Shelf-Made Standing Desk

Since I started working from home, I’ve found that I spend even more time sitting at my desk than I did when I worked at the office. I’ve never had great posture and started noticing that my back and shoulders were pretty achy by the end of the day. Once I got to that point, it was harder to stay focused on work and I was becoming noticably fatigued.

I started researching alternative workspaces, and found ideas ranging from sitting on an excercise ball to walking on a treadmill desk. Having sat on excercise balls before, I knew that I would quickly regress back to slouching; and the idea of working on a treadmill seemed too impractical. I needed something in between…

A Standing Desk

There seems to be a surge of people converting to standing desks recently, and there’s no shortage of personal stories and information on why they can be beneficial. Some very nice commercially-made standing desks are available, but not knowing if I’d actually like using one, I didn’t want to make a big up-front investment.

My Old Desk

For reference, my old desk was simply a cubicle desk surface that had been reclaimed from a dumpster. I always liked the amount of horizontal space it provided, and it was extremely solid, but not completely ideal.

My Old Sitting Desk

My New Desk

I decided to convert a cheap shelving unit into a standing desk as a way to test the waters. At 48"W x 24"D x 72"H, this $80 rack from Lowes was pretty ideal, and I figured that after a month if I didn’t like it, the shelf could always be used in my garage.

Muscle Rack

I tried to follow OSHA guidelines as closely as possible when setting up the height of each shelf. The bottom shelf is about 7" above the ground to give my feet ample space below the rack; the upper shelf was placed so the top of the displays are right about eye-level; and the middle shelf was placed just below my elbow height for the keyboard and mouse. I used the extra shelf (which would have been on the very top) as a keyboard “tray” by cutting some notches in the corners to create a ledge that sticks out about six inches in the front.

Keyboard Tray Wrapped with Contact Paper

Some friends pointed out that MDF could potentially contain Formaldehyde in the resin used to bind it together, and that prolonged contact might cause skin irritation. To prevent this, I wrapped the front part of the keyboard tray in faux leather contact paper. It looks nice, and prevents my wrists from getting itchy.

Here’s how everything came together…

Complete Standing Desk

So my hands always stay at the proper height, I use Synergy to control both my Linux desktop and my MacBook Pro laptop with the same keyboard and mouse.

Complete Standing Desk with Me
Complete Standing Desk using Footrest

The medical community points out that staying in one position for too long (whether that’s sitting or standing) can be bad for you, so there’s also a futon in my office where I can switch to using my laptop with a Logitech Comfort Lapdesk. Eventually, I may order a tall stool, so the option to sit at the desk will also be available; although, I do plan on standing for the majority of the time.

Accessories

To make the standing desk more ergonomic, I purchased a few accessories:

Here’s an idea of roughly how the keyboard tray looks without the LED strip light installed; and if you mouse over the image, you’ll see what it looks like with the LED lights turned on…

Shelf Lighting

Shelf LED Lights

Conclusions

My first full day of standing was January 19th, 2011, and so far, I really love the desk. The first week was definitely a little rough, with my feet and back becoming sore by the end of the day, but it’s getting better. I’ve read that it takes a couple of weeks to fully adjust, so after I’ve given the desk a bit more time, I’ll post another update. At this point, I’m optimistic that it will be a permanent change to my home office setup.

Update

It has been almost 8 months since I started using the standing desk, and I don’t think I could go back. My posture has noticeably improved, and I quickly got over the initial soreness. I stand up about 85–90% of the time, and sit down with my lapboard for the rest (mostly later in the day). I’ve only made a few changes to my setup so far:

  1. I switched to an Kenesis Freestyle ergonomic keyboard to help improve wrist positioning and limit overreaching when using the mouse
  2. I added an Imprint anti-fatigue floor mat to make standing more comfortable (even though my office is carpeted)
  3. I added an Apple Magic Trackpad near my mouse pad so I wouldn’t need to reach to the upper level of the desk to perform multi-touch gestures

It’s safe to say that I enjoy utilizing a standing desk, and even though my shelving unit was originally purchased as an inexpensive way to get my feet wet, it has worked out better than expected. For now, it gets the job done and I don’t see the need to purchase a more expensive standing desk.

The only other planned improvements I have would be, to finally cut off the extra portion of each of the metal support rails that stick out from the top, and to build small side shelves that could support a pair of KRK Rokit 5 studio monitors. Once I’ve done those things, I’ll post an updated photo of how it looks.

Since posting this original article, I’ve inspired a handful of friends to try out standing desks, and all of them have stuck with it. If you’ve been on the fence about trying a standing desk, I can easily say that it’s worth the effort to give it a shot. I’d love to hear from you if you end up taking the plunge!

Update2

Well, I finished all of my planned improvements and here are the updated pics…ignore the dust and messy cabling :-)

Updated Desk

User Input

I found the shelves as a kit from Knape & Vogt for ~$20 each, but had to purchase some additional hardware (bolts, washers, and locking nuts) since they were originally designed for mounting with wood screws. The shelves can supposedly support up to 50 pounds each; they are stable, but I wouldn’t be comfortable adding much more than the current 15 pounds on them.

Glass Shelf

Shelf Supports

Cutting the metal support rails and trimming the shelf mounts to fit took a fair bit of time, a steady hand, and a Dremel. If you try it, the one thing I’ll say is to definitely wear safety glasses!

Anyway, I think I’m finally done tweaking things for a bit, but am incredibly happy with the results. Go forth and stand!

— Aaron Bull Schaefer