DIY Compact Portable Magnetic Laptop Shelf Build Instructions

This DIY Compact Portable Magnetic Laptop Shelf (Magnetic Utility Shelf Computer Workstation) was designed to be light and compact for easy transport and use in the elevator industry (IUEC).

I use this Portable Laptop Shelf also as a Utility Shelf to hold prints & manuals. When troubleshooting an elevator I don’t need the extra aggravation of having to hold the laptop, prints or documents.
*Edit 2020_09; Asterisks & strikeouts due to changes/improvement in build.
*Edit 2024; Dedicated web post just for DIY Magnetic Folding Brackets here

Page 1: Overview & Step 1: Drill Holes
Page 2: Step 2: Mount Brackets
Page 3: Step 3: Glue Magnets
Page 4: Step 4: Add Anti-Slip Coating
Page 5: Options & Variations
Page 6: Photos of Shelf in Use (IUEC)
Page 7: Read More, FAQ, Recipient List

Thanks to totalElement for contributing magnets to this project.

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Portable Magnetic Shelf for Laptop
Laptop Shelf on elevator controller

4 Easy Steps to Build DIY Laptop Shelf

Step 1:  Drill & Countersink Mounting Holes
Step 2:  Mount Folding Brackets to the Board
Step 3:  Glue Magnets to Folding Brackets
Step 4:  Add Anti-slip Coating to Magnets (option)

It’s that easy to build your own Magnetic Laptop Shelf.
I did learn some tips and tricks that I share with you.

Commercially Available Portable Laptop Shelves
If you don’t want to, or don’t have time to build your own magnetic laptop shelf / utility shelf, I know of 3 companies that you can purchase a commercial laptop shelf from.

When I first had a need for a laptop shelf in the year 2000, I searched and couldn’t find anything on the market so I bought materials and started to build Version 1 as can be seen here:
This post is Version 2 build. Version 3 will be lighter and more compact, just one board that folds like origami.

The first commercially made magnetic laptop shelf / utility shelf that I ever saw was The Utilishelf, then MagBench and just recently I have seen The Omnishelf. I know several coworkers who own both the Utilishelf and Magbench and are happy with them. The Omnishelf has the unique feature of also being a case you can store your laptop, tools and material in.

I personally like something more compact that fits in my laptop bag which is why I built variations of my first Version 1 and then Version 2. Wait till you see Version 3, it’ll be like the iPhone, too thin & compact.

Laptop Shelf in Laptop Bag

Notice how compact this Laptop Shelf fits in a laptop bag. The computer cables are stored in the zippered bag between the brackets.

Variations of Version 1, I first started in the year 2000

Material List:

Tool List:


*Edit 2024; I now recommend different magnets and bracket prep. and have a dedicated post just on Magnetic Brackets here

Red Flat Top KTFG_002 shown mounted to an elevator controller folded down and locked open. Notice how unobtrusive when folded down. No, I didn’t wire that controller. Here is video of that last controller I wired when I was in the modernization dept:

Magnetic Utility Shelf folded down
Magnetic Utility Shelf on elevator controller

Here I am using the Magnetic Laptop Shelf as a Portable Utility Shelf to hold a Milwaukee Organizer at the perfect height to work out off. I usually bring the Magnetic Utility Shelf with me whether I plan to use it or not.

Utility Shelf to Hold Milwaukee Organizer

Overview of Material Choice

After researching all sorts of board options (too much research), I found cutting boards to be the simplest and best option. I also use these as panels to mount electronics (origins of term “bread board”).

The 2 Cutting Boards I recommend are:
– Mainstay Poly Cutting Board 11″ x 14.5″ (Dexas NSF Polysafe is the same board):
– Faberware Basics Plastic 11″ x 14″:

The Mainstay Cutting Board has a recessed top and flat bottom. You can chose to face either side up and I have done both. After using both I preferred the recessed side up to better hold material including hardware, pens , flashlights etc.

The Faberware Cutting Board is flat on both sides, thinner and more rigid. If you use this board you will need 8mm bolts rather than 10mm for the thicker Mainstay Board

I like the handle but if you don’t, boards are available without a handle. Edit 2024; It should be understood without me stating that you can use any board you like, even a fancy wooden one. Just note that you may need different length bolts or may use wood screws.

Cutting Boards I recommend

Folding Bracket / Hinge
After exhaustive research and purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of locking hinge / folding brackets (most were garbage), I finally found a well built compact set in the QCAA 8″ Steel Folding Bracket . This is the only low profile compact folding bracket that I could find that was well built and didn’t have jagged sharp edges. The other brackets that were well built were just too big and not low profile enough.

1/8″ Magnets (front) way too strong. 1/16″ in back *2021 now use 1/32″ thick

Magnets *this is IMPORTANT!*
My first prototype of this Version 2 Laptop Shelf utilized Cup Magnets and worked well but wasn’t as low profile as I would like and took work to mount. I then realized that I could simulate the increased magnetic strength of a Cup Magnet by alternating the poles of super strong N52 Neodymium Block Magnets. *Edit 2021; I now use 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/32″ thick magnets link see notes below.

Cup Magnet Prototype vs Block Magnet. *Edit see new/better design below
Prototype Cup Magnet vs Block Magnet. *Edit see new/better design below

The thin 1/16″ block magnets on the right are far stronger than the cup magnets on the left!
*Edit 2024; Note the poor glue job on these first prototyping models. Much better glue and prep now, see notes below.

Originally I thought I would need 1/8″ thick magnets but realized that those where insanely strong, way too strong when configured with alternating poles. So I requested some 1/16″ thick block magnets from totalElement and found they were still too strong so you have to reduce the number used to suit your preference.

*Edit 2024;  In 2021 I started using smaller thinner magnets and better bracket prep.  I now recommend 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/32” and made a dedicated web post just to the magnetic brackets in 2024 web post

Folding Shelf Brackets
New magnets & configuration starting in 2021; 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/32″. Clear coat on left, paint and clear coat on right

Above is a photo showing the ultra low profile 1/32″ thick magnets used since 2021. The bracket on the left has several High Gloss Clear Coats applied. The bracket on the right has Paint and High Gloss Clear Coats applied. See dedicated web post on magnetic brackets for details on strength and characteristics of this magnetic confirmation.

Bolts / Machine Screws
I wanted a Countersunk Flat Head fastener so the machine screws would be flush with top of the board. I chose M4 – 0.70 Flat Head Countersunk Machine Screws because it’s a readily available fastener size available in the different lengths I required.

I purchased a wide variety of 4mm M4 Machine Screws including Hex, Torx and Philips drive. Sizes 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, & 14mm, Stainless Steel and Black Oxide. My preference is Hex drive Stainless Steel. For nuts I tried Nylon Insert Lock Nuts (Aircraft Nuts) but found them to be too tall for the folding bracket to close all the way so I just used regular M4-07 Hex Nuts.

Countersunk Machine Screw Stainless Steel

What is the difference between a Bolt & Machine Screw?
Generally speaking, Bolts are turned from the outside of the head while screws are turned form inside the head by various means including Hex, Philips, Slotted and Tamper Proof bits. There are exceptions to this general rule though. I will use the term bolts from here on though as it’s less typing.

What is the difference between a Machine Screw & a Cap Screw?
We are not going down that Rabbit Hole!
The world is not as standardized as we like to believe it is.

Step 1

Drill & Countersink Mounting Holes

*Edit 2024; I now prep and glue magnets to the bracket before mounting brackets to the board as explained in dedicated Magnetic Brackets web post

To layout your holes just flush the brackets to the end of the board. You can mount the folding brackets any distance from Centerline you like but I put mine with the center of the bracket 4″ off board center or 8″ bracket center to bracket center (8″ bolt hole to bolt hole).

Hinges layout off centerline
Hinges layout off centerline

This spacing is narrow enough to mount to narrow elevator controller doors (Tac-20) and also 3-ph disconnects yet still wide enough to be stable and allow for a zippered cable pouch to store between them.


Mark the board through the 3 mounting holes in the bracket. You will have to un-spring the locking hinge and fold up for access to the rear hole. You will put this spring back after adding the fasteners.

Remove spring to access the rear bolt hole

Drill & Countersink
Now drill your marks with a 9/64″ drill bit then use a countersink bit to countersink the hole for the bolt heads, or use a countersink drill bit combo, whichever you have or prefer.
9/64″ Drill Bit:
Countersink Bit:
Countersink Drill Bit Combo:

I wanted the holes tight enough that the bolts would actually thread into the boards so I used a 9/64″ drill bit which is smaller than 4mm. 9/64″ = 3.571mm. This just gives a tighter, more solid build and eliminates the chance of the bolt heads pulling through the board. If you drill a big sloppy hole and countersink too deep, it can happen. I personally have never drilled too deep in a big sloppy hole.

Countersink/Drill Bit Combo for M4 Bolt heads
Countersink Bit for M4 Bolt holes

If you have a drill press you can adjust the depth stop so you don’t countersink too far. I put tape on my bits as a depth marker and used a bolt head as a depth tester. Remember the hole is smaller than the 4mm bolt so I cut off the head of a bolt as my depth tester.

Countersink M4 Bolt holes

*Edit 2024; Chamfer

I now take a flat file and chamfer the edge of the board where the bracket mounts.

Portable Magnetic Folding Shelf Brackets

When open, the bracket can over extend a little past 90 degrees (especially if you pull up on the shelf when mounted. You should never pull up on it as it’s not designed for that and you can break the brackets).  The over extension creates a bit of a pivot past the flat plane and creates a prying action lifting the bracket from the board a small amount.  This in not a big deal and the shelf will still work fine but it only takes a few strokes of a flat file to chamfer it so I choose to do so.

Alternatively you can just mount the brackets past the edge of the board overhanging a little if you don’t mind a gap between the back of the board and the mounting surface. I don’t like that idea at all but it may work for some.

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Next Page for Step 2: Mount Brackets

Edit 2024; Dedicated web post on new Magnetic Bracket config

Page 1: Overview & Step 1: Drill Holes
Page 2: Step 2: Mount Brackets
Page 3: Step 3: Glue Magnets
Page 4: Step 4: Add Anti-Slip
Page 5: Options & Variations
Page 6: Photos of Shelf in Use (IUEC)
Page 7: Read More, FAQ, Recipient List

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


  1. Alex on January 4, 2021 at 7:43 pm

    Hey Kevin, how is version 3 coming along? I can’t imagine what your plans are for making it “thinner, lighter and more compact.” I’ve been a lurker for a while as I was going to make my own invention just as you have done, but you have done a ton of the trial and error as well research into making your shelf.

    I came up with the same idea a year ago when I saw a shelf like it mounted with screws in a PLC console and I told the tech I was working with that it would be awesome to mount one of those with strong magnets and have it moveable around all of our different work areas and sites… they just shrugged and I stayed busy with work as I was the FNG. Finally with a little more down time and days of research several months ago, I saw that you had the same drive as I for a product/project like the one you have created. Anyhow, great work thus far on your personal project, I hope to order the materials soon so that I can have a couple of shelves lying around in my laptop bags/work truck.

    • Kevin Gittemeier on January 4, 2021 at 8:13 pm

      Version 3 won’t start for a while as I have other projects to complete first.
      Version 1 took me nearly 20 years to complete when I found the half started project while cleaning my basement and finally finished it. Version 2 had been in my head for years but took that long to find the proper hinges.

      The key to Version 2 is the low profile hinges and the magnet configuration. I will explain the science behind the magnet config in a future update but its important to do the magnets exactly as I have, alternating the poles.

      I have one model that uses 1/32″ thick magnets and holds very strong. Yes 1/32″ paper thin magnets. The key is the alternating poles.

      I will update this post in the future with more info but time is very limited and I make little to no money off these posts (1-3% off amazon links) so its hard to justify the time.

      Good luck and remember you can help support this website and YouTube channel by Subscribing, hitting Like & Commenting on videos.
      Help us get to 100k Youtube Subscribers:

      Latest YouTube video:

      • Chris on August 28, 2022 at 1:30 pm

        Kevin thank you so much……it works great it’s perfect for relay testing on switch gear.

        I changed it a bit and used clear acrylic instead …it’s better for me

        Thank you

        • Kevin Gittemeier on September 4, 2022 at 4:39 pm

          That’s awesome! If you like email some photos and I will post them on a dedicated section to display peoples variations.
          Did you use acrylic or Lexan? I have found in my experience Lexan is easy to cut and drill than acrylic. For example I used Lexan on this panel mount build buy used acrylic on a previous build–k

  2. Mohsen on March 14, 2021 at 1:44 am

    Hello Kevin,
    Fantastic Idea and thanks for sharing with everyone. My question is about the magnet. Does the magnet can damage hard hard drive or any other parts on the laptop? How strong the magnet should be to effect and damage the hard drive?


    • Kevin Gittemeier on March 14, 2021 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, and good question.
      Anything is possible but practically, no. Remember powerful magnets are in hard drives but fields are shunted. Just don’t store the laptop shelf magnet side touching the laptop (likely would still be fine but just to be on safe side). Store it cutting board side towards laptop. I will make an edit fully explaining the magnetic shielding, concerns etc later today but it’s important to use the magnets I specify and alternate poles.

      I’ll post my edit as a reply here as well.

  3. Kevin on February 15, 2022 at 11:33 pm

    Dude. Can I please just buy a version two from you ? Email me please.

    I do fire alarm programming a lot and am always struggling with my tablet. This is amazing but I want it to be top quality and you seem to have all the small bugs worked out beautifully. If so let me know

    • Kevin Gittemeier on February 19, 2022 at 11:32 am

      Sure for enough money but once you add my price + shipping cost you may just want to build your own for around $50 in material.

      I would be willing to sell some of the versions I already have built for $150 + shipping. I have no idea what shipping would cost but if you are interested I will find out. The remaining models are listed on page 6 towards the bottom:

      I understand the struggle! Having a portable shelf can be a life saver.

  4. Mohamad on June 14, 2022 at 6:22 pm

    Hey Kevin,

    Have you ever tried this with a wooden board? I don’t see any draw backs.

    • Kevin Gittemeier on June 14, 2022 at 7:58 pm

      I have not.
      I like to use these cutting boards because they are light weight, inexpensive, durable, readily available and most of all suite the task perfectly.
      A wooden board would look very nice and work well but not ideal for a hard use application in the field like I use mine. I have thought about making a nice wooden one just as an example though and posting video and pics.
      Keep a lookout on my YouTube channel:

  5. Aaron on June 23, 2022 at 9:49 pm

    Do you have another source for hinges that you like? As I type this, Amazon only has one of the 8″ brackets of the type you recommend in stock.

    Or even an alternate hinge?

    • Kevin Gittemeier on June 23, 2022 at 10:17 pm

      I have no acceptable alternate (I have tried many) and I have not been able to find that hinge anywhere else. Keep in mind that they are sold in pairs so that “1” in stock will allow you to make a shelf. They come in and out of stock often so keep checking if you want more.

      When I see them in stock I buy several bc more and more co-workers keep wanting to buy shelves from me rather than build it.

      Also note that I just added a page 7 with more info. More pics and info coming soon about “Pro Version”.

  6. Marcus dondlexenuf on July 2, 2022 at 4:23 pm

    What kind of glue do you use? Also if that was a little wider I could clean a fish on it

    • KTFG_ on July 4, 2022 at 4:48 pm

      Elmer’s Glue, and it’s plenty big enough to clean your gold fish crackers.

  7. Jeff Janowiak on March 5, 2023 at 9:21 pm

    Thank you for this DIY, the details are awesome. I plan to make my own, only bigger. I have a 17″ laptop that is 16″ wide. I also have a laptop top tray that I use when sitting in a chair or bed at home. So, I plan to buy a cutting board that is 24″ by 14″ by 1/2′ thick. My question is, how thick are the boards that you use? I need to know the thickness of your board in comparison to the bolts you use so I can size bolts for my application. How far do your bolts stick out from the bottom of your board? (thickness of board + how far the bolts stick out should = the total length of bolt needed).

    Also, in your opinion, do you think a 14″ board (front to back) would be OK with the hinges and amount of magnets you use? Or, do you think there may be an issue with magnetic attraction to the surface due to the additional leverage from the longer board?

    • Kevin Gittemeier on March 17, 2023 at 4:58 pm

      The Mainstay/Dexas boards I use are about 1/4” thick with 3/8” edges because they have a recessed top so a lip around the edges. With this board, 12mm screws recessed works well. You will need it to be about 3/16″ passed the board to pass through folding hinge and thread the nut but too long interferes with hinge closure. Be sure to account for recess if you plan to recess your screws.

      A 24” x 14” by 1/2” thick is a big heavy board. I would try to make do with something a little smaller. I have seen the plastic cutting boards like mine, bigger than my dimension but still about same thickness and light weight. I believe the linked bracket will work will a smaller lighter board.

      For your board you will likely need a larger bracket (larger B measurement in diagram on link) The magnets are plenty strong enough but the leverage will be the issue. At one time they sold a lager hinge on the same link but I don’t think the B measurement was any longer, only the A measurement.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes.

      • Isaac Iniguez on January 11, 2024 at 3:34 pm

        Super excited to get started on this project of yours myself! Just purchased all materials. I’m going with the Farberware 11” x 14” board. Your instructions above recommend to go with the 8mm M4 bolts. However while comparing the length of the bolts with the thickness of the board (just over 1/4” thick) I won’t appear to have enough bolt left over to thread the nut. Perhaps the thickness of the Farberware has changed.
        After reading the most recent comment above, I should use a 12mm M4 bolt with a 1/4” board, correct? Or am I not recessing the bolt in far enough?

        • Kevin Gittemeier on January 13, 2024 at 2:47 pm

          Yes 8mm. My measurements account for using flathead countersink screws and countersinking the hole. The depth of countersink must be precise though because too much tread on the other side (the nut side) will result in the folding hinge not closing properly (see pic page 2). Ideally the bolt end will be flush with the nut with no protrusion or even a little recessed. Locktite on screw or dab of glue on screw nut once secured, don’t overtighten.

          I recommend countersinking a little shallow first then checking. You want the heads flat with surface and not protruding but they can can be recessed a little (below surface) without issue.

          I also recommend just buying 8, 10 & 12mm lengths. They are not very much money, you’ll be sure to have what you need and may use them for other projects as well.

          I do my magnets different now and just completely cover the entire bracket with 3 rows of 20 1/4″x1/4″x1/32″ thick magnets. I’ll try to put a pick and notes on the site this weekend.

          Here is a video with one done with this magnet configuration and spray painted:

          Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

  8. Mark Rose on January 24, 2024 at 12:13 pm

    Why not just buy this side shelf for toolboxes from harbor freight and put the magnets on it?

    • Kevin Gittemeier on January 24, 2024 at 9:55 pm

      I own that folding shelf and while it’s great for what it is, it’s too big and heavy to be a portable laptop shelf (for me). It won’t fit in a laptop bag or tool backpack. It’s bigger than it may seem from photos.

      I’ll post a video of it in my Conex storage container web post.

      Thanks for the suggestion though.

      I have long searched for something similar but smaller but I have yet to find anything adequate.

  9. Kevin Gittemeier on February 11, 2024 at 1:24 am

    2024; In 2021 I started experimenting with 1/8” x 1/8” x 1/32” and 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/32” super thin magnets which I find to be far better for my portable magnetic shelves than the 1/2” x 1/16” magnets. I now recommend the 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/32 for best compromise of functionality, ease of build and cost (1/8” is better but harder to build and more costly). I also use new magnet coating, see dedicated post here

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