How to make the ultimate customizable standing desk

September 27 | Guest post by Sunny

Are you at a desk for six hours or more a day? Have you been concerned by the research pointing to serious health effects of sitting all day, recently confirmed again?

I work at the computer much of the day, have back trouble, and don't get enough exercise as it is. So, inspired by reading Offbeat Home's post on an easy DIY standing desk, I took to the info highway and assessed my existing materials to design a standing desk!

Offbeat Home's post was a great start, but my needs are different:

  • For my eyes and my sanity, no windowless wall.
  • Easy to take apart, put together, and store.
  • Ergonomic height, with space for ergonomic keyboard, mouse, and monitor at proper height.
  • Fit two computer monitors to reduce the strain of computer work.

The desk I came up with is totally customizable to different heights, easy to put together and take apart, and can be done for as low as $26 if you already have a bookshelf with adjustable shelves. But remember that your desk is something you use every day for a lot of hours — so I chose higher quality materials that cost more as a better investment.

The basics:

Attach an adjustable leg to one end of a table top, and rest the other end on the appropriate shelf of an existing bookcase.

What you'll need:

  • A table top. You can save time and money by using any of the already finished (some brightly colored!) Ikea wooden tabletops, which start at $11, or repurpose a suitable piece of wood you have lying around (even an old door). I splurged on a large IKEA VIKA FURUSKOG solid pine top, 60 x 30". Make sure that it will fit into the width of your bookshelf.
  • A bookshelf with adjustable shelves. I used IVAR because I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with the IVAR shelving system, which is basic but fucking brilliant. I can turn IVAR into any piece of furniture. Try me.
  • One or two adjustable height table legs. To calculate the height you need, stand near your adjustable bookcase. Bend your arms at a 90 degree angle, than lower them just slightly to an optimal typing position. Note the location of the tips of your fingers — this is the height you want your desk to be. Approximate that height as closely as possible with one of your shelves, keeping in mind that your tabletop will rest on top of the shelf. Now measure from the ground to this height to calculate your table leg. I'm fairly tall, so I had to go with the VIKA BISKE leg; shorter folks will be able to use the VIKA KAJ leg.
  • One or two table legs? You will be resting the other side of your table top on the shelf, so if you use the fairly sturdy VIKA BISKE leg, one is probably enough for a table top up to 30" in depth.
  • Appropriate screwdriver for installing your table leg.

Optional materials:

  • Appropriate finishing materials for your tabletop, if necessary (I use BEHANDLA wax and mixed in some Red Umber Bioshield pigment I had lying around from another project).
  • A backless bar stool, which can be stored under the table. Given my height, I needed a bar height stool, not a counter height stool. I went with the BOSSE bar stool, but you can often get bar stools for less at Target, or thrift shops.
  • An anti-fatigue mat. After reading the reviews, I ended up with this one. [Editor's note: You know how much we recommend the fabulous French Bull anti-fatigue mats!]
  • Something to raise your monitor to the right height. A wooden wine crate happens to be perfect for me.

How to make it:

Step 1: If necessary, finish your tabletop. If you bought a finished table top, or you are impatient and in a hurry, go to step 2.

I love the look of wood, but another great possibility is to Mod Podge some awesome fabric onto the tabletop – and matching fabric onto your stool! Kinda like this or this.

Mod Podge isn't all that water resistant, so you'll want to seal it with acrylic.

Step 2: Install your table legs. Ensure that they are properly placed a few inches in from the edge to make the top stable. If you are in a tight space, think about what might be stored under your table and plan accordingly. If using one leg: center it (depthwise). If using two: you'll be able to use the pre-drilled holes in the Ikea tabletops.

Step 3: Adjust table leg(s) to desired height.

Step 4: Set up your table by resting the other end of your table top onto the bookshelf. You can now look out into the room from your desk!

Step 5: Place your stool under your desk for easy access.

Step 6: Place your anti-fatigue mat appropriately, step on it, and sigh with contentment as you admire your new desk.

Step 7: After an hour, curse yourself and wonder what you've done. All this effort for something that makes you miserable. Don't despair!

Step 8: Wonder what to do with the tangle of cords, which are now visible. Decide to leave that for another project.

Which brings me to: Tips for adjusting to a standing desk

  • Have a stool, the appropriate height and not too comfortable, that you can rest on as needed.
  • Be patient and adjust gradually. It takes time to build up muscles for standing. After six months, I am totally comfortable standing for 6-8 hours with only a few minutes sitting.
  • Invest in the anti-fatigue mat — it makes a HUGE difference.
  • Be careful not to lock your knees; allow yourself to sway slightly forward and back, or side to side.

So who's doing this? Because, I gotta admit, I'm tempted…

  1. I started using a standing desk at home and at work for three years and I LOVE it. You're right, the anti-fatigue mat is incredibly important to be comfortable.

    My biggest tip to people starting out with a standing desk: be patient with your body. When I first got one, I was used to sitting in a chair for 9 hours a day. My legs were not ready to stand for that long. I started out going from standing for an hour to sitting on my barstool for 30 minutes or so, back and forth all day. After a while, I noticed that I was standing longer and longer without feeling the need to sit down, and I can now stand at my desk for an entire workday, though I still sit occasionally when I feel like it.

    Also, I like to listen to music while working and standing lets me bounce around to the music while working, burning even more calories. Standing on one leg at a time for a while also feels good and helps with balance.

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    • Yay for dancing while working!!! That's totally started happening to me lately. (And it really happens TO me – I will be deep in thought, figure out the answer, come to and realize I've been dancing around for the last few minutes ;-) )

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  2. i just upgraded my standing desk (the original was featured in the OBH story you linked!) and my end results are a lot like yours. =) didn't go the adjustable route, however, both for simplicity and because i'm going to be the only one using the desk. a large workspace and a dual-monitor setup makes a *world* of difference, and of course an anti-fatigue mat is a must. =)

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    • THANKS for giving me the idea ! It's completely changed my life – I've gone almost six months now without back pain!

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  3. This sounds awesome. But I am having trouble seeing how you connected the table top to the IVAR bookcase. Is there any way we could see more pics? I am seriously considering doing this for my office. I wonder if this would also work for sewing. :)

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    • Ha – that's the easiest part of all – it is just resting on a shelf placed at the proper height!!! That's the beauty of using a bookshelf with adjustable shelves. Total lazy girl's DIY.

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  4. That article scared me! I work at a computer almost all day. I do art during the day and teach at night…both on a computer. The part that frightened me the most is that exercise doesn't significantly offset the results! What!? I think i'm gonna try this out…

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  5. Perfectly timed. We're moving soon and my computer desk is not moving with us. This looks like the perfect solution for my new desk.

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  6. I am very curious about how you transitioned to using a standing desk. From time to time I have to work on a server console station which is a rack-mounted computer with a slide-out keyboard… basically a temporary standing desk.

    While I'm there I feel twitchy and uncomfortable. I'm never there long enough to get fatigued but if I had to do my "real" job there, I couldn't. I just can't focus well enough.

    Has anybody else experienced this? Is it a temporary issue that requires patience as you adjust?

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  7. Oops, I missed the last comment! KathyRo, if you are still out there – it just takes time. Also – many console stations are not adjusted to a good height for most people – so having the desk set to the right height helps a lot. The anti-fatigue mat is crucial as well. I was twitchy too at first, but it eventually went away.

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  8. Any advice on how to convert a normal desk to a standing? I'm thinking of putting something large (like a coffee table) on top of it.

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    • Definitely determine your optimal height first, by measuring the height of your arms at a 90 degree angle, and your eyes, as above. I have hacked a normal desk at work with the help of two wooden wine crates – one is on its side, taller, for the monitor and the other is upside down for the keyboard. Happened to be a good height for me.

      I think a media table/tv bench of some kind, with the legs or rollers removed, might be a better longer term solution, however, since it would give you more continuous surface area.

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