The Plytop Shell

In 2016 I set out to build a Raspberry Pi powered laptop. When I looked around at existing projects, I found that they mostly utilized tiny keyboards and tiny monitors. While cute, I have large human sized hands and could not use these builds for anything other than a conversation piece.

So, I attempted to make my own design. Using a 3D printer and whatever components I could scrounge off of Adafruit, Ebay, and Amazon.

It was a mixed success. The laptop worked. And i liked the way the keyboard acted like a cover for the base. But, printing out the pieces of a normal sized laptop proved really costly, both in filament and time to assemble. The battery and monitor components also seemed overly complicated, expensive, and under powered.

At the end of the day, I still liked the idea of assembling a laptop out of cheap mass-market components by plugging them into a shell. But I was burnt out, and needed to let it sit for a while, knowing the idea could still be improved.

Smash cut to a few months later, I had just joined a local maker collective in Minneapolis and gained access to a laser cutter capable of cutting thin plywood. "You know what?" I said to no one, and did not actually say out loud. "I bet I could build a generic laptop shell out of plywood!"

Two years, hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and one partner's frayed patience later, I finalized the designs for Rev 1.0 of the Plytop Shell.

I hope to use this page to share the information on how to build, assemble, and buy things to put inside the Plytop Shell. If you are interested in purchasing an assembled Plytop Shell, please visit our Etsy store for prices and availability. Please send any questions or feedback to TinkerloonLLC@gmail.com.

This page contains all the documentation and designs I am releasing under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0. Attribution should be given to Tinkerloon LLC.

Features and Design Choices
Safety

PLEASE EXERCISE CAUTION while building the Plytop Shell. Laser cutting, woodworking, and 3D printing can all be dangerous and pose significant risks of bodily harm and fire. Please ensure you are properly trained on all machines and tools, and operate them with the utmost care and supervision.

If you are a minor, please ask a parent or guardian first for permission, and then for assistance.

If you do not have access to the necessary tools or need some help, I suggest seeking out your nearest maker community. If you are in the Twin Cities area, I suggest checking out the The Hack Factory.

Disclaimers

No products or associated companies mentioned below have any relationship or knowledge of Tinkerloon LLC or the Plytop Base project. The suggested materials and components are simply products I have used to build discrete instances of the Plytop Shell.

Tinkerloon LLC in no way guarantees the quality, compatibility, or safety of the listed materials or components. Components and materials are only suggestions, always use your best judgement.

Files, Materials, and Components
Vector Files / Stl Files
Name Tool Description File
Plytop Shell Base File w/ Trackpad Laser Cutter This vector file cuts out most of the base pieces using of a single piece of 2' x 4' 1/8" plywood. The remaining side panels and large the internal support are included in the primary top file. You will want to use enough power to cut through all the lines. Try to make the piece as flat as possible before cutting. I suggest either using a vacuum table or gaffers tape. You will want to cut out the internal pieces first and then move to the outlines. plytop_shell_trackpad_bottom_rev_1.0.zip
Plytop Shell Waveshare Top and Cover Laser Cutter This vector file cuts out the cover pieces and the top cover using of a single piece of 2' x 4' 1/8" plywood and a single piece of 1' x 1' 1/8" plywood. The primary top file also has the side panels and the long support piece for the base. You will want to use enough power to cut through all the lines. If you are using the Waveshare 10.1 inch HDMI LCD(B), use the waveshare files, otherwise you will probably want to try the generic files. Try to make the pieces as flat as possible before cutting. I suggest either using a vacuum table or gaffers tape. You will want to cut out the internal pieces first and then move to the outlines. plytop_shell_top_waveshare_rev_1.0.zip
or
plytop_shell_top_generic_rev_1.0.zip
Plytop Shell Hinge Washer 3D Printer This stl prints out a friction washer meant to be used in the hinge between the top and base. You will need to use a flexible filament such as NinjaTek Cheetah. Alternatively, a very thin leather washer may work as well. plytop_washer.stl
instructions
Name Description Links
Plytop Assembly Instructions Here is my write up of the assembly instructions. It has a section on how to build the base, top, friction hinges, trapped nut holders, and the layout I use when installing components.
Please let me know if there are corrections or suggestions.
Plytop_Assembly_v1_0_0.pdf
materials
Name Description Links
(3) 2' x 4' sheets of 1/8" baltic birch plywood 1/8" birch plywood, is also known as 3mm birch plywood. Most quality lumber yards will stock this. The base and tops are designed to be cut out of (2) 2' x 4' pieces. The back cover for the top, which holds the nuts, can be cut out of 1' x 1' piece. The design could also be modified to be cut out of (4) 1' x 1', but it's currently not set up that way. If there's interest in 1' x 1' design files, please let me know.

Side note, The major problem I've run across using thin plywood, is that it is extremely prone to warping. I used to think that I just needed to find a better source, but I've come to the conclusion that it really just is the nature of thin plywood. My advice is to make sure you cut flat, and when you assemble, the end product probably won't be too influenced by the initial warp. Unless it's like, wicked warped.

I have not found a great source online for plywood. When I first started the project, I was using woodpecker plywood. It was good enough most of the time, albeit expensive and sometimes warped. I now source my plywood locally.
(6) Woodpeckers Plywood
Wood Glue and applicator The Plytop Base and Top are held together with a fair amounts of wood glue. I prefer using Titebond translucent glue, because it dries translucent. It's not as waterproof as the other levels of Titebond, but seems pretty OK otherwise.

In my humble opinion, you should be taking care not to get your Plytop wet, or feed it after midnight.

I also use little plastic squeeze bottle with a pointed tip when assembling the Plytop. This makes the whole process much less frustrating and much less messy.
Titebond Translucent Glue, 8-Ounce
Squeeze bottles
(2) M6x15mm Flat Head Bolts and (2) M6x1mm Lock Nuts The top of the shell and the bottom of the shell are fastened together with a 2 bolts and 2 nuts. I am linking the actual Bolts and Nuts I order from uxcell on Amazon. I am buying these in bulk though, so you may want to source them from somewhere else if you only need a few.

In order to hold the nut you will need to assemble the nut holders. These are the four identical rectangle shapes near the bottom of the 'Top' vector file. You glue two rectangles together, and then fasten the nut inside the construction with an expansion glue, like Gorilla glue.

If you want to make a friction hinge you will need some kind of compression washer. I make a 3D printed washer with Cheetah filament from NinjaTek. I think a leather washer may provide the same functionality, but I haven't actually tested it yet. I know that all of the rubber washers I've tried do NOT work. The soft rubber dissolves when you apply sufficient pressure to the hinge.
Lots of M6x15mm Flat Head Bolts
Lots of M6 x 1mm 304 Locknuts
A little bottle of Gorilla Glue
A little spool of CHEETAH filament
(3 - 8) Small C-Clamps, (2) Long Reusable Zip Ties, Heavy Weights / Books Assembling the top of the Plytop Shell is a lot easier with a large number of small c-clamps, I probably use between 6 to 8 when putting together a top. You could potentially get away with just 3 if you very patient. I wouldn't use C-Clamps larger then 3", 1" clamps work just fine. I will link some cheap clamps on Amazon, but you can often find better deals at your local hardware store.

I use large reusable zip ties when building the bottom of the Plytop Shell to hold the end pieces flat while drying. You can also use the ties I link to help square the top of the shell during the first phase of the construction.

I also use a bit of weight to lay on top of the pieces while drying. I try to make sure the piece is being pushed as flat as possible. I like to use rubber coated weights when I can, to avoid getting schmutz on the piece.
Some cheap C-Clamps
Long quick release zip ties
suggested components
Name Description Links
JETech Ultra-Slim 2.4G Wireless Keyboard This keyboard is the same one I found for the original 3D printed design. It has a super thin profile and has a face about the size of a normal laptop keyboard. The boxy container in the front of the keyboard provides a good shape for a little bit of a pressure fit with the design. I've found that other companies also use this same plastic form / mold. So there may be other brands and types that fit the Plytop Shell. There is a bluetooth version of this keyboard as well, in case you are trying to use a SBC that supports bluetooth. The newest design has a little oval cut out on the top, this is for utilizing a wired keyboard I found with the same mold. This can be a little more convenient because you never have to charge your keyboard batteries, but then there are also more wires in the way of things. JETech Ultra-Slim 2.4G Wireless Keyboard
JETech 2155 Universal Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard
GMYLE Compact Wired USB Mini Keyboard
Peripad II B Touchpad This is the only self contained touch pad I could find close to the size of a normal laptop trackpad at a non absurd price. They frequently go out of stock, perhaps for the reasons previously stated. They sit very snuggly in the Plytop Shell, and once put in, are very difficult to get out again. They work fine out of the box with the Raspberry Pi 3. You plug them in and they act like a basic trackpad.

I've had issues with the Odroid-C2, but thanks to the Odroid community and this blog, I found that using a small USB hub in between the track pad and the SBC fixed the issue. The USB hub is the same one I used to interface a Beagle Bone Black.
Perixx PERIPAD-501II B
USB 2.0 2-Port Hub/Splitter
Waveshare 10.1 (B) This is the best LCD screen I could find on the market that includes a form fitting HDMI interface driver and can be powered through usb. I really haven't seen anything close to the functionality of this thing at a similar price point. These screens come attached to a laser cut acrylic base and some cheap HDMI and USB cables.

In order to fit in the Plytop Shell, you remove the acrylic piece and lay it on top of the Plytop cover, using the same spacers used for the acrylic.

The monitor is affixed to the acrylic with some very brittle plastic screws and nuts. The will fit and work with the Plytop cover, but I highly suggest swapping these out for metal equivalents. The plastic fasteners do not last long, especially when they get cold.

Another thing you will need is an HDMI cable with a very low connector profile. Normal HDMI cables have too much 'padding' around the connector to fit into the Waveshare's port once it's installed in the top shell. The linked Monoprice cable is the one I like the best.
Waveshare 10.1 inch HDMI LCD(B)
Ultra Slim HDMI Cable (1.5ft)
EasyAcc 20000mAh Power Bank Of the power banks I tested, this is my favorite. It seems able to power the LCD and Raspberry Pi with little trouble. It's pretty big and is a little hard to fit into the base, but it does fit. It also comes with the one of the best features a power bank can have, when you hold down the power button it actually shuts off and does not turn on again until you press the power button again.

Many power banks have an 'auto on' feature that is the bane of anyone trying to use the power bank as a Raspberry Pi and LCD monitor battery.

It is also important that you use the right USB cable to connect the monitor and SBC to the power bank. You will need a USB power cable rated for 5v. You can usually distinguish these because they have a ferrite core added to one end. I linked the Monoprice version I like best. Keep in mind, if you SBC can not be powered through USB, you will need to aquire a specialized barrel/whatever jack cable separately to get power over USB.
EasyAcc 20000mAh Power Bank
Ferrite Core 1.5ft USB cables
Single Board Computer I like the Raspberry Pi 3 best. My experience using Raspian in particular has been great. I'm also a huge fan of the Ubunut Mate release for the Raspberry Pi 3. Raspberry Pi 3
Reusable Zip Ties You can use reusable zip ties to secure the components in your Plytop base.
I think there are probably a lot of zip ties that will fit in the Plytop Shell. I am linking the ones that I currently use. I must mention that this brand has sometimes snapped when I leave the Plytop Shell in sub-zero weather. I'm not sure if it's the cold that weakens the zip ties or the dryness. I will update this if I find a better brand.
Reusable Zip Cables
Assembly Videos