What is a Lap Desk?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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The lap desk evolved in its early form as a way to carry around needed papers, ink supplies, quills, and perhaps date books or the like for writing purposes. Made of heavy wood, it was usually portable, though it might be a bit heavy, and used by people traveling. The lap desk of this type wasn’t always designed to be written upon, but may have more resembled a briefcase of types that could be taken out as needed, when one was traveling, to get necessary supplies.

The early lap desk has been compared to the more modern brief case, and of course to the laptop and PDA. It carries information, needed supplies, notes and such in a convenient way. While the early lap desk was probably full to the brim with writing supplies and notes, the modern laptop computer is certainly more organized.

Both the early lap desk and the modern laptop are similar in that you still needed a semi-hard surface to write or to set the computer on. A lap tends not to be hard enough for this purpose, though many do use laptops on their lap. Some laptops run quite warm, which can make you uncomfortable after a while, if you really do set them on your lap.


For both writing with a pen or for using a laptop, a modern lightweight lap desk evolved. This might be called a bed desk, and they can be hard to find except in catalogs. They may have collapsible legs that can easily set the desk over your lap while you sit either on a bed or on a chair. Some types of lap desk feature drawers for holding a few items like pencils, and they may be a rectangular construction. Others are rounded or oval in shape, allowing you to comfortably rest your elbows on the desk, or have additional room for storing papers or books you might need to reference.

Since the modern lap desk can be something of a specialty item, one of the best substitutions, generally far less expensive and easier to find is a bed tray for dining. These will elevate a laptop a few inches above the lap when they have collapsible feet, and they store easy. It’s quite easy to find a bed tray and they are frequently less than 30 US dollars (USD). The lap desk, on the other hand, can cost about 50-100 USD, though you can find a few used models that are less expensive.


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