Lap Desk for Kids
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Wood Magazine

Lap Desk for Kids

Whether at home or on the road, kids will enjoy writing and drawing on this portable slant-top desk. It keeps their art supplies organized and handy whenever inspiration strikes!

Kids Lap desk
Boy with desk on lap
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A divider forms separate areas for
paper and a lift-out pencil box. The
box bottom has magnets to hold it in
place on the desk.
Showing inside of desk
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Kids Lap desk

Here's a project sure to stir a youth to action in the shop. It features easy-to-make parts and super simple glue-and-screw butt joinery. Now team up with a youngster, as Managing Editor Marlen Kemmet did with his enthusiastic 8-year-old son, Carter, and build -- along with the project -- great memories.

Note: After preparing the parts as explained in the first section of this article, have your partner join forces to complete the machining and assembly starting with the section titled "Assemble the lap desk".

As a convenience to allow you to view this free woodworking plan before downloading it, we now offer a page-by-page review. If you like the plan, you'll find a Click here for a free downloadable plan link on the last page of the plan. The downloadable plan will have larger, easier to view illustrations than the online preview.


Prepare the Parts
Full view of box
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Drawing 1
Side pattern, outside
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Drawing 2
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Prepare the Parts

Let's prepare the parts
  1. From 3/4" stock planed to 1/2", cut the sides (A), back (B), front (C), and lid rest (D), where shown on Drawing 1, to the sizes listed in the Materials List.
  2. Double-face-tape the inside faces of the sides (A) together. Mark the angled top edge on the outside face of a side, where dimensioned on Drawing 2. Then bandsaw close to the line, and sand to it using a 120-grit sanding block. Separate the sides, and remove the tape.
  3. Mark centerpoints for six 3/8" counterbores on the outside faces of the sides, where dimensioned on Drawing 2. Using a 3/8" Forstner bit in your drill press, drill the counterbores 1/4" deep. (Your partner will drill the centered holes in them later when assembling the lap desk.)
  4. Edge-join stock planed to 1/2" to form an 11 1/2x15 1/2" workpiece for the lid (E). After the glue dries, crosscut and then rip the lid to the finished size of 11x14 15/16".
  5. Angle your tablesaw blade 3° from vertical. Then bevel-rip the top edges of the back (B) and front (C), the back edge of the lid rest (D), and the front edge of the lid (E), where shown on Drawings 1 and 2.


Prepare the Parts (Continued)

Prepare the Parts (Continued)

6 Using your table-mounted router with a 1/8" round-over bit, rout along the top front edge of the lid rest (D), where shown on Drawing 1. Then switch to a 1/4" round-over bit, and rout along the top back edge of the lid (E). Now mark centerpoints for two #6x3/8" flathead wood screws in the top face of the lid rest, where dimensioned. (The screws align with magnets you'll install in the bottom of the pencil box later.) Drill the countersunk pilot holes at the centerpoints.

7 To form a finger recess on the front (C), first lay out a 1x5/8 " area centered on the front, where dimensioned on Drawing 1. Then chuck a 1 1/2"-diameter sanding drum with a 150-grit sleeve in your drill press. Holding the front against the drum at approximately 20°, sand the recess.

8 From 1/4" plywood, cut the bottom (F) to size. Then, from 3/4" stock planed to 1/2", cut the divider (G) to size.

9 To form the turn buttons (H), plane 3/4" stock to 3/8". Then cut a 2x6" workpiece. Make two copies of the full-size turn button pattern, Drawing 3 . Spray-adhere the patterns to the workpiece, aligning the straight edges with an edge of the workpiece. Drill countersunk shank holes through the buttons. Next, using your scrollsaw with a no. 3 blade, cut the buttons to shape. Using the sanding drum in your drill press, sand the edges smooth. Now hand-sand a 1/16" round-over along the top rounded edges.

10 From 3/4" stock resawn and planed to 1/4", cut the front/back (I) and ends (J) to size for the pencil box. Then, from stock planed to 1/2", cut the bottom (K) to size. (Your partner will drill the holes in the bottom for the magnets later.)


Assemble the pieces
Photo A
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Glue and clamp the right side (A)
and back (B) together with a squaring
brace. Then drill pilot holes through the
side into the back.
Photo B
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With the rabbeting bit's bearing
riding along the inside of the case,
rout a 3/8" rabbet 1/4" deep around
the bottom
inside edges.
Photo C
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Flip the case. Holding the lid (E) in
place and positioned by spacers,
drill holes through the side into the
lid for the brass hinge pins.

Assemble the pieces

Assemble the lap desk
  1. Glue and clamp together the right side (A) and back (B), as shown in Photo A. Then have your partner drill 3/32" pilot holes, centered in the side counterbores, through the bottom of the counterbores and 3/4" deep into the back, as shown. (We wrapped a piece of masking tape around the bit for a depth stop, locating the tape 1 1/4" from the end of the bit to allow for the 1/2"-thick side and 3/4" pilot-hole depth.) Drive the screws. Repeat to attach the left side (A) and front (C) to assembly A/B.
  2. Assisting your partner, as needed, apply glue to the top edge of the back (B) and to the ends of the lid rest (D). Clamp the lid rest in position on the beveled top edge of the back, where shown on Drawing 1, making sure the rounded edge of the rest is faceup and to the inside of the case. Now drill pilot holes, centered in the side counterbores, into the rest, and drive the screws. Remove the glue squeeze-out.
  3. Chuck a 3/8" rabbeting bit in your table-mounted router. Then rout a 1/4"-deep rabbet around the inside bottom edges of the case to receive the bottom (F), where shown on Drawing 1 and as shown in Photo B. (We recommend the adult do this.)
  4. To attach the lid (E), lay the case with the bottom up on a flat work surface. Then place the lid in the case bottom face up, making sure that the rounded edge of the lid is facedown and adjacent to the lid rest (D). Next, position the beveled front edge of the lid flush with the front (C) by inserting scrap 1/8"-thick spacers between the lid and the lid rest, and center the lid side-to-side by inserting 1/32" spacers (we used card stock) between it and the sides (A), as shown in Photo C. Now drill 1/8" holes 3/4" deep, centered in the side counterbores, into the lid for the brass hinge pins, as shown. Remove the spacers.


Assemble the Pieces (Continued)
Photo D
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Using a 4?-long piece of 5/16 dowel
as a pin punch, drive the lid hinge pin
flush with the bottom of the counterbore
in the side (A).
Photo E
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Trim the plugs flush with the
sides (A) using a flush-trim saw.
Keep the saw blade flat against the
sides to ensure a straight cut.
Photo F
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With the lap desk shimmed level
and a 3/4? scrap clamped to the
side (A) to prevent tear-out, bore
the turn-button recess.

Assemble the Pieces (Continued)

5 From a 1/8" brass rod 6" long, hacksaw two 1"-long pieces for the hinge pins. To install a pin, position the case vertically on a side (A), holding the lid (E) in place. With the hinge-pin holes aligned, slip a #8 brass flat washer between the lid and the side, center the washer with the holes, and insert a pin into the holes as far as you can. Then, holding the pin and lid in place, lay the assembly bottom up on your work surface. Now seat the pin, as shown in Photo D. Repeat to install the other pin.

6 Save your helper make plugs for the 12 counterbores, as explained in the Shop Tip, on the last page. Then glue the plugs in place, aligning the plug grain with that of the sides (A). Let the glue dry overnight. Then trim the plugs, as shown in Photo E.

7 Using a 150-grit sanding drum in your drill press or a disc sander, let your partner sand radii on the corners of the bottom (F) to fit it in the rabbeted recess in the case. Then glue and clamp the bottom in place.

8 Apply glue to the bottom edge of the divider (G). Then clamp it to the bottom (F), where dimensioned on Drawing 1.

9 Mark centerpoints on the top edges of the sides (A) for 1 1/4"-diameter recesses for the turn buttons (H), where dimensioned on Drawing 1a. Next, chuck a 1 1/4" Forstner bit in your drill press. Place the lap desk on the drill-press table with the front (C) against the fence. Then insert a shim of the needed thickness under the front of the desk, as shown in Photo F, to make the top level. To prevent tear-out, clamp a small piece of 3/4" scrap to the side (A), as shown. Now bore a 3/8"-deep hole. Repeat to bore a hole in the other side. Using the centers of the counterbores as guides, drill. 5/64" holes 1 1/8" deep for the turn-button mounting screws.

10 Lending your partner a hand, glue and clamp together the pencil-box front/back (I), ends (J), and bottom (K), noting that the front/back pieces overlap the ends. After the glue dries, drill two holes for magnets in the bottom, where dimensioned on Drawing 1b. (Using a Forstner bit, we drilled 3/8" holes 3/16" deep to fit 3/8"-diameter magnets 3/16" long from a hardware store.) Then install the magnets using 5-minute epoxy.


Finishing the Project

Finishing the Project

Time to finish up
  1. Carefully mark centerpoints for 3/16" holes on the outside face of the back (B) for attaching a 3" wire pull, where dimensioned on Drawing 1. Drill the holes.
  2. Sand the lap desk and pencil box with 220-grit sandpaper. Ease the edges of the sides (A) and lid (E), where shown. Remove the dust. Then apply three coats of a clear finish. (We used a satin polyure-thane, sanding to 220 grit between coats.) For health reasons, we recommend that the adult do this in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Finally, screw the wire pull to the back (B) and the turn buttons (H) to the sides (A). Rotate the turn buttons, and check that you can raise the lid (E). If not, slightly sand the straight edges of the buttons for the needed clearance for the lid. Drive two #6x3/8" flathead wood screws that align with the magnets in the pencil box into the holes in the lid rest (D). Now have your partner round up some drawing supplies, and let the artistry begin!




Perfect plugs made easy

To plug screw-hole counterbores, such as those in the sides (A) of the lap desk, you want the plugs to fit snugly and match the tone and grain pattern of the surrounding wood. Make virtually invisible plugs using a tapered plug cutter and a cutoff from the part that needs plugs. Drill the plugs, as shown above, making the length equal to the depth of the counterbore plus 1/8" and leaving about 1/4" of space between them. Cut a few more plugs than needed so you can choose ones that match best. Pry the plugs from the cutoff using a straight-blade screwdriver, as shown below right.

© Copyright Meredith Corporation 2004, 2010



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