I’ve wanted a stand-up desk since I was a kid. Except then they were called ‘drafting tables’ and they weren’t set up for computers, they didn’t have a place to put the monitors and they were slanted to make drawing easier. I work from home more often than I do from the office, which means I have my computer at home and work on it for 8-10+ hours a day, which I previously spent sitting in the same chair. I spent even more time sitting in the chair since the same office space is also my play area in a lot of ways. I record my podcast, I surf the net and play video games all on the same set of systems, and controls. Which means I was really spending 12+ hours every day sitting in the same exact desk.
I am not great carpenter, funds are tight at the moment and I couldn’t honestly say that I’d like using a standing desk, so I decided to make one that was quick and dirty out of a 4’x8′ sheet of 5/8″ plywood I already had and picked up 3 8′ 4×4’s and 6 8′ 2×4’s. I probably could have done it with a couple less 2×4’s if I’d planned the cuts better, but I didn’t. The planks cost me $40 total at a local Home Depot and the plywood probably cost around $25 when I purchased it, so essentially the standing desk cost me about $65 to build. I had a lot of 3″ screws from various other projects, since I am a homeowner and have had to use them on plenty of other projects. I used couple of squares, a long straight edge, a pair of saw horses, a miter saw, a Ryobi cordless saw and drill and a small orbital sander. My first big problem was making sure that the miter saw was square, which took quite a bit of tinkering. Oh, I also used a countersink to drill all the screw holes. I don’t think any of these are tools that the average homeowner doesn’t have, except for the miter saw. It’s hard to saw through the 4×4’s without it, but a hand saw will do if you’re very careful.
Two decisions drove most of the design of this desk: How high should the desktop be and how high should the monitors be? I did a fair amount of research (well, a couple of hours at least) and most of the sites I read say the top of the desk should be within a few inches of the level of your elbow. I went a little lower with mine, which is how I ended with a desk top height of 42″. My elbows aren’t at a 90 degree angle, but they’re not too far off. My monitor is 19″ tall and my reading suggests that the top of the monitor should be at the top of your head level or slightly below, so the shelf for the monitor came in at 53″, placing the top of the monitor at 72″, about 4″ below the top of my head. This gives me a slight downward angle to a lot of the things I look at on screen, which seems to work pretty well so far.
The middle shelf I put in for a number of the things I need space for but don’t access on a daily basis, such as my printer, my subwoofer and my mixer. I extended the ends of the shelf over the supports by 6″ and placed my computer on one end. The plywood is strong enough to support my computer easily, it get’s the computer off the floor and solves a lot of my dust problems. Actually, the desk and the fact that it’s so open below solved a number of dust problems I’d had for years and gave me a lot more access to the space under and around the desk. The fact that my monitors and mixer don’t take up desk space gives me a much more effective space to work with and relives the need to clear space when I want to work on something that doesn’t require a keyboard.
One thing I had in mind from the beginning but didn’t put in until the desk was in my office was the foot rest in the front of the desk. I’d put it in the original design (comic sketch, really), but decided not to put it in at first. But a couple hours of standing at the desk made me realize I needed it there in order to help both with changes in my stance and to give the desk a little more stability.
So far, I really like the desk. My back is not in great shape and I have to take a fair number of small breaks during the day to let it rest, but the recovery time has become noticeably less already. Finding a chair that is tall enough to allow me to sit occasionally and continue to work has not been easy. I finally found one online, the LabTek Drafting Chair that looks like it will be tall enough for me to use without having to look up too drastically at the monitors. There a number of changes I’ll make when I have the time (and help from my father in law) needed to create a finer version of this desk. The biggest thing will obviously be much nicer wood than what I have now. Cheap 2×4’s and plywood is nice for a prototype, but for something long term, it won’t do. The second change will be to extend the top shelf the full width of the desk and maybe even a little beyond. I’d like to be able to fit a third monitor on the shelf. I’ll then be able to fit my work laptop and monitor on the desk, rather than having it on a second desk like I do now. I do a lot of my communication with co-workers on my personal system rather than the work system, a side effect of using Skype a lot. A few other potential changes are: raise the desktop an inch or two, put in adjustable feet and use a brass footrest like you see in a bar. I’ll also round most of the edges, which I did with the orbital sander on this version, but I’d use and actual round over bit in my router next time. The power tool, not the thing built by Cisco.
In order to draw up the desk, I asked the Twitterverse what program I should use to draft it. The reply that came back from a number of people was Google Sketchup. The program was a little frustrating at first, but once I gave up and actually watched the first few primers, it ended up being a fairly easy project to do. You can see a jpeg created from the program below, or you can download Sketchup and my sketch here.
Let me know what you think.
Update: I was asked to add some of the links I’d looked at in making the desk and I have start by saying I was remiss in not stating that the real impetus for my creating my own standing desk was Leigh Hollowell’s post “Making My Standing Desk“. Leigh is a friend who made a desk using a pair of Ikea chests and a beech desktop. I looked at the Ooda chests she used and they were too short for what I wanted and something of the appropriate size for me was almost $200 each, much more than I wanted to spend. And as we discussed on twitter, I’ve had to learn a lot more carpentry than she has, since I own an older house.