Creating a Cradle for Your MP3 Player Out of Cardboard

When you're listening to music on your MP3 player, having a cradle is a generally silly thing.  If you're not looking at the screen then who cares where the device is?  But with video podcasts becoming more and more common, and with players getting large enough to store a handful of movies, having a way prop up your screen in landscape mode at a decent viewing angle can be very convenient.


The tools I used in this project:

  • A sheet of corrugated cardboard (this one was about 1/8" thick)
  • A 30-60-90 degree triangle & ruler
  • A Zune30 (You'll need your MP3 player around to take measurements)
  • A pencil
  • A utility knife

Measure your MP3 player.  You'll need to know height, width, and thickness.

Next I made a drawing showing how this will all come together and wrote my measurements down. 

Start Drawing the Template

This is the side panel measured out.  You should be able to make out the shelf and backing in the upper left where the Zune will sit.  I drew those lines out first with measurements to match the thickness and height of the Zune30 in landscape mode (5/8" and 2 1/2").  Next I used my 30-60-90 triangle to measure out that 30 degree angle at the top, then the other side to measure out 90 degrees to draw the top line.  That's an arbitrary 1" long.  From there, measure another 90 degree angle and draw the back edge until you hit the end of the cardboard.

Next, go back to the "shelf" and measure out another 1" towards the bottom of the piece and make a mark there.  Using the triangle you can make the bottom edge of the box by putting the triangle along the edge and lining up the 90 degree edge with the backing.

Measure another 90 degree angle from the front of the shelf and draw the front edge to whatever length is necessary to reach the bottom edge.

Last you'll need to measure out the notches that'll hold all the pieces in place.  From the shelf, measure half an inch into the piece and draw a notch 1/8" wide.  This is where the shelf will rest on the sides.  Then you measure another notch 1" long and 1/8" wide along the bottom of the panel near the back.

Here's the templates for the back support and the shelf.  The back (on the left) is 4 1/2" wide and whatever length the back edge (which ended up being 2 11/16" for me).  The shelf (on the right) is 4 1/2" wide and 1 5/8" long (5/8" for the device and 1" for the notch overlap).

Determining how far into the panel you'll want to place your notches is at your discretion so long as the 2 panels have their matches in the same places.  I placed my notches 1/2" in from the outer edge.  You'll need to mesaure 1" on the backing and 1/2" from the shelf.  Here's where things get tricky.  You'll want to cut out everything except the 1" on the backing when you make your tabs ... but you'll cut out the 1/2" you measured on the shelf.

Break Time

At this point the cat invaded my workspace and I had to take a break to shoo him away.

Cut Out Your Shapes

Cut your shapes out along the lines you measured above.  You might note that we only drew one side panel.

Once you have the side panel cut out, you can put it on a spare area on the cardboard and trace it with the pencil.

These are my 4 pieces cut out.  Can you spot the mistake?  (I mis-measured the backing notches and made them too short.)

Assemble the Pieces

Slide the side panels into the notches in the shelf and backing.  If you got your measurements right everything should fit together nice and snug.  The shelf should go from the front edge to the table, and the backing should go from the top to the bottom.

Here's my Zune30 on its cradle playing a scene from Spaceballs.  The 60 degree angle gives you a good view of the screen if you place it on your desk while you work (which is boon to people who like to watch TV while they work but live in shared offices).  This also illustrates why the backing is a full 1" deep ... the play/pause button is very high in this configuration and the backing has to be that deep to prevent it from tipping over.

Other Thoughts

When I got done I realized that the notches for "shelf" are a little on the flimsy side.  If I were to do this again I would probably increase that overlap to 1 1/2" instead of just 1".  Other than that it's fairly functional and, since the cardboard was scrap retrieved from the garbage, it didn't cost me a dime.

Update: Magnifying Fresnel Lens

I was walking through Office Depot today when something caught my eye - a cheap ($2) fresnel lens bookmark.  A fresnel lens is a sort of flattened lens; instead of it being one continuous surface on each side, the lens is made out of concentric rings, each with an increasing slope, that achieve the same effect as a concave magnifying lens.  They're super light, can be flexible (if made out of a malleable plastic), and are paper thin.  As a result, it's relatively common to find them as bookmarks so that the reader can magnify the fine print.

So it struck me that a neat modification to this project might be to mount a fresnel lens in front of the screen so that it can magnify the video.  Here's what I ended up with:

It looks pretty solid so far.  Here's the playback:

Since the lens is a very wide aspect (6"x2.5"), I mounted it at a distance where I could see a full 16:9 image (plus a little distortion and echo at the far left & right edges).  It's about a 2x increase in size without a significant reduction in image brightness.  Not too shabby.