I saw your recent newsletter about lap boards and it got me thinking. I had tried carving on my work bench when I first started carving, but could never get comfortable. Then I tried a flat board on my lap (actually, a piece of laminated cabinet board). The negative angle, when on my lap, was not comfortable and I didn’t like having to sit with my knees at an elevated angle to get the board in a more natural position. But, I did learn that carving on my lap was going to be the most comfortable for me.
I don’t know if you recall the picture I had sent you many months back about my crudely constructed lap board that I built from stuff I had laying around, but here is a picture of it. It is just a re-imagined cardboard shipping box re-configured from a normal box to this “macgyver” version. Some internal cardboard bracing makes the top rigid. A non-slip pad under the cutting board keeps it in place. And, a soft microfiber dish mat is underneath for comfort and to keep it in place on my lap.
As odd as it looks, it has worked really well for me after many, many hours of use. I have carved 5 tea boxes, a dozen or more napkin holders, lots of Celtic knot picture frames, a couple of plates, and a bunch of Christmas ornaments without any discomfort at all. And, it has held up really well. You might chuckle at the use of the cutting board, but that oblong hole for the handle makes a dandy chip cup instead of brushing them onto the floor and then tracking them around the house.
I got to thinking about what I would do to improve it, but I really like it the way it is. The angle of the surface may look severe when sitting on a surface as you see in the picture, but on my lap it is only about +10 degrees or so. This is a great angle for me to keep my wrist and hand in a very natural position with my feet flat on the floor and keep everything comfortable. Of course, it may not be ideal for everyone. But, I am a pretty average sized guy at 5’10” and it feels very comfortable for me.
That newsletter article spurred me into action on an idea I had running around in my mind for some time. I had some salvaged closed cell packing foam and some leftover ABS from an old project and decided to see if I could build a prototype of my cardboard box lap board from this scrap. Here are the results.
Essentially, they are nothing more than wedges of closed cell foam (my scraps were only an inch thick so I glued them together to get the thickness I needed} topped by a textured 1/16″ thick ABS sheet with a 1/4″ layer of softer closed cell foam on the bottom for comfort (in TX you live at least half the year in shorts). The overall dimensions are about 19″ wide x 12″ deep x 4″ high. I just mimicked my cardboard version since it had proved to be a very functional size. They are not exactly the same since I cobbled them together from scraps. One is a bit shorter than the other, but seems to work equally well. I have tried both of them out and they are really comfy while being very rigid. Plus, they are very light weight at only around 17 oz.
So, where is this leading? I think that many beginners like me would find this type of lap board very helpful. But, they are not easily built by the average person since sourcing the material is the biggest challenge. And, I am not interested in going into business making them. Yet, I really like your purpose statement “to inspire, instruct, and equip” and you have definitely fulfilled that intent in my own chip carving efforts. If you think that this lap board is something that would be a benefit to your chip carving community, then I would be happy to ship one of the prototypes to you and let you try it out or even share it among some of your “master” carvers. Maybe it’s a good idea and maybe it’s not. Either way, I am not offended because it won’t change the way I carve. I still love my “macgyver” version!
I found an online store in CA that sells lots of foam and they offer custom cutting for closed cell polyethylene foam cut into a right triangle. Cutting the wedge shape is the biggest hurdle for small batches. The 1/16″ ABS sheets are easily sourced from the web and you could probably find a supplier right in the Twin cities. ABS is easily cut on a table saw. The softer 1/4″ foam on the bottom can be had from the same place that sells the wedges and is easily cut with a scissors. I used 3M #77 spray glue to put my prototypes together and it worked great.
I suspect that you could probably make a small batch of these for about $10 to $15 in material. Once you have the pieces in the correct size, it only takes 10 minutes at most to assemble one. I suspect we could get that down to about a minute with the proper application of some LEAN / Six sigma methodology (that’s actually supposed to be humorous since I actually did that kind of stuff when I was working and really don’t want to do it again). Shipping and handling should be reasonable since they are so lightweight.
In the end, it’s really down to the value proposition. Is there a demand for the product? Is this version something that would make carving more enjoyable and accessible for your customers? Can it be made and shipped at a price point that would deliver a reasonable level of profit for you and still be affordable for your customers? Only you have the answer to those questions.
As for me, this is just a small way to thank you for all your support and maybe “pay it forward” for others like me that want to learn this craft.