How to Build a Standing Desk for $50

Is there something to this standing desk thing? A cursory look reveals that it's usually pretty expensive, but it doesn't have to be.

As many of you know, I began working for The Brandit early last month, which shifted my work environment from jovial camaraderie to near solitude. This transition has not been as dire as it sounds, but one clear disadvantage made itself known quite early in the process: my chair.

Here is my old workspace, old chair in the foreground:

Nickelfish provides it’s employees with high-quality ergonomic chairs which are adjustable in more ways than one would care to know. This lies in stark contrast to my own $6 yard sale chair, and after less than one full workweek in it my lower back was beginning to pay the price. Not to mention that the chair and desk are both too short.

I have recently heard rumblings from friends and the internets alike about how standing desks are going to save the planet. While this might be a bit overstated, I did notice how much my sedentary, desk-hunching and car-driving lifestyle (totaling nearly 12 hours a day) affected my energy and overall fitness level (the latter gauged loosely by my endurance in intramural sports and weekly jogs). Let’s just say it affected it negatively.

I also began to experience a not insignificant level of back pain and soreness since switching work environments, and this appeared to be directly related to my bad working posture due to my desk/chair configuration.

Since I do not possess $500 to spend on a fancy chair, nor am I inclined to invest in a heavy-duty new desk that I will just have to move in a couple months (more on that later), I decided to disregard looks and go for a synthesis of functionality and frugality: build my own standing desk on top of my existing desk.

Step 1: Sketch

I used an ergonomic workspace planner to figure out the appropriate height for my keyboard and monitor and sketched from there. The original plan for the tabletops included some brackets and tabletops from Ikea, but I was doing this on a budget.

The goal was to build the desk for $50 or less, so pre-fab tabletops and fancy brackets were out of the question. My wife and I visited Home Depot to see if they offered a budget solution.

Step 2: Purchase Stuff

We discovered laminated pine boards pre-cut to the exact depths I needed for my new tabletops (who knew?). They were cheap and looked nice.

2×4 framing braces would provide more than enough support for my needs, so we picked up 12 to attach to the top and bottom of the middle shelf and then attach the entire construction to my existing Target desktop.

Home Depot has a rack of cheap 2x4s from which we culled our tabletop supports, and since I don’t own any power tools (aside from a borrowed electric drill) paid the 50 cents per cut to have them trim the boards and 2x4s to length.

Possibly because he was in a good mood the guy at the checkout didn’t charge me for the salvaged 2X4s or the cuts. Screws and a sanding block rounded out the purchases at a tidy $47.59.

Step 3: Sand

I did not finish these boards with stain or paint, but elected to sand the edges of my tabletops since I would be resting both my hands and computer equipment on it.

Step 4: Assemble

The first step was to remove the existing Target desktop from the frame, which primarily meant unscrewing the expanding bolts that keep cheap pressboard furniture together.

As I began to layout the structural elements and measure for the supports, I realized the Home Depot guys hadn’t trimmed my 2x4s exactly the same length. A quick run back to the store remedied the problem.

After assembling the desk elements together we had to affix it to the desktop. Quick Tip: use masking tape on laminate surfaces to make it easier to mark screwholes AND prevent the laminate from splitting when you drill into it.

My wife Olivia, who helped me build it, is here seen tightening the fasteners that will keep the whole thing on the frame. We also nailed the desk backing material back in place onto the desktop.

And there you go: a standing desk for $50.

After two weeks of use I am used to the perpetual standing, but the soles of my feet are noticeably sore after a long day. I will be purchasing a mat soon that I hope will relieve that issue. However, since switching I haven’t had a hint of back pain and my running endurance has increased. Coincidence? Possibly, but there is definitely something to not hunching over a desk 10 hours a day…

Posted in Updates and Workspace

1 Comment

  1. excellent, and you look very nice STANDING at it (although I don’t appreciate you kicking me off the couch when you “go to the office”). Now you can build me one! Woo hoo.

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