Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wander: DIY Lap Desk

About a year ago, I was on the hunt for a sizable lap desk so that I could sit on the couch in the living room and use my laptop with a mouse (because trackpads are a real pain). After browsing the usual spots (basically just Amazon and a general Google search because I'm lazy), the only place I found lap desks that fit my desires was Etsy.

Though I love Etsy and the makers who comprise the Etsy community, I looked at the offerings of lap desks at that time and none of them really felt "right." You know?

So I was off to make myself a lap desk!

It's been a year and my male counterpart has requested one for himself. I've used mine nearly daily since I finished it (we're always in the living room at home) and it's holding up great! Looks like I bought it custom from a professional - if I don't say so myself *braggart smirk.* But you can be the judge for yourself.

This is a quick, intermediate difficulty, DIY project with impressive results. You can do this in a single weekend and most of the time spent is in hands-off time, letting the wood stain and clear coat dry, and then letting the glue dry.

Let's get to making a large wood top lap desk!

See how after the jump!

Learn how to make this super useful lap desk with this step-by-step tutorial via

What You'll Need


  • 2 pieces of plywood 
    • 1 - 1/4 in. thick
    • 1 - 1/2 in. OR 1/4 in. thick 
      • This piece is for the actual top of the desk. 
      • Scroll to end of the post for a comparison of 1/4" to 1/2".
      • I suggest taking a look at the thicknesses in person. You'll get a feel for which you prefer in appearance and weight. 
  • Project/Cushion foam 3" thick and large enough to be cut to match the dimensions of your desktop. (Example Product)
  • Low loft quilt batting (Example Product)
  • Fabric (enough to cover the foam, batting, and 1/4 in. plywood desk cushion/base. 
    • I buy 1.5 yards because I have a large "oops factor")
  • Wood stain 
  • Polycrylic or polyurethane clear coat
  • Wood glue


  • Medium and fine grit sandpaper & sanding block (or, if you have one, a random orbital sander)
  • Paint brush 
    • Make sure the brush is compatible with wood stain & the type of clear coat you choose.
    • Brush cleaning agent such as mineral spirits to clean the brush between uses, as applicable.
  • Staple gun with staples
  • Hammer
  • Scissors
  • Heavy books or weights or cinder block er.. basically anything heavy
  • Utility knife (or, if you have one, a powered carving knife or hot wire foam cutter)
  • Safety glasses and dust mask for sanding. Hearing protection like ear plugs, if using a powered sander. Work gloves for handling the plywood (no one likes splinters) and for using the utility knife. You may want to wear safety glasses for the stapling step too. 

How To

  1. Cut the two pieces of plywood to the desired size of the top of the lap desk. If you don't own a saw (I don't, I'm in a rental and don't even have a garage to store a power saw!), you can go to Home Depot to purchase your plywood and they will cut it to the desired dimensions for you at no additional cost. For reference, my lap desks were sized to 27" x 17". 

  2. Sand the plywood. Sand the piece you plan to use for your desktop to ensure an even and clean desktop surface. Also sand to round off the edges of the desktop and to round the corners. As for the other piece, because it will be used in the base and covered, just quickly sand the edges to remove any roughness and splinters and sand to round the corners so they match the desktop.

  3. Stain the desktop piece of plywood. After sanding, you will want to use a clean rag or a shop paper towel to wipe off any dust and wood dust. Once the wood is sanded and clean, follow the instructions on your can of stain to stain the wood to the desired color. 

  4. I have recently been in love with the "Early American" color from Minwax. It's also what I used on my previous lap desk project. For this project, while I was at the store I bought another color, "Weathered Oak." I tried them both on a scrap of plywood and had to go with my old standby, "Early American." If you have any scrap from cutting your desktop, it's always good to try out the stain before committing. :)

  5. Apply two coats of the clear coat to the desktop. Once the stain has dried per its label instructions, apply the clear coat, following its instructions. Be sure to only apply in thin coats, allow for the full dry time, sand between coats, and do at least two coats. It's worth the wait. This is the volume and type I bought for this project.

  6. Cut foam to size. Now that the desktop is done, it's time to move on to the cushion base. You can also do Steps 5-9 while stain and clear coat are drying, to cut down project time. Cut the 3" project foam to just slightly smaller than the desktop dimensions. I reduced the length and width measurements by 1/2" each, so I attempted to cut my foam to 26.5" x 16.5". I say attempted because I used a utility knife and the repeated swipe method, which is not very accurate. Electric carving knives and hot wire foam cutters are more accurate. 

  7. Cut fabric and batting to size. If you stack the unstained plywood on the foam piece and place that on your fabric and batting, you should get an idea of how much of each you will need to upholster the cushion you are building. You want enough batting and fabric to completely cover the foam and plywood, with a few inches extending toward the center of the plywood. See image in Step 7 for how far my fabric extends, as a reference. 

  8. Upholster the cushion base. Layer your materials in the following order, beginning from the work surface going up: fabric (with right side facing down toward work surface), batting, foam, & unstained plywood. Now, you want to bring the edges of the fabric and batting up and over the plywood, then use the staple gun to secure it. The idea is to keep the fabric taut and staple along a side to the corner. Once at a corner, fold the fabric to make a neat corner and staple to secure. Then, just keep working your way around. Here's a YouTube video that shows the basic technique applied in this step. 

  9. Trim excess fabric and batting. You want to expose as much of the wood surface as you can for Step 10. 

  10. Use a hammer to ensure the staples are fully embedded. I like to hammer down the staples when it's all done, just to ensure they're down fully and not sticking up. 

  11. Glue the desktop wood to the cushion base. Now for the last active step: gluing! Apply a generous amount of wood glue to the unstained plywood side of the cushion base. You can put glue on the fabric too, just don't get too close to the edges, or you might get some oozing. Put some glue on the unstained side of the desktop piece of plywood. Then, place the desktop on top of the cushion base and press firmly down. Check for oozing glue and clean up, as necessary.

  12. Set weight on top of lap desk and allow glue to dry, at least overnight. Place a rag or extra fabric on top of the desktop to protect the wood. Then, put some heavy weights or books or whatever you have on hand (fat lazy cats, sleeping old people, rocks, whatever) on top. Check for runaway glue one more time. Then, let it set like that overnight. I like to let mine dry for a full 24 hours because I am glue happy. As you can see, I used my boyfriend's Bowflex weights set; that's just over 100lbs! lol

Wait for it to finish drying and you're DONE!

Learn how to make this super useful lap desk with this step-by-step tutorial via

Now, admire and put to use! I not only use mine for my laptop, but for drawing and coloring, for eating on, and as a side table when I feel like sitting in the middle of the couch.

Congratulations, friend, on your newly made lap desk!

And just to show you a view of the differences between the two that I've made, for reference, here are some photos and info.

Lap Desk 1 Lap Desk 2
Desktop Thickness 1/2 in. 1/4 in.
Wood Stain Minwax "Early American" Minwax "Early American"
Batting Used? No Yes
Foam Thickness 3 in. 3 in.

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