How I Built an Ergonomic Adjustable Standing Desk For Free

I have coveted standing desks for years now. Coveted. A main hobby of mine became imagining my home office as a space I could actually enjoy rather than endure. I scrolled through Google image searches, I poured over ergonomic height and distance recommendations, and I filled online IKEA shopping carts with items for my carefully measured dream standing desk hacks.

My work demands that I be at a desk or table much of the time, but sitting, even using my highly adjustable desk chair, takes a toll on my back and hips. Most pre-fabricated standing desks are a bit cost-prohibitive for me, though, the nearest IKEA is hundreds of kilometres away, and dragging everything to and from my higher kitchen counter is literally a drag.

So, last week, I decided to stop coveting and do something about it. I scrounged around my house for supplies to hack a standing desk together out of what I already had. It took some creative reimagining, but in the end I did more than alright.

What I Used to Build My Standing Desk

I started with the most obvious elements:

  • 2 Asterix ladder desks (I've had them for a couple of years, and they are great for smaller spaces, but I haven't used them much until now.)
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 desktop monitor
  • 1 wireless keyboard
  • 1 wireless trackpad

And then I dug up some non-obvious items I already had lying around to bend them to my use. I tried to choose things that were either aesthetically pleasing or possessed some character:

The only tool I needed:

  • 1 Allen key (If you've ever put IKEA furniture together, you likely have one.)

Standing Desk Arrangement

Once I removed a shelf from one of the ladder desks with the Allen key to make room for the height of the desktop monitor, all I had to do was adjust the heights of my various tech with what I had on hand.

by Angus McIntyre and Matthew (own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

by Angus McIntyre and Matthew (own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Make sure your main monitor is at a comfortable standing height for viewing. The second-from-the-top ladder desk shelf is approximately 53½ inches high, and I am about 5'6" without shoes, so my laptop monitor is at face level when I'm standing.

Your keyboard and trackpad or mouse should be at approximately elbow height. The combination of The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, pine box, and cutting board raise my wireless keyboard and trackpad to a comfortable but adjustable elbow height.

Raise your secondary monitor to a height that does not put strain on your neck or back when viewing. The wooden salad bowls raise my desktop monitor to a fairly comfortable level that is midway between standing and sitting. I am fine with this height right now, because the desktop monitor is usually my secondary monitor. It gives me the opportunity to adjust the angle of my head up or down a touch while I am working. This is important, because even small changes to your posture during the day help relieve what can amount to repetitive stress when you're not induced to change your position occasionally.

Keeping your desk clear and organized will make it easier for you to adjust your workspace from sitting to standing positions. The tension curtain rod takes care of my headphones and extra cords so I don't have them lying around loose or getting tangled in drawers. This particular piece of my standing desk arrangement has me patting myself on the back. It seems like such an obvious solution that I wonder why it isn't everywhere already.

Sitting Desk Arrangement

Make sure that, whatever arrangement you create, the adjustment from standing to sitting positions is an easy process. To adjust the setup for a sitting desk in less than a minute, all I have to do is remove The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, move the laptop down to sit on top of the pine box/cutting board combination, and pull up my desk chair. If I find the desktop monitor is too high, I can remove one of the salad bowls to bring it to a more reasonable height. Easy peasy.

Standing Desk Tips

There is a transition phase. I found that the first couple of days left me with a sore back and feet, so take your time gearing up for a full day of standing until your body adjusts to the new posture. It can be worth the uncomfortable transition phase to graduate to regular standing work, but do take pre-existing back issues into account if you have them. Standing desks are not necessarily for everyone.

Make a point of adjusting your stance throughout the day. Your back, feet, and hips will fare much better if you shift your weight, bend your knees occasionally, and even dance around in place.

Have the option to raise or lower the height of your keyboard. The cutting board element lets me adjust the height by three-quarters of an inch every other day, and that's enough to help alleviate repetitive stress issues when I'm typing for both my sitting and standing options.

You might experience increased productivity. You could find that your productivity or preferred type of work will vary between the standing and sitting positions. My focus and productivity go way up when I'm standing, and I seem to be able to write more words with less struggle, so on days when I have a lot of smaller tasks and writing on my to-do list, I spend most of my time standing. This relieves frustration and makes a difference to how much I enjoy the work I do.

In Conclusion

I now have an ergonomic adjustable standing desk for the low, low cost of zero dollars.

It’s not one of the new wonders of the aesthetic world, but it’s not hideous, either. Spending half to two-thirds of my work time standing has already noticeably lessened my shoulder and upper back tension, and I didn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on stuff to make it happen. I win!