Two Weeks with a Standing Desk

standing_desk2If many of the recent studies on the subject are to be believed, sitting all day is horrible for you. Regardless of how much we may exercise when we aren’t chained to our desks, sitting for long periods places us at greater risk for various cancers, obesity, and diabetes, not to mention neck and back problems.

Unfortunately for most of us, we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. I’m currently working a full time job that requires me to sit in a veal-fattening pen all day writing code. I also spend several hours a day at home, seated in front of my iMac, working on web development projects. I do my best to get up an move around as much as possible, but I’m definitely spending several hours a day more than I should with my butt parked in a chair.

There isn’t much I can do about my work environment at the office (Clearly, The Man is trying to kill me). At home, however, I figure I can do whatever I want (subject to the approval of my wife) so after reading about the new ‘standing desk’ fad in Silicon Valley, I decided to be Mr. Trendy and try it for myself.

My first thought was to price a few desks online, where I discovered much to my dismay that standing desks have a way of costing two to three times more than regular old sitting desks. I’m sure this is partly due to the new-found popularity of standing desks and partly due to the fact that standing desks either need to be customized to the height of the intended user (For some reason, human beings can vary quite a bit in the height department), or be made ‘adjustable’, which surely adds to manufacturing costs. I did find several good adjustable-height desks online, but the prices pretty much eliminated them from consideration.

Undeterred, I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and began sketching a design for a standing desk I could build myself. I took a few measurements, and decided on a height of 42″ for my desk (about an inch below my elbows). Then I realized another issue: While 42″ may be a good height for my keyboard and mouse, it would definitely be too low for my monitor.

According to OSHA’s ergonomic guidelines, the top of a monitor should be about at eye level. Personally, I can’t STAND that, but I’m a bit apple_iiodd in that I like my monitors to be set high. At the office, my monitor is set on top of a stack of books, and I still don’t think I have it high enough. I unconsciously tend to slouch in my chair until the center of the screen is at or slightly above eye level. It’s possible this is due to the fact that I spent the formative years of my computing experience as a child sitting in an adult-sized chair at an adult-sized desk, peering up at a tiny Apple monochrome monitor that sat perched atop an Apple ][ and a set of chunky Disk ][ drives. I chose not to fight my subconscious conditioning and decided to build a split-level desk, with my 27-inch iMac sitting on a second platform about 6 inches above the keyboard/mouse platform.

So, sketches and measurements in hand, I headed over to Lowe’s to buy supplies. The legs of the table consisted of four 48″ 2x4s and two 42″ 2x4s. I decided on a width of 30 inches and a depth of 24, so I bought a 72×12 piece of pine board, cutting it into two 30×12 pieces to serve as the desktops for my two platforms. For bracing, I bought a few 1x3s, cutting two 30″ pieces to brace the back, and four 24″ pieces (two for each side) to brace the sides. To support the back of the keyboard platform, I bought two metal L-brackets, attaching one side of each bracket to the front legs of the monitor platform, and the other side to the bottom of the pine board serving as the keyboard platform. I also bought a box of 2-inch wood screws, and some half-inch ones for attaching the L-brackets.
After putting it all together, the result was better than I expected. Kinda ugly, but sturdy:

I’ve got this set up in the little home office corner of my bedroom (my wife forbade me to put in the living room), and have been using it constantly for the last two weeks. I’ll admit it took a lot of getting used to, as after a few hours my feet started to burn and my calves started to ache. The discomfort faded as the weeks went by and now, I can say, I much prefer this to sitting in front of a desk for hours on end. Standing helps keep me alert and focused on the task at hand, and when I get into a flow, pounding out code or intently focused on a design, I hardly notice that I’ve been standing for a long period of time. I do, however, have a bar stool that I occasionally use when I’m too tired to stand after a hard leg workout.


So, my recommendation: Get a standing desk. If you have the money to spend and are concerned about aesthetics, go out and buy one. If you’re cheap like me, build one; at least you’ll be able to try out the experience at a low cost and decide if you want to shell out the big money for a nicer desk later.

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