Laptop Desk Views

Flat-On-Your-Back Desk

- Cerrise Weiblen

As seen at Maker Faire Austin, 2007.  Thank you Make Magazine and O'Reilly Media Inc.

I designed this desk for long hours of laptop use from a totally flat, horizontal position.

The adjustable angle and the location of the support, high on the back, allows for bent knees.  A laptop docking station can be securely attached to the desktop, to keep the computer in place while the desk is moved around.  This is especially helpful because it protects the computer from being dropped.

Why use this design, when there are so many commercially available lap desks and over-the-bed tables?  This specific desk was built for a patient in recovery from a severe spinal injury, which required long months of bed-rest in a totally flat position (no propping up on pillows or sitting in a chair was possible).  Horizontally oriented tables and standard lap desks are totally unusable from this position.  Even over the bed desks require the user to be able to reach out of bed and apply leverage to adjust them, which is impossible with a spinal injury.  So we came up with a solution, which is easy to manipulate and adjust without sitting up and without applying very much force.

Since the desk was home-made, we were much more likely to customize it, which in the end resulted in a much more useful item than anything  we could have purchased.  We added velcro and other attachment points for pens, cell phone, and other items, to prevent them from falling out of reach. 

The combination of angled laptop screen and adjustable desk legs makes it easy to find a comfortable viewing angle from just about any position between lying flat and sitting upright, whether you’re in bed or on the sofa.

Best of all, the desk allows someone who is confined to bed a bit of autonomy and the freedom to surf the Internet, watch movies, and even work at home without need of assistance. 

Step 1.  Measurements

While the user is laying down:

  • Measure the width of the user across the hips, all the way to the outside edges.  This is measurement A (width of desk).
  • Measure the height from the surface they are lying on to above the hips.  This is measurement B (height above bed).
  • Have the user bend his or her knees, and bring their legs up into the highest comfortable position they may want to lay in while using the desk.
  • Measure the distance from the top of  the hips to the top of the knees.  This is measurement C (height of knees)

Get out the laptop and the docking station that you will be using.

  • Make sure that your measurement. A (width of desk) is greater than the widest point of the laptop and/or docking station plus 2 inches.  (If you want to put a mouse pad beside the laptop, add the width of the mouse pad as well.)  If this new measurement is greater than the width of the user across the hips, it will replace measurement A (width of desk).
  • Make sure that your measurement C (height of knees) is greater than the deepest point of the laptop and docking station combined, plus 3 inches.  If this new measurement is greater than the distance from the hips to the knees, it will be measurement C1 (depth of desk).
  • Add measurement B (height above bed) to measurement C (height of knees).  This is measurement D (length of legs).  Note, don’t use C1 (depth of desk).  It’s OK if the desk top extends past the end of the legs, but you want the hinge to bend right about where the knees do, for stability.

Step 2.  Materials

  • One piece of plywood with dimensions A by C or C1 whichever is greater (desk top).
  • Four pieces of 1 x 2 measuring D in length (legs).
  • One piece of 1 x 2 measuring A minus 2 inches in length (brace for back legs).
  • One piece of 1 x 2 measuring A minus 2 inches in length (front ledge).
  • Two ¼ inch bolts, 2 ½ inches long
  • Two ¾ inch nylon washers
  • Six 1 inch steel washers
  • Two wing-nuts
  • About eighteen screws or nails

Step 3.  Assemble

  1. Center the front ledge to one edge of the desk top, leaving one inch empty to the left and right.  Apply glue to the front ledge and nail or screw from the back of the desk top through to the front ledge, so the heads won’t show and so the user won’t have to rest his or her hands on anything rough or made of metal.  The glue-sealed seam is optional, but is useful to keep papers from slipping through the crack.
  2. Drill a ¼ inch hole centered in the ends of all four legs (hinges).
  3. Choose two of the legs for the front.  Mark measurement B (height above bed) from one end.  (Alternatively, you can have the user lay down and assist you in finding the most comfortable height for their body and arm position.) 
  4. Align the desk top at the line and nail or screw from the front, through to the legs.  Keep the legs as close to the edges of the desk top as possible.  (There is an inch at right and left of the front ledge to allow for the screws.)
  5. Bolt the back legs to the inside of the front legs, using the nylon washers and wingnuts to create the hinges.  File off  and round the corners of the back legs at the hinge, to allow a full range of motion. 
  6. Have the user lay down again, with their knees bent and their legs pulled up into the highest comfortable position they may want to lay in while using the desk.  Mark a place for the brace for back legs at the lowest point possible, while allowing for the user’s knees.  There’s really no way to measure for this, you just have to set the desk in place and work with what you’ve got.
  7. Nail or screw the brace for back legs to the back legs, and you are done!

Step 4.  Finishing Touches

  • Finish and/or seal the wood.
  • Mount the laptop docking station.
  • Add velcro and cord loops, to keep everything easy to reach and tidy.
  • We filed away some of the front ledge to make room for the PC’s power button.


A =

whichever is greater:  width of user across hips OR width of laptop + width of mousepad or peripherals


B =

height above bed


C =

height of knees


C1 =

depth of laptop + depth of docking station + 3 inches


D =

B + C


A minus 2 inches =


depth of laptop + docking station =


width of laptop = 


Laptop Desk SketchUp Measuring Guide

Laptop Desk Side View

Laptop Desk SketchUp Front View

Laptop Desk Close-up of Hinge

Laptop Desk SketchUp Hinge Detail

Laptop Desk Wide View

Laptop Desk Narrow View

Copyright Cerrise Weiblen 2007.  All rights reserved.  You may print these directions for personal use only.  You may not use this design to make a product for sale.  email: