DIY Lap Desk with Burned Wood Finish

As the kids get older and move up through school, access to the family computer for this desert-dwelling, DIY-blogging dad has been getting more and more scarce.

Finally, since the beginning of the year, I've been putting all my content together on my handy Surface Tablet. Usually, this consists of me on the couch or propped up in bed with the tablet perched on a decorative pillow. I peck away at the keys while the computer wallows around like a sinking barge.

I've wanted to build some kind of lap desk for quite a while, but now that I've been precariously blogging on a pillow or a few months, I decided it was time to get it done.

This lap desk is a cool, inexpensive project that can be done in a couple hours with some basic tools. I still wanted mine to be visually attractive, so I did a cool torch-burned finish to bring out the detail in the wood.

  This post is sponsored by Bernzomatic
All opinions are 100% my own.

Desktop Construction

I started by picking out some 1 x 6, select-pine boards. I chose straight, clean boards with some neat character in the grain. Since I'd be slightly burning them later with a hand torch, I'd bring out and celebrate that character. Boring, old straight grain wouldn't be very visually interesting would it?

I also wanted a smooth surface for writing or using a computer mouse. The select pine is nicely sanded on all sides and is free of knots. 

1x6 Select Pine Boards
Three, warp-free, straight-edged beauties, with plenty of character.
As usual, I decided to overbuild; no dainty little teacup sized desk for me. I'd build a monster, 16 1/4" deep by 22" wide panel to top my lap desk. I'd be able to land a standard World War II naval fighter plane on the deck of this beast. 

I picked the most interesting sections of grain and lopped the boards into three properly sized planks on the miter saw. Any type of straight cutting saw can do this step, but I seriously love the speedy precision of a miter saw. 

I cut them one at a time, but did a final precision shave to the end as a group, just to ensure the boards were perfectly the same length.

One of the reasons I chose the select pine is that it is pretty straight and smooth on all sides. I was able to lay the boards out as a tight-fitting panel, right from the store. I didn't have to run them through the table saw or jointer to square up the mating edges. Of course select grade costs more than rough lumber, but it's a real time saver.

I drilled a series of pocket holes along the length of the boards. They'd get screwed together and be workable sooner than glue-only assembly.  

Even if I'm screwing a panel together, I like to use a good wood glue, to keep it super solid. It also fills any minor gaps that may appear between the boards. 

TIP -  Flip the middle board over so the circular end grain curves in the opposite direction as the boards it will be mated to. Wood can cup slightly as it ages. If all three boards cup the same direction. In time, the piece could develop a significant curve, rendering it unusable. 

I clamped the panel together to avoid shifting and ran pocket hole screws in with an impact driver. 

The select pine is pretty smooth stuff right from the store, but there are still little dings, dents and imperfections. I gave the whole piece a good, long sanding with 220 grit paper on the random orbital sander. It also cleaned up the slight differences in the mating plank edges as well as a little bit of dried glue.

I'm a smooth operator 
I eased the edges with a piloted round-over bit in the router,  flipped the panel over, and rounded the bottom side. 

Shown with an optional arm-hair, sawdust-catching feature.
A quick hand sanding with 220 grit got the whole piece nice and smooth.

Finishing the Top - Flame On!!!

This is where it gets really fun. Fresh pine is pretty pale in color and doesn't show much character unless you stain it, OR use a cool wood-burning technique with a handheld torch to bring out some visual interest.

I chose the Bernzomatic TS-8000 with a propane cylinder to toast my brand-new panel. I practiced with a piece of scrap wood for a while to get my technique in line before going live. 

I set my panel on the garage floor, pulled the trigger to spark the TS-8000 to life, and floated the torch across the entire width of the panel. I moved the flame along the grain at a steady pace, similar to using a can of spray-paint.

The Bernzomatic TS-8000 burning wood

I found it was best to burn the wood very lightly as I went, using those broad strokes. With more time under the flame, the darker it got. Just like spray paint, it's easy to overdo it if its held too long in one place.

Of course, I know all about overdoing it whilst burning wood. Last time I went for a torched wood finish, I didn't stop until it was charred coal-black. This time, I just wanted to toast it enough to bring out the character in the wood, and give it some color. I'd skip the skull and crossbones on this project too.

Creating a Decorative Wood Burning Finish

I continued to ease the torch back and forth, slowing down where I found an interesting detail in the grain that I wanted to bring out. The further I went, the more it felt like spray painting; I could blend the burned, patina effect by alternating the distance and angle of the flame to the piece.

There were a couple little areas I overcooked, but it was easy enough to touch them up with a light hit of the 220 grit sandpaper and a revisiting of the TS-8000's blue flame to blend it in nicely.  

When the top was done, I toasted the edges and the bottom. The cushion wouldn't cover the entire back, so I wanted the exposed areas to have the same look as the top.

Once the torched finish looked the way I liked it, I wiped the piece down with a soft, slightly damp cloth to remove any loose soot. I gave it a good protective finish. I like to use several coats of  a good-quality, clear lacquer spray, with a very light hand sanding between coats.

Applying Dreft Clear Wood Finish
I used semi-gloss for this project
Look how rich the color is with this burned finish method. It's unbelievable that this is fresh, new wood, with no colored stain added. This was just pale, clean pine, lightly toasted by the TS-8000, and covered with a clear lacquer. 

Burnt Wood Finish
Burnt Wood Finish with Clear Lacquer

Adding the Cushion 

I'd never been in a fabric store before. I now know how it feels when someone goes into a lumber yard or hardware store for the first time. Weird terms, an unfamiliar method of purchasing, and a huge variety of product types confused the heck out of me.

Eventually, I found the upholstery section and picked a heavy -oven, earth-tone cloth, with bits of black in the texture. It looked very similar to to our living room couch.

upholstery at the fabric store
A diamond in the rough
My next stop was the local craft store where I picked up a perfect-size piece of foam to bring home.

I cut a piece of 1/8" plywood to match the foam. It would form the top of the cushion piece and provide a solid surface to staple the upholstery.

Stapling with heavy-duty T-50 staples.
I tucked and wrapped the fabric like a present, popping a staple in every two inches along the edge of the plywood. I pulled the fabric up tight on the corners to give the whole cushion a slightly rounded, pillowed effect.

The plywood got a good dose of a super-strong Liquid Nails adhesive. I ran  a bead of adhesive atop the fabric too, just to get a little extra locking power, but I kept it away from the edge where it could glop out and be visible.

The final step was to center the cushion on the back of the roasted-toasted desktop and mush it down to goosh the adhesive into both pieces. About 20 lbs. of old floor tile stacked atop a scrap piece of the thin plywood did the trick. 

That's it! The final step is to let the Liquid Nails dry.

I'm actually sitting on the couch right now, with my handy new burnt wood lap desk, writing this blog post. 

I sized this pretty large because I like to use a mouse instead of the track pad when I work. I also like to support my wrists while typing. It's plenty big, but still small enough to tuck behind the couch, under the bed, or in a closet for storage.

This beautiful lap desk is perfect for the compact Surface Pro with a type cover and its kickstand style setup. I also used a standard size laptop (Toshiba) for a while, just to put the desk though its paces. 

An old Macintosh wasn't comfortable at all for some reason,...

I...can't. ..feel... my... legs.
I guess a twelve-ton,  27-year-old Macintosh "Portable" isn't really the target machine for this particular lap desk.

This was an inexpensive and fun afternoon project. It's very easy to build with a variety of tools, materials, and methods. 

I'm sure yours will turn out great! 

This is a sponsored post. I am a proud to be a Bernzomatic Torch Bearer, though all opinions expressed are 100% my own. I won't recommend products I don't believe in. 

The Torch Bearers are a group of tradespeople, DIYers, culinarians, adventurers and artists brought together to create projects using Bernzomatic torches and share their knowledge and ideas with you. Check them out here and get inspired to create with fire.
Visit the other awesome Torchbearers and see what they are up to on the Bernzomatic Torch Bearer Site.

Garage, Workshop, or Dumping Ground?

We've lived in this house for 10 years. In all that time, we've never had our vehicles inside the garage, not once. The space has always been teetering between dumping-ground and workshop. A dumpshop? I've always envisioned it as my bad-ass workshop, but its certainly a multi-use room.

Bless my sweet wife, she's always happily allowed me my man-cave, without complaint.

Along with general family storage, I've slowly taken the place over with workshop stuff. My tool chest, workbench, the 5-in-one Shopsmith multi-tool, a thickness planer, and my beast-sized, custom-built miter saw bench dominate the garage workshop. I've got wood, hardware, and building material jammed in every nook and cranny. In true Arizona style, I also get to share the space with our laundry facilities.

Life and Loss

Hey friends.

Things have been a quiet around here at AZ DIY Guy, but don't worry. Big things are on the horizon.

For now, I figured I'd step out from behind the curtain and post a more personal update. I think it's appropriate to share here, since personal life stuff really does affect the whole DIY thing in a big way. It's real life. Personal energy, family finances, available time, life successes, and tragedies all play into the mix. Projects get delayed. Luckily, this time, I was not in the midst of a big renovation when tragedy visited. I knew it was coming, eventually.  I'm not going to promote this post out through social media, I'll just leave it here for my closest followers.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I lost my awesome Dad on Good Friday. It simply took me out of action.

My brother Jim and I went hog-wild decorating the funeral home with our Dad's artwork dating back as far as his college days in the 1960's, as well as examples from of his 48 years as an art teacher.


Not your average funeral at all. 

"Your Dad was the best"
                           - everyone

My last post was basically complete as I sprinted out of town. I finished editing a few photos as I flew back to Michigan and posted before going dark for a couple weeks. Crisscrossing the country, first racing to be at his side at the end, then again to prepare for and attend his funeral took a lot of steam. 

Writing blog posts can be tough at times, but writing my father's obituary was the one of the two absolute toughest things I've had the honor write. The other was my brother Jef's eulogy, nearly 4 years ago. I just didn't have another eulogy in me this time. Jim, just went up there and hit a home run with a wonderful speech that summed it up.

Life goes on. I'm back at home, back at my day job, and back at AZ DIY Guy. It's an odd time. The second day I was back, leaving the office, I caught myself reaching for my cell phone to call him on my drive home, as I have nearly every day for the past 11 months following his cancer diagnosis. I'm really going to miss those talks.

My Dad read this blog and really enjoyed it, especially, the posts with humor. He never hit the Facebook like button or posted a comment, but he'd often send me an email about the posts he enjoyed the most. He even sent my knuckle-head Advanced Clock Installing post to some of his old buddies around the country. We'd talk about my projects and I'd get his advice, especially the more creative / artistic stuff. I especially remember a couple great conversations as I planned the pallet wood pirate flag project.

You'll hear about him more in the future, from time to time.

Jerry Melton
June 1944 - March 2016
"A Hot Lap Around the Track"

Thanks for reading my friends. See you soon.


American Cancer Society - Southeast Michigan

Donate to The American Cancer Society
20450 Civic Center Drive
Southfield, MI 48076, United States

DIY Metal Bookends - A First Brazing Project

I love pushing myself into new DIY territory. As a Bernzomatic Torch Bearer, I really wanted to challenge myself into a torching experience I’d never attempted before, a brazing project. Brazing is the weird middle sibling between soldering and welding. It's closer to soldering because it involves heating two metal parts super-hot and using that heat to melt a binding metal to fuse the pieces together. Welding is done at higher temperatures, melting the original materials into one piece.

As usual, I let my imagination get away from me and move into difficult territory for my first brazing project. I decided to work with steel, rather than any of the softer metals, which would probably be better suited for a novice.

All shapes and sizes of metal stock can be picked up from the hardware section of a big box home center. I selected 2" wide by 1/8" thick flat bar, plain steel. I bought a couple 3 foot-long pieces for about 7 bucks a piece.

Sliding the cool, blue steel nimbly from the display rack / sheath, the ever present 10 year old in me reeeeeeally wanted to craft a sweet ninja sword or two, instead of some sensible bookends. Alas, sadly, family dudes in their forties really don't need sweet ninja swords.

Review: DeWalt Battery Adapter for 18 Volt tools to 20V MAX Batteries

Regular readers of this blog know that I've been personally wielding DeWalt 18 volt cordless tools on my projects for years. I love 'em; absolutely no complaints. When DeWalt gave me an early-bird chance to try out their new battery adapter and bring modern battery technology to my older tools, I couldn't wait to put it in action. I've run it through its paces for a month on a variety of my tools.

I believe DeWalt's 18 volt line of cordless tools has been in the market for about 20 years. It's been one of the most popular lines of professional-quality cordless tools, for a very long time. They are certainly the most common brand on the construction sites I've visited.

I've had my own set for about 8 years, and all the tools are still going strong. They've outlasted and out performed any other brand of cordless tools I've owned by several years, leaving me a bit of a fan-boy.

This battery adapter is a huge deal. Years ago, I worked a second job, at a department store selling their popular exclusive brand of tools. It was common that I'd bear the brunt of a shopper's frustration when they learned that each year's version of the store-brand tools had an battery configuration incompatible with the prior model. It was odd, even though each generation was a same voltage, NiCd battery, there would be a slight change to a a bump or ridge on its case, preventing

Remove Paint from Metal Hardware - 3 Quick and Easy Steps

Remove Paint From Door Hinge Hardware
Over the years, I've either owned, or lived in, older houses that featured a hideous, multi-layer mess of old caked-on paint covering the hardware.  It takes a staggering comfort level with one's own laziness to intentionally glop paint over door strikes, hinges, knobs, drawer pulls, electrical outlets and switches.

After all, why spend precious moments removing or masking off hardware, when it's so easy to slather it like a carrot in a bowl of ranch dip? Obviously, because fashion dictates today's home should look like a 4-year-old was hired to to frost it like a cup cake.

In our home, it's clear that my DIY'ing predecessors were completely unencumbered by the pesky constraints of pride in their work. inch-by-inch, I'm rolling back their damage.