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Summary:

A few years ago, I decided to build two new desks for my office. One is a conventional height and the other is a standing desk. I wanted the option to move between desks for a little extra activity throughout the day. I have computers at both desks. I often stand while browsing the web and reading email, but usually sit to type or for long periods of concentration. Moving back and forth helps keep me fresh, as well as organized, with different tasks at each location. Here’s how I built my standing desk.

A standing desk (also called a stand-up desk) is just what it sounds like: a desk that allows you to stand up while working. Taller than a sitting desk, a standing desk is between waist and chest height. Google and Wikipedia will tell you that this type of desk was used by Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Woolf, Marilyn Monroe and Donald Rumsfeld. (OK, I made up one of those.) There can be health benefits to using a standing desk, particularly for certain back problems. Using a standing desk should even burn a few extra calories, compared to slouching in a plush designer chair.

A few years ago, I decided to build two new desks for my office. One is a conventional height and the other is a standing desk. I wanted the option to move between desks for a little extra activity throughout the day. I have computers at both desks. I often stand while browsing the web and reading email, but usually sit to type or for long periods of concentration. Moving back and forth helps keep me fresh, as well as organized, with different tasks at each location. Here’s how I built my standing desk.

My standing desk

My standing desk

One benefit of building your own standing desk is that you can get the height just right. Measure from the floor to your elbow for a starting measurement. My standing desk is just above my belly button at 43 inches tall.

I wanted my two desks to share one feature: easy disassembly. I rearrange my office a couple of times a year — writers crave distraction — and I want to be able to move things easily. So, each of my desktops lifts off a base made up of two L-shaped supports. The hard part is clearing everything off the desks, after which I can easily lift the top and move the supports. I can also switch the desktops, which have different shapes.

Originally, I constructed the supports using wood that was 2 inches by 2 inches. The result was rather wobbly. I reconstructed the supports using 2x4s, which resulted in a much more solid structure. As you can see in the next photo, which shows the sit-down desk, each L-shaped support consists of four horizontal pieces and three vertical pieces. Join the support pieces with wood screws or even nuts and bolts. Nails will not hold it tightly enough.

Constructing the desk

Constructing the desk

Wedged into a corner, each desk is rock steady. If your desk will be away from the walls, you may need metal brackets in the corners to stabilize the desk further.

For the desktop, I chose a high-quality plywood sheet 4 feet by 8 feet, cut in half at the store. When I cut off one corner to create the front of the desk, my old saw mangled the edge of the wood. (I used those cut corners for the shelves that you can see in the first photo.) The rough edge of the wood led me to buy a couple of yards of soft vinyl at a fabric store to cover the wood. The result is a very nice work surface.

If you don’t wish to build your own desk, you’ll find standing desks or stand-up desks for sale online and in some stores. You should also look at drafting tables, which have an adjustable work surface. While my desk is flat, some people prefer a sloping surface.

Mark Justice Hinton is founder of PC Training & Consulting and has written books includingPC Magazine Windows Vista Solutions” and “Digital Photography for Dummies“.

  1. Have you thought about sticking a treadmill under your standing desk? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treadmill_Desk

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  2. Woodworking is not your best skill :)

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  3. What I’m looking for is a recumbent stationary bike desk/workstation. Any recommendations?

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  4. It’s a little bit strange this concept of standing desk and it’s for the first time when i hear about it, here on your blog.

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  5. What a cool tool and great idea! Designers should definitely check this out.

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  6. I’ve been using a standing desk at work and at home for a couple of years now. I was having lower back problems, and it really helps my posture. The tradeoff is that now my shoulders get pretty tight — I can’t rest my elbows on anything while standing, so I have to keep the arms engaged while typing.

    Both places I have an adjustable height desk from IKEA. At work I use the Fredrik, and at home I have a Jerker (which I think is discontinued now, unfortunately).

    I set the desk height at a level where I can comfortably type while standing. My monitor sits on the accompanying shelf at a level above the desk surface, so I don’t have to bend my neck to look at the screen. I have a drafting chair so that when my legs get tired or I’m having a low-energy day I can sit and still be the right level for the keyboard.

    Besides the health advantages of standing desks, they have a smaller footprint and allow for more vertical storage space.

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  7. Rather than a full-time standing desk, I ended up going with an electric adjustable height desk — I couldn’t imagine working ALL the time standing, but I sure wanted to be able to work standing a good portion of the time.

    I ended up buying a GeekDesk frame about a year ago, and use a hollow core door for the top (though they say IKEA makes tops that fit it as well). It has been a huge, huge improvement over working sitting all day, and I also use a few different chairs to mix things up a bit even when I’m sitting.

    Overall, I can’t recommend the “adjustable height” approach strongly enough.

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  8. [...] Walk Around. This isn’t purely a tech tip, but boy is it important to me while writing. Writing takes a lot of mental energy, and it helps enormously to get up and get the blood flowing at regular intervals. Many of the most revered writers who ever lived followed this as a best practice. Nabokov wrote most of his many novels standing at a lectern, handwriting. Hemingway did this too, including a lot of pacing. We just ran this post about building a standing desk for writing on your feet. [...]

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  9. standing up all day will cause you to develop varicose veins, painful and ugly. Not clever.

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  10. @antony, if you read the post you’ll see that Mark has two desks – one for sitting, one for standing. he moves between the two. Seems like a great arrangement to me.

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