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How to hack yourself a standing desk - an illustrated guide (gregschlom.com)
173 points by gregschlom on Apr 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

Most of these hacks (and the comments in this post) miss a crucial point about standing desks. They are supposed to be ergonomic. [1]

Putting your laptop on a bunch of boxes puts a lot of strain on your arms. Of course this also doesn't work if you have a big display on your desk.

I'd be interested in hacking a standing desk that is

1) ergonomic

2) offers support for both laptops and big displays

3) has a usable keyboard drawer for both standing and sitting position

If all else fails we'll just make a living selling desks like that. (and no, geekdesk does not meet all requirements)

[1] http://www.infologix.com/images/usr/ergonomic-computer-cart....

I've tackled most of those with my cheap standing desk...although it's height is not easily adjustable. To switch things up, I have a futon with a lapboard in my office as well:


Great thinking with the light above the keyboard.

Is the monitor height a rule, or a guide?

I spend most of my time in a Linux terminal, where the command I type appears at the bottom of the screen.

I figure that diagram assumes you're looking around the top third of the screen, so raise my monitor a bit higher than that.

Thank you for the pointer to that ergonomic diagram - I hadn't thought about the requirement that the wrists be about level with your elbows, but it makes sense that you want to keep your wrists straight and avoid stress.

In my case I simply adjusted the height of the desktop and the monitor separately until it felt right and ended up with exactly what's in the diagram. But the various hacks I see aren't adjustable enough to take an experimental approach.

Desk hackers take note of the parent comment! Measure your elbow height and eye level and build accordingly!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't a proper ergonomic standing desk have a bar or step to rest a foot for long-term activity?

Also, are you supposed to hold your elbows in that position for long periods of time? I feel like there should be an extension to rest the forearms or wrists.

A good parallel to typing is playing classical piano, where the hands are lifted, and a straight line can be projected through the wrist to the elbow.

Resting the wrist or elbow on some sort of extension is what causes the strain. The trick is building the strength to hold up your hands and arms (maybe take up piano ;) ) without becoming tense in your shoulders and back. All of this follows from having a good posture.

You really shouldn't support the weight of your arms using your wrists or forearms.

If you're standing with proper posture, your upper arms are nicely aligned with the body, and your muscles should easily support the minimal weight of your forearms.

Edit: incidentally, as I'm experimenting with a standing desk, I have a stool which is about a foot too low to stand on. I do, however, find myself using it to accomplish all sorts of odd leg positions and stretches.

Right, but I mean is it good to support your arms with your elbows in the same position for hours to possibly years? I didn't mean for fatigue. It just doesn't seem to me (as a layman) as if any of our joints would appreciate that over the long-term.

Supporting your forearms in a neutral position using your musculoskeletal should be much, much better for you than by using external pressure on your forearms or (worse) wrists. It's really very, very little weight, and certainly no strain on the elbows.

Keep in mind that you aren't typing or mousing all the time. In a standing position, I find that I'm much more likely to drop my hands by my sides, or cross my arms when thinking, than I am when sitting at a desk.

That's not all. Stop sitting on your ass 8 hours a day now and you'll also receive:

48% less chance of dying of a heart attack!


I switched to a standing desk about six months ago. I started by piling a bunch of books on my desk and putting my laptop on top of them. Later I bought this:


It's a tolerably good desk, except that it's a bit small and, while it's veneered to look like plywood, it's actually made of pasteboard with a laminate veneer (that was a big disappointment when it arrived).

I would like to make my own soon, as I've been getting into woodworking, at which point I will probably sell or give the safeco away.

A few points about standing desks:

* You should be able to stand all day. At first you will get tired, of course. I found that muscles in my back, butt and thighs were getting very sore, but that goes away once they toughen up. For that reason, I don't particularly see the point in desks that convert from sitting to standing. It seems like that would just encourage people to start "cheating" and going back to sitting the moment they get a little tired.

* I tend to rock from foot to foot, kick my feet around, etc, while standing. A big part of the advantage of a standing desk is that you move around more, but if I were in an open-plan office I'd probably try to stand still, which would tire my feet out quickly and give me less of the movement advantage.

* You need good support for your feet. Either purchase very nice shoes or (like me) get something like this:


That mat made night-and-day difference for me. Had I not gotten it I would have given up on the desk, because standing all day on a wood floor (even in decent shoes) was starting to kill my feet.

* I also got this monitor stand and clamped it to the top of the safeco:


With it, my monitors are about a foot off the top of the desk, while the keyboard is at exactly the right height for my arms. Since I look straight forward all day long now, my posture has improved dramatically.

I entirely agree with you, excepting for your comment about shoes. In most circumstances, the best way to avoid foot problems is not to "buy better footware/orthotics" but rather to strengthen your feet.

If you are skeptical, look into the "minimalist" running movement. There is quite a bit of research which suggests that the human foot is itself a better support system than any external aid. The problem is that, living as most people do, their foot muscles have atrophied.

I stand barefoot on hardwood all day long.

I agree, I stand all day as well. My choice of footwear is a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes (http://www.vivobarefoot.com).

On a side note for my standup desk I built a plywood and 2x4 surface that sits on top of my desk -- it looks a lot like a coffee table on the desk. The materials were all of $15.

Edit: Here is a pic of my desk http://imgur.com/1woBL

I can certainly attest to the "strengthening" argument.

I had been working standing for about 6 months after a back injury. No matter what I did it hurt for the first month or so, but eventually I got used to it.

I just got home from 3 months working in Sydney at a sitting desk, and now I'm back almost to square one. It's amazing how quickly you lose conditioning just by not standing all day.

As with anything, movement is the important part, not the standing part.

And 100% do not wear shoes if you're working standing. Your body is smarter than shoe designers. In time your body get's back to working they way it was designed (or evolved) to work.

How have you strengthened your feet?

I agree with jnorthrop.

Although if you want to be a bit more hardcore about it, you might try a few (short) barefoot runs each week. In this latter case, however, be careful. It's easy to do "to much too soon."

If you wear shoes without arch support and have flexible soles (or go barefoot) your feet with strengthen themselves by having to work just to keep you upright.

Absolutely agree. I made the switch to more minimalist footwear shortly after reading a relevant article two years ago.[1]

If it were socially acceptable to wear Vibram fivefingers where I work, that's what I'd do.

Since that's not really an option, I wear Puma sneakers (the 'replicat' line doesn't have a huge heel cushion) without an insert. And then at home I work standing up, barefoot.

If you're looking for new footwear options, a few places are now selling, ironically, 'barefoot' sneakers. [2, 3]

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1170253/The-...

[2] http://www.vivobarefoot.com/

[3] http://www.merrell.com/US/en/Barefoot

I'm skeptical of this in the long term (10+ years). A good number of people simply have flawed feet, resulting in pronation, supination, and any number of other pain-inducing mechanical oddities.

Completely agree with you. I've been using a standup for about a year now, details here: http://www.localconspiracy.com/2010/08/get-up-stand-up.html

Regarding the feet, barefoot (on a gel mat) is about as good as it gets. But I've been running barefoot for two years now, so my opinion is biased.

Since switching to standup, I've almost ZERO back problems. Prior to this, I used to have serious back pain for two or three days at a time, several times a year.

If you are interested in ergonomics, don't use a laptop keyboard in your office; not on a desk, or on a chair on a desk.

There's simply no way to use the laptop keyboard, and have the screen at the right height.

Use the laptop to drive your big display, and connect your keyboard and mouse to it. The ergonomics of a laptop alone are bad. Its great to have a laptop for travelling, but if you care about your body, use a better setup for your office.

I didn't know "cool guys are coding standing these days". I had never even imagined much less heard of someone working in an office in a standing position. So I thought I was just crazy but did this myself some time ago.

I don't know why; I think I wanted to be in a natural, straight stance when coding instead of sitting in some semioptimal position. I'm 196cm tall so I have never really had a table and chair that was made to fit my measures. I've had various ergonomic tables but they just don't cut it for a man with my height.

I work from home and simply upgraded my working table myself. It is a nice wooden table with lathed legs that you could screw into the corners of the table top. I simply went to the hardware store, lost 30 euros and came back with a total of 480cm of lathed wood of the same diameter. And after a bit of sawing and drilling I had four 120cm pieces that I could replace the old legs with: total time one hour, including the trip.

I've adjusted the height a few centimeters since that so as to get the table truly optimal to my personal height and now I'm fine. I must say that was the best 30 euros I've ever spent, I already notice that my abdominal and back muscles are stronger, and I naturally revert to a better stance even when not at my desk.

And I haven't had any back problems from getting stuck in the same position for too long, since I constantly move around when standing at my desk.

It is cool, actually. (The table, not me necessarily.)

One problem with this setup is that your hands are not at elbow level.

You want a separate keyboard that you can put on a piece of wood or a book or whatever, so that the screen is level with your eyes (when in perfect posture) and the keyboard is level with or slightly below your elbows (when in perfect posture).

Another problem is that the chair tend to roll away as you type :)

But my current setup works very well (pictured here: http://gregschlom.com/about)

I guess it's just a matter of finding the right height for your elbow.

Google the Ikea Jerker desk. They discontinued the standup model - or rather the model that could be configured as such - but you'd probably be able to find one used on craigslist or ebay.

It is designed for this specifically, although it is big, so you need a good deal of space. I've been using one in my home office for about 7 years now.

There's actually a current model at Ikea that works awesomely as a stand up desk: The Fredrik. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00115992

I own one and enjoy it greatly.

Totally agree. This desk is the one I'm currently using and couldn't ask for more.

I'm exactly 6ft and this it works great for me in this configuration: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/77657/Photo%20Apr%2013%2C%2011%2037%...

I got the Vika Amon <http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/S79831622>; with Vika Kaj adjustable legs. <http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60105301>;

Turns out 34" is too low -- I'm 6", and it seems 41" would be about right -- so I'm using books to raise my monitor, keyboard, and mouse. A lot of books in the case of the monitor.

I have these at work and home. They work well, but I wish they were built a little more solidly.

What can you say, though? Ikea.

I managed to craigslist this desk and love it. Finding the accessories, on the other hand, has been harder.

I spent $8 at Home Depot for materials and 10 minutes of assembly for mine: http://i.imgur.com/Aoqpd.jpg

They'll cut the wood for you, just measure before you buy.

They'll cut it to fit into your car, but they aren't going to cut it precisely to what you want it to be. At least around here.

eh, the "Lows" across the street and the "home depot" down the way both cut far more precisely than I can manage on my own. It's not going to be to micrometer precision, but when working with the mostly green wood those places sell, nothing ever is. The stuff changes shape as it ages anyhow.

It's probably better than what you can do as an amateur with cheap tools, and it's probably good enough for a project such as this. Of course, if you actually know what you are doing and have reasonably good tools, you can do better, but for those of us who just want to knock something together, my experience has been that the lumberyard cutting services are just fine.

I've had Home Depot cut wood to my measurements ~6 times at 3 different Home Depots. They've done a fine job each time.

(Also, do you see the precision of that "woodworking"?)

Forget that hypster hype.

The problem is not the position but the length working in the same position. Whatever position.

If you stand the whole day, your legs will suffer (ask people working in shops); in the long run you will have "heavy legs" issue. You may lower the effects with a proper setup of your bed (feet should be 2-4 cm higher).

The only real solution: * A good physical activity: cardio + strengthening the muscle for "body protection". * Streching all the muscle groups.

A while back I bought one of those "lap desk" things that you're supposed to use while you're sitting on a couch or a bed for supporting your laptop. I found that if I stuck it on a normal desk it was the perfect height, and even has a reading light, plenty of room for an external mouse and a place for me to put my coffee in the morning. Highly recommended... Here is the one I bought if anyone is interested:


It's a bit of a hack, and I was made fun of a fair amount around the office when I first started using it, but I like it a lot. I think I got mine on sale at the time for $19.95. It's certainly a more "elegant" solution than sticking a chair on top of a table, and doesn't require any woodworking skills.

If you are using laptop, put http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40104270 on top of your desk.

it is only $9.99

Ikea sells a "bar table" in the Utby line that works quite well. See:


I love working this way. My best coding is done barefoot and standing. As far as getting tired goes, in my experience it doesn't take long to adjust. Do be warned, however, that after you become accustomed to standing with good posture, it can be somewhat torturous to sit for extended periods of time.

I just wanted to share my standing "desk" and experiences too. A picture of my home setup: http://i.imgur.com/BUUTP.jpg

The furniture is a piece of IKEA MALM. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70053924

The keyboard height isn't 100% optimal for my height though and it would be nice to have the monitor 1-2dm further back. Other than that, feels great when you have adjusted to standing up.

+ You can really feel your back muscles growing and getting stronger after a few weaks (at least if unexcercised before).

+ Now I can walk around from when I wake up to when I go to sleep without getting any aches. (Good for when you're shopping, touristing, hiking, going to conventions, conferences etc.)

+ My body posture is now way better, standing or sitting down.

- When I sit down and need to think a bit and look away from the computer that's what I do. When I'm standing up I find myself walking around aimlessly instead, and suddenly I'm in the kitchen grabbing something to eat. I would say my concentration is better when sitting down.

I've been standing for about two months now. The thing to keep in mind is that yes, it's an improvement over sitting for 8 hours straight, but not a "cure", or something that somehow will save us from the health-related problems of sitting for too long, if all we do now is just stand, also for too long.

Anyway, it's been mostly good for me but I've made adjustments. After a couple of times in which I worked for 12-14 hrs in a day, standing the whole time, mostly with locked knees and not really moving much, one morning I was surprised to look down and see my ankles swollen a bit. I ended up buying a cheap wooden stool, not comfortable for more than 20-30 minutes, so I can now take breaks from standing, sit for a little while then naturally gravitate back to the standing position once that becomes uncomfortable. The stool also conveniently has rests where I can put a leg or foot, then switch, etc. I was probably lucky to find one that is the right height so when I sit I retain the same vertical position in relation to the desk.

I just hacked together a large standing desk this weekend using cabinets from Ikea:


The criteria for this project was 1) Cheap 2) high enough to rest my elbows on, 3) large enough for all my gear, 4) Good looking enough to not embarrass my girlfriend.

Anthro builds great stuff.

I had something similar to the Adjusta Unit in the second link. It was very sturdy and high quality. The adjustable mechanism worked flawlessly. The only problem was the that the unit I purchased was designed to fit in a corner and was HUGE. It would take up far too much space in my current office.

I'm considering buying one since there's a big sale going on in april. (40% off with the key April2011 when you call to order.) If I do, I'll let you know what it's like.

Anyone have an instructable for not-very-good DIYer?

I mean - more of the actual use (non-chair-on-table) solutions?

To further stack my own mini-thread:

I had a hernia two years ago, 31 year old developer.

I've seen some treadmill standing working hacks, I've tried the balance ball idea (I'm 1.92m - knees to high up for biggest balance ball).

I use Workrave consistently to lock me out of my PC out every 30 minutes, to force me to walk around and avoid pain medication.

Recommendations, tips, tricks, and and easy to build schematic appreciated.

Do you have a circular saw, a drill, some screws, and access to 2x4s?

I do.

I'll likely write a blog post soon, describing how I made my desk. Every time I try to describe it in a comment, I realize it's overwhelming without photos to clarify. :-)

Is there any real advantage to standing up for long periods of time vs sitting properly? I suspect there would be a negative impact on the knees.

My co-worker uses one of the following setups at his desk. It looks interesting and well made.


He likes it, but personally had to modify it a bit to raise the keyboard tray about 2"

Check them out or otherwise happy hacking! (which is good too :) )

I found plastic storage totes (like this one: http://www.housewaresandbeyond.com/images/items/12039/jpg/St...) much better than the regular cartoon boxes. They cost around $10 from walmart and they come in many different sizes and shapes.

Seems like your laptop would not be very safe on a mobile chair on a small desk. I guess this is a joke (even though you claim it isn't).

This is the setup I have right now:


It is just some boxes, but it works reasonably well. Having the screen and keyboard at different heights is key for me.

What I'd really like is a portable, ergonomic standing desk. I've been designing something that can be ratcheted between a couple of trees and provide two stable, adjustable platforms, one for the laptop and one for a keyboard.

i've been using a standing desk for quite a while now. first i used a small table that i put on my desk, now i use a board on the wall and the sreen is screwed onto the wall above it.

one problem i have is that it seems like all gel mats only ship to the us. amazon.com would ship to germany, but i dont have any way to pay there.

anyone know of a way to get a gel mat in germany?

I can walk miles upon miles. But standing still for even 20 minutes hurts. This would not help me.

While I work standing, I wouldn't ever say that I work "standing still." I'm constantly shifting my weight across one foot or the other, shifting my upper body slightly, etc...

And if you can't stand for more than 20 minutes, I'd check over your posture. There really is a "right" way to hold yourself, and I haven't found many people (in our desk-conditioned culture) who fall into it naturally.

The ones that I've seen being put in schools have a little bar to lean forward with one foot. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be a lot more comfortable and ergonomic than standing straight.

how long do you guys work ? This works for a couple of hours, but I can't imagine how it feels after coding 14 hours. Best could be to change after several hours between a standing and sitting position.

I can't imagine sitting in a chair for 14 hours without even a few 15 minute breaks. You are setting yourself up for neck injury and long term back pain. (Speaking from experience, as someone who used to sit in a chair for similarly long stretches and thought it made him tough. No, it made me stupid.)

Treadmill desk?

"I Put In 5 Miles at the Office" http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/health/nutrition/18fitness...

I prefer a full-size treadmill in my cubicle.

Seriously, though, try putting a BRM / Office Depot box on top of a standard-size desk. It's almost the perfect height, and you won't look like a fool.

I've found that three Amazon Fresh boxes (or two stacked ontop of something else) are the absolute PERFECT height for a standing desk (for me).

What about concentration? Does anybody have opinions on whether standing forces you to concentrate on the task at hand more?

I've been standing for about 3 hours right now for the first time ever since reading this article and I haven't skipped a beat actually. It's been a nice change.

Would be better to take the wheels off the chairs, so you don't wreck your expensive macbook pro.

what do you guys think is better for long term health, an exercise ball chair or a standing desk?

motorized table base can be bought for ~500$ ( http://www.tablelegworld.com/Motorized-Table-Legs )and then any spare table top can be attached to these - not that expensive in my opinion - and you get a working thing rather than some book or brick based hack which sucks in the long term

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