Office Space: The Lap Desk (And How To Make One)

I prefer using my laptop with an external monitor. I like the big screen and I like being able to stand. But sometimes I just want to use my laptop the way it was meant to be used: on my lap! Alas, there are a couple of problems with using a laptop on your lap. First, most laptops cannot vent properly on a soft surface. Airflow is blocked and the machine can easily overheat (sometimes leading to internal damage). Second, my lap is too far from my eyes, so I tend to slouch when I use a laptop on my lap. To address these problems, I made a lap desk. In this post I’ll explain how I made the lap desk.


The materials for this are easy to come by.

Wood. I found a wooden TV tray table by the dumpster  — have I mentioned that I’m a scavenger? (See “Office Space: Desk Setup“). The tray eventually became my lap desk. (You can buy these on Amazon or just get a small piece of wood from the local lumber supplier or home improvement store. The area of the wood should be a few inches larger than the area your laptop, in both dimensions. The wood should probably be a minimum of ⅜ inch thick.)

Screws (6). I used screws that were in the TV tray table that I found. (I needed at least 6.)

Foam. I bought the remainder of a cut block of upholstery foam at a local craft store. It was cheaper than buying a full block of foam online, e.g., Amazon.

Fabric. I bought a yard of cheap fabric at the same local craft store. This was about the same cost as buying online, e.g., Amazon.

Jigsaw. I happen to have a jigsaw. (You can buy or rent a decent jigsaw at a local home improvement store or even online).

Around $25 on Amazon

Wood Stain and sealer (optional). My partner and I stain our wood furniture a certain color. And we coat all of our work surfaces with polyurethane. I usually use Minwax products. (If you stain and/or seal your lap desk, then you’ll obviously need a couple brushes and a few cloth rags.)

Lap Desk Instructions

The process is straightforward. Here is an outline of the steps.

1. Cut the wood to the desired size and shape.

Lap desk dimensions

2. Affix a few scrap pieces of wood to the bottom of the lap desk (to hold the foam pillow in place). (I used the aforementioned screws to do this).Bottom of the lap desk

3. Sand the lap desk as needed.

4. (Optional). Stain and seal (or just paint) the lap desk.

5. Cut the foam to fit snugly in the cavity that you just made with scrap wood. (I made the cuts with a large non-serrated kitchen knife). Also, consider the angle at which you want your lap desk to sit and cut other side of the foam at that angle.

6. Sew the fabric on three sides so it forms a pillowcase. (Try not to make the pillowcase fit too snugly or else it might not fit precisely into the cavity you created for it.)

Sew the fabric to fit around the pillow.

7. Insert the pillow into its case and fold the opening onto the side of the pillow that will be under the lap desk.The pillow is in the foam next to the wooden lap desk.

8. Put the pieces together (after stain/paint/sealer has dried and cured).


The lap desk is perfect for those times when I want to work in a comfortable chair and put my feet up. Surprisingly, the lap desk is also handy for working at tables and desks because it props up my laptop at a comfortable angle.


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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at