A Wooden Kneeboard for Tablets

Why settle for a commercial model when it’s easy to make your own?

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Not wanting to permanently mount a modern tablet in an open-cockpit biplane, a wooden kneeboard looked like the perfect solution.

While I owned my‭ ‬Fisher FP-404‭ ‬‭(‬“Restoring a Stored Homebuilt‭,‬”‭ ‬February 2017‭), ‬I was using an Android smartphone running the free Avare navigation app for what limited cross-country flying I‭ ‬did with that plane‭. ‬As it was a wooden‭ ‬plane‭, ‬a homemade wooden holder for‭ ‬the smartphone seemed more in keeping with the wood structure than the commercially available holders‭, ‬which were usually black plastic‭. ‬This worked well‭, ‬but when I bought a Starduster in another state and needed to fly it nearly‭ ‬1000‭ ‬miles to get it home‭ (‬“Biplane‭ ‬Cross-Country‭,‬”‭ ‬May 2018‭), ‬I wanted something with a larger screen‭, ‬and the 8-inch Nvidia Shield tablet I already had would be perfect‭. ‬I didn’t want to permanently mount it‭, ‬as modern electronics look out of place in an open-cockpit biplane‭. ‬I also needed something portable I could bring with me‭, ‬so attaching it to a kneeboard looked like the way to go‭. ‬I didn’t find any commercial kneeboards I liked‭, ‬so I decided to make my own‭, ‬again choosing wood as an easy-to-work-with material‭.‬

The tablet’s protective case had a magnetic cover‭, ‬which held it closed as well as turning it on and off‭. ‬Earlier‭, ‬I had noticed that the magnets in the cover were fairly strong‭, ‬sufficient to even hold the tablet on a vertical metal surface like a refrigerator‭. ‬With‭ ‬that‭, ‬putting a thin steel sheet in the kneeboard would hold‭ ‬the tablet in place‭, ‬so I wouldn’t need the elastic straps or other techniques‭ ‬used by the purchased kneeboards‭. ‬Before proceeding‭, ‬I sat in the cockpit with the tablet and made sure that the cover’s magnetic field didn’t affect the‭ ‬compass‮—‬it didn’t‭, ‬unless the tablet‭ ‬was much closer to the compass than it would ever be in use‭.‬

My tablet has a magnetic cover, so a thin steel sheet keeps the tablet attached to the kneeboard. A simple turn latch (shown in the drawing) is used with tablets that don’t have a magnetic cover.

The sketches are pretty self-explanatory‭. ‬The dimensions shown fit my‭ ‬tablet and will need to be adjusted for any other tablet‭, ‬and you may want to‭ ‬adjust the position of the cradles on‭ ‬the back to comfortably fit your own leg‭. ‬The notches on the top and right sides allow access to the buttons and USB power cable‭, ‬while the notch on the left side makes it easier to remove‭ ‬the tablet from the kneeboard‭. ‬The‭ ‬magnetic cover sticks to the sheet‭ ‬metal back and holds the hinge side‭ ‬down just fine‭, ‬but it needs tabs to‭ ‬keep the free side from lifting‭. ‬If you don’t have a suitable magnetic cover or don’t want to use it that way‭, ‬you can eliminate the sheet metal and make a simple turn latch as shown‭.‬

Wood cradles and a Velcro strap hold the kneeboard in place on your leg.

The plywood I had left over from‭ ‬other projects‭, ‬but it can be found at any aircraft supply house or local model‭ ‬airplane shop‭. ‬The other wood parts I‭ ‬ripped out of a spruce 2×4‭, ‬but any kind of wood can be used‭, ‬even fancy exotic hardwood if you want to get crazy‭. ‬I ordered the‭ ‬metal back‭ (.‬012-inch galvanized steel‭) ‬from McMaster-Carr‭ ‬‭(‬p/n 8943K11‭); ‬the 2×24-inch Velcro‭ ‬strap I already had‭, ‬but it’s similar to‭ ‬McMaster p/n 3955T286‭. ‬Everything was glued together with Titebond II‭, ‬but again‭, ‬you can use any kind of glue‭ ‬you prefer‭. ‬I finished it with several‭ ‬coats of clear shellac‭.‬

The kneeboard has served me well for the last few years‭. ‬The tablet has never‭ ‬come loose unintentionally‭, ‬even in‭ ‬turbulence‭, ‬but can be easily removed when desired‭.

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The dimensions shown fit my tablet but will need to be adjusted for other models. You may want to adjust the position of the cradles on the back to comfortably fit your own leg.

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