Monday, November 24, 2014

DIY book tablet case

Last month, Brian decided to take the plunge and get himself a tablet computer. His work laptop had recently "bricked" (i.e., become a brick for all practical purposes), and he'd already disposed of his big old desktop machine, so he just needed something small to use for checking e-mail and other simple tasks at home. Rather than the el cheapo Android tablet from Wal-Mart we were considering back in March, we opted for the Google Nexus 7, which was rated the Best Android Tablet on ConsumerSearch. Since it was last year's model, we were able to pick up a refurbished one for only $75 on Amazon Marketplace, or less than $50 with some store credit we had, so we actually paid less than we would have for the Wal-Mart one. (By the way, yes, I'm still boycotting—but only the retailer itself, not the third-party sellers who do business through its site.)

Brian was pretty happy with his new toy, but he was missing out on one of its greatest advantages: its portability. The refurbished model didn't come with a case, so he hesitated to take it anywhere with him for fear it would be damaged. Of course, we could have just bought it a case for ten bucks or so, but I had a crazy idea that sounded a lot more interesting: why not pick up a cheap secondhand book and turn the book into a tablet case? The cover of a hard-bound book would probably provide perfectly good protection for the tablet, and from the outside, it would look just like a book—which would not only be amusing, but would also make the tablet a less attractive target for thieves, should any happen to spot it. Sure, neither of us had ever tried this before, but with books selling dirt cheap at our local thrift shop, what did we really have to lose?

So on our next trip to the thrift shop, we searched the shelves for something that was the right size to accommodate the tablet. Back in the "miscellaneous" area, we found a volume called The Drug Addict as a Patient that looked ideal for our purposes. It was just slightly larger than the Nexus in every dimension, so it would accommodate the tablet without adding too much bulk, and the title was so boring that no one who happened upon it would ever be tempted to peek inside. It was only 25 cents, and the store (which is apparently eager to get rid of its book inventory) has a standard "buy one, get two free" deal—so we also got a paperback copy of The Anubis Gates and a whimsical little volume called The Good Fairies of New York at no extra charge. Now even if our experiment was a bust, our quarter wouldn't have gone to waste.

Once we got it home, Brian got to work cutting out the pages. He traced around the outline of the tablet on the title page, and then he cut along that line with an X-Acto knife, trimming away the pages a few at a time until he had a hole deep enough for the tablet. This was actually a fairly tedious process, and he says it probably would have been a lot easier to clamp all the pages together and cut around the outline with a jigsaw, but he didn't want to risk it with this book because it was so small that he was afraid he'd cut it apart completely. So making a book-case for your tablet may be easier if you start with a larger volume, but then you'll also end up with a bulkier and heftier case. Depending on how much you plan to carry it around, it may or may not be worth the trade-off.

Once he had all the pages cut out, he needed some way to stick the edges together so the case would have some structural integrity. So he just applied a little white glue to the tablet-shaped outline and smeared it on with a finger. He also glued down the remaining pages that he hadn't removed from the end of the book, so they wouldn't flop around.

Then he clamped the whole thing shut for a couple of days and let the glue set.

Once it was dry, he found that the result wasn't exactly perfect. First, the glue had added a little bit of bulk to the pages, so the outline he'd traced now wasn't quite big enough for the tablet. So he fixed that by shaving away the edges of the pages with the X-Acto blade until he'd carved out a hole the right size. Also, gluing together the pages at the bottom had caused them to bubble up a bit as the glue dried, forming a sort of messy edge. But after a little consideration, Brian decided this was a good thing: it made it look like not just an old, boring book, but an old, boring, damaged book that really wouldn't be worth anyone's trouble.

The final step was figuring out how to hold the case shut. I'd imagined applying some sort of hinge to the outside to hold it in place, perhaps a scrap of leather like this person used or a Velcro closure glued to the front and back covers. But Brian simply cut that particular Gordian knot by slipping a large rubber band around the whole shebang. This completes the case's disguise as an old, disintegrating book: it now looks like it's so decrepit that it needs a rubber band to keep it from falling to pieces.

Then, when you open it up, surprise! It's not just a book—it's the whole Internet!

All  in all, I think this little DIY tablet case was worth the time it took to make it. It took a bit of time, and it may not be as easy to use as a tablet case designed for the purpose—but it was a lot cheaper, and it looks a lot cooler. Plus, it repurposed something unwanted that would otherwise go to waste (let's face it, who's going to want to read The Drug Addict as Patient?) into something useful.
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