stand: the setup is almost as portable as a keyboard case, and you get a full-sized keyboard to type on.
But at home, this is less than ideal. Desk work gives me wrist pain, and the Origami digs into my thighs if I work in an easy chair or in bed. I tried a few tea trays and even a stretched painting canvas, but in the end I decided that a lap desk would be the way to go. It has the advantage of being portable, comfy, and you can lift the whole thing off your lap when you need to make more coffee.
So I set out to find a piece of suitable plywood. I like plywood. It looks good, it is very stiff and strong for its weight and thickness thanks to its construction, and it’s cheap.
On the way to the wood store, though, I passed a Habitat, which is an English home-ware chain that has some branches in Europe. I figured that if I could buy a cheap tray, I would be off to a head start. And boy did I find one.
The Dani tray isn’t shown on Habitat’s site, but then you probably don’t want to buy anything from there anyway — its sister product the DANI Wood Breakfast Tray is marked as “We will call to arrange a delivery in 6-8 weeks” — so 20th century.
The tray is almost perfect as is, but a few modifications needed to be done to make it usable for typing. The first was to remove one of the raised edges. There are plenty of ways to do this, but I chose a Dremel with a router bit and the routing guide.
First, mark the line you want to cut with a pencil, and then head to the internet for instructions on how to use your Dremel. Next, attach the correct bit, clamp (or in my case, gaffer-tape) a straight piece of wood to the bottom of the tray to act as a guide, and cut. The guide is on the bottom as the top — obviously — has edges in the way. If I’d had a fine enough wood-saw available I’d have used that, but the Dremel actually made a very clean cut which needed minimal sanding to finish it.
And that could well be it. I used the tray/desk for a few days like this. At first, I just put the Origami stand on there, but the rear edge of the tray stopped it going back far enough for my taste. I then tried it with the keyboard naked and the iPad in a case which would prop it up vertically, and that worked great. But it wasn’t elegant enough for me.
So I figured I’d add a built-in stand. Happily, the bent-up edges provided a pretty good rear support for the iPad, and are at just about the right angle. The options were a.) route out a channel for the iPad to catch in, and let it rest on the back edge; b.) hook something over the back edge for the iPad to sit in; or c.) add some kind of clips or clamps to the tray itself and let the iPad cantilever itself into a stable position.
I chose c).
As ever, I started going through boxes of junk to find inspiration, but it came instead from dinner: a bamboo chopstick was not only minimal enough, but also matched the wooden tray. I picked out a square-handled chopstick, chopped off the round end (with a bread knife — don’t tell The Lady) and lined it up to test.
Success! It really looked like this might work, and be minimal and elegant to boot. I superglued the stick in place, leaving enough room to use the iPad either in a slim case or naked. After it dried, I tested it. Amazingly, it was perfect. On to the next stage.
Proper PVA wood glue would be strong enough to hold even the heavy iPad 3, but as I’d been a cowboy and used superglue, I drilled a couple holes from the back (eyeballing the position, and trying not to pierce the top edge of the chopstick for aesthetic reasons) and put in a couple of tiny screws. I also forced a bit of wood glue into the gaps left around the stick and called it good until the next day.
And that was it. I had just one more thing to do: add some rubber bumpers to stop any slippage. The iPad is surprisingly stable, even in portrait orientation, but I thought I’d make double sure. The bumpers are made from strip off, self-adhesive rubber that came as a spare with the original Pad&Quill iPad case, sliced into two and stuck in place.
I have been using the tray for a couple weeks now and it’s fantastic. It also works for a MacBook, and — thanks to the minimal nature of the bamboo chopstick bracket — it still works fine as a tea tray, although it flexes a little more thanks to one of the edges being missing.
You could go further. The tray isn’t really thick enough to thread a dock-connector through the bottom and use as an iPad charger, but if you chopped a hole in the back edge, you could just put a regular Apple iPad dock on the tray and use that as a stand instead of the chopstick.
You could also add a pad or cushion to the bottom, but that seems pointless, as this thing weighs almost nothing and lets the air circulate and draw away any sweat.
In fact, the only thing I might add is a single hole (or is that “subtract”?) so I can hang my desk on the wall when I’m not working. Otherwise — for me at least — it’s pretty much ideal.