Boxguy's Wooden Laptop

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Project by Boxguy posted 07-22-2012 06:28 AM 6767 views 23 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Pictured is a White Oak and Black Walnut box styled after the lap-top desks and teacher’s desks from Colonial times. It has a lift-up lid and will hold an 8 1/2×11 inch piece of paper on the top and inside the box. I had to stain the wood a bit to go with the bedroom suit, and it is finished with 3 coats of wipe-on poly.

Dimensions/Material: Slant is 15 1/2×11, Flat is 15 1/2×3 1/2, Base is 13 1/4×10 x 4 1/4, Inner shelf is 12 1/4×4 All the sides are made of 1/2 wood. Top is 1/2 inch oak veneer on a Masonite core so it won’t warp or split.

Historical Note: Ben Franklin actually had a lap top desk he carried with him on trips. I have seen it displayed in a small museum in a bank in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Franklin’s desk folded up and stored writing supplies like ink, paper, envelopes, sealing wax, and quills. It is a beautiful design. Link

Construction Tips: This builds much like any other box, except the shelf needs a dado groove in the back and sides. The pencil holder indent on top was done with a bowl-making router bit.

Design Features: I wanted a much more basic design than Franklin’s that would be fairly easy to make and would store odds and ends in the bedroom, be a good place to keep a calendar, and hold a pencil. To avoid losing things and to avoid pinching my fingers I want the hinge to run continuously from side to side.

For that to work I had to make several adjustments. The cross piece gives me a place to fasten the hinge to the top. The vertical pieces thicken the look of the top, and give me a place to finish connecting the hinge. I needed to grind away enough of half of the hinge so it didn’t hit the sides when the lid closes.

I also found that having a dip that was even with the box bottom let me get a better grip on paper I wanted to remove from the box. The front piece has a dado groove in it.

The shelf rides in a dado groove cut on the two sides and the back of the box. The front edge of the shelf has a dado to receive the shelf. It is an extra complication to add the shelf, but it is really handy to keep some things inside…but not have them sitting on top of the papers in the bottom. The clear plastic “bumpers” you see on each side keep the lid from slamming when it closes.

If you can build a box, you can build this lap-top. All the basic skills are the same. It even has corner splines.

Thanks: As always thanks for looking and I especially want to thank any of you who take time to make comments and suggestions. After all, that is what this part of the site is all about.

-- Big Al in IN

26 comments so far

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1137 posts in 3809 days

#1 posted 07-22-2012 08:43 AM

That’s really neat and looks very usable. Thought you might be interested also in this one – it’s a plan for a lap top desk used by Thomas Jefferson

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4301 days

#2 posted 07-22-2012 10:46 AM

Very nice, and smoooooth. Very useful

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 4353 days

#3 posted 07-22-2012 11:10 AM

Al that is a nice desk

Is this an early warning for a tough

tutorial? :)

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4800 days

#4 posted 07-22-2012 12:40 PM

ah yes, the good ole school days, those were some really cool desks and i like the design, you did very well in repeating it and adding the shelf is a nice touch. i just have one suggestion if that is alright, i notice in your pictures that there is a shadow on the bottom where the box is elevated, i think if you flood the area with more light you can get it to disappear , and your elevation will look really cool and no shadow,but another great project Al, as a prop suggestion a pair of chattering teeth would have looked cool…or a pair of vampire teeth…lol…..grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View croquetman's profile


137 posts in 4818 days

#5 posted 07-22-2012 01:14 PM

I’ve wanted to build a desktop box for years, but didn’t have a person to build it for. I really like your design. Using the piano hinge give the lid a lot of durability. Does the shelf really justify a dovetail dado? I guess it really locks it in place. Nice job.

-- Whatever

View dustyal's profile


1322 posts in 4972 days

#6 posted 07-22-2012 01:40 PM

Very nice… and thank you for the tutorial detail… well done. Interesting laminate of oak veneer over masonite. I need to try that out on a box top or something…

Now I am wondering… should I have used the piano hinge on my calendar frame pencil box instead of two small hinges? Hmmmm…. You keep me thinking, and I appreciate that.

BTW: and I see you have your link working…

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4339 days

#7 posted 07-22-2012 05:26 PM

Nice! wabi sabi

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Boxguy's profile


2905 posts in 3764 days

#8 posted 07-22-2012 05:42 PM

Responses to comments so far and links to other information.

JR45, thanks for the comment and the link. I subscribe to Fine Woodworking and like it, but I chafe at the idea of paying extra for information on their internet site.

Roger, thanks for the compliment.

Jamie, I’ll be glad to help. But the build is pretty straight forward.

Grizz, you are right this is similar to student desks from school, but I was referring to antique schoolmaster desks. Thanks for the photo hint. I’ll keep that in mind. One of the problems was that this project was larger than the shelf I use to photo on, and so it hung over the edge.

Croquer, I hope I didn’t mislead you. The shelf is not set in a dovetale. I made a straight dado cut with the table saw on the back and the sides just before I glued the bottom together. I notched the shelf and added the front stop to cover the part of the dado that wasn’t deep enough and curved.

Dusty, I finally conquered the fine art of linking sites with help from you and others. Thanks. I liked your calendar holder. This is a link to my tutorial on how to cut piano hinges to length. (Link)

This is a tutorial on how to mortise in and install the hinge. (link)

As you can see, I have gone link crazy.

Tom, it seems wabi sabi can enter into every project. At least every one I do. To understand wabi sabi click here (link)

-- Big Al in IN

View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 3698 days

#9 posted 07-22-2012 06:44 PM

love it, gave me a excellent idea, I have my oldest girl starting college and this would be a nice send off gift, I am sure a credit card inside would be more to her liking though…....

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

View Sodabowski's profile


2404 posts in 4330 days

#10 posted 07-22-2012 10:28 PM

Man, I’m definately adding that idea to my to-do list! Thanks a lot for sharing. Great pics too BTW.

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View vonhagen's profile


549 posts in 3862 days

#11 posted 07-22-2012 11:24 PM

now you have come up with a very nice and useful assessory for the home, great job

-- no matter what size job big or small do a job right or don't do it at all.

View Doe's profile


1440 posts in 4327 days

#12 posted 07-22-2012 11:30 PM

I love it. It reminds me of a davenport (minus the bottom half). I’d like to see it with a deep drawer on the right for pens etc. instead of the shelf. Thanks for sharing!

-- Mother Nature talks, I try to listen

View Boxguy's profile


2905 posts in 3764 days

#13 posted 07-22-2012 11:54 PM

Response To Latest Comments

Shep, have fun with the daughter-build. Sending kids to college is an emotional experience.

Thomas, boxwood does make great boxes, especially carved ones. Good luck on the teacher’s desk.

Vonhagen, my laptop desk sits on top of a dresser and is at a good height for writing while standing. I like building useful things.

Doe, Thanks for the thought provoking comment. I like your posts of useful objects for the home. The “laptop desks” from the Colonial era have the side drawers you mentioned. They also unfold to double the writing surface. It is a neat design. I chose to simplify the build a bit and get rid of the seam in the writing area.

I made a laptop along the lines you mentioned, but the drawer was a time-consuming build and I felt I couldn’t get a sale price back for my time. I found that a bottom drawer makes storing standard sized paper difficult. If you add a drawer, consider having it at the top where the shelf is located.

-- Big Al in IN

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


24948 posts in 5173 days

#14 posted 07-23-2012 12:28 AM

Nice build. Bet ol’ Ben would have loved that Sharpie;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4187 days

#15 posted 07-23-2012 01:16 AM

Another functional, well constructed, and pretty project from the boxguy. I may have to steal this one.I particularly like the shelf and the scooped out full depth finger slot.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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