Building a sit-stand desk for less than $200

End result: desk in standing mode

End result: desk in standing mode

I’m working from my home office a lot more these days, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to arrange my environment as I’d like it best. I’m in front of a desktop computer for many hours every day, and I get tired of sitting. Standing is a relief, but I can’t imagine standing for long stretches while working would be any better than sitting. Ideally I want a setup that lets me move around a bit while working and choose either standing or sitting.

Before: sitting only desk

Before: sitting only desk

I looked into buying an adjustable desk, but the best of those can cost $1600 or more. So I decided on making my own. There are plenty of plans out there on the web for standing desks, but almost none for workstations that let you change between sitting and standing (here’s one). I resolved to take on this project and share with the world what I learned.

My original plan was to create a desk whose surface would raise and lower with an engine lift jack and ride along on drawer slides mounted to the wall. I went as far as buying the drawer slides from Home Depot and a cheap engine lift from Harbor Freight. All of that hardware is still in the original packaging, waiting for another project or perhaps a garage sale (contact me know if you want any of it).

Anyhow, after much more research into different sit-stand options, I stumbled across this handy piece of equipment: the Ergotron LX Sit-Stand Wall Mount LCD Arm. My epiphany was that I didn’t need to adjust the height of my entire desk, just the monitor, along with the keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse could rest on a removable stand on top of the desk surface when in standing mode: much like a full-time standing desk setup.

The Ergotron arm allows about 20 inches of vertical adjustment on the fly. This is more than enough for me: I measured my eye level change between sitting in my office chair and standing at about 18 inches.

This arm is designed to be wall-mounted, so if you’re planning to replicate this setup, you will need your desk to be near a wall or something wall-like. Ergotron also makes a desk-mount version of this monitor arm for a few bucks more, which may be easier to mount if you’ve got a sturdy desk. There’s also apparently other hardware available to mount to round poles, and improvising an attachment point for the wall mount bracket shouldn’t be too difficult.

With a little shopping around, I was able to find my monitor arm for $133.20 delivered. Here’s what I got in the box:

I followed the included directions on how to install the monitor arm.You’ll need a few tools, like a stud finder, power drill and drill bit, level, and nut driver or ratcheting socket driver with sockets.

It’s mostly hassle free, but I did run into a couple snags:

1. For some reason, my stud finder, which had previously been reliable, did not give me an accurate position for the wall studs. I wasn’t about to mount this thing directly to drywall, as it would be undergoing a dynamic load. I ended up with all manner of extra pencil lines on the wall, plus a set of new holes. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser did a fantastic job of removing the pencil marks once I was done.

2. The diagram and in the instructions for determining the height of the mounting bracket were terribly confusing. They also don’t actually mention my monitor specs (24 inch, 16:10 aspect), which didn’t help. In the end, I just decided to guess at the height. I think my guess is just a tad but too low, but if it bothers me I’ll just move it higher. It’s only 2 lag screws (included in the package, along with plenty of other hardware I didn’t need) to mount the bracket, and now I know where the stud is!

3. Adjusting the monitor arm tension wasn’t immediately obvious, even with the instructions. You need to use the larger of the two included hex drivers, and turn the monitor 90 degrees to the arm (as it is shown in the final picture). Even so, it’s hard to see the screw, and you have to go in at a weird angle.

4. Make sure that you lock the rotation in with the included screw BEFORE installing the monitor onto the arm. It’s this way in the instructions for a reason. Unless you think you might regularly switch between portrait and landscape mode, lock in the rotation before putting the monitor on the arm, as you have to take the arm off to engage the lock with the set screw.

The keyboard and mouse stand was made from a metal rack which formerly resided in our kitchen, but had yet to find a new use. The shelves are somewhat adjustable, which meant that I could place the keyboard at exactly the height I wanted. The whole thing didn’t fit inside the keyboard tray, though, so I had to hack off the tops of 2 of the legs, which had the additional bonus of making it easier to reach the keyboard. The top shelf couldn’t comfortably hold both the keyboard and mouse, so I had a larger top laser cut from acrylic at Big Blue Saw. (Disclaimer: it’s my business).

There are plenty of keyboard/mouse shelves out there if you don’t have something you can repurpose at home. Ikea seems to be a popular supplier.

Here is a demonstration of the workstation being transitioned to standing mode, then back to sitting mode.

A couple final notes: If you’re thinking of replicating this setup, keep in mind your cable length. Your monitor will be sitting 20 inches higher in  standing mode, plus you will want to route the cables along the length of the arm.. I was able to get by just barely with my existing power and video cables by rearranging the CPU and power strip, but if you need longer cables, I recommend Cables and Kits, especially if you’re within 1-2 days ground shipping from the Atlanta area.

How do I like it? Moving the monitor up and down and adjusting the keyboard and mouse takes just a few seconds, as  you can see in the video. I doubt it would be much faster with one of the fancy $1600 desks. I also enjoy standing for a few hours a day when working on the computer, as it engages different muscles and lets me stretch. At the end of the day using the desk, I feel as though my muscles have been engaged more and that I’m getting stronger, particularly in the quadriceps, calves, and lower back.

I’m considering an improvement: adding a small shelf waterjet cut by Big Blue Saw to the side of the monitor arm to handle my laptop. This should be well within the weight limit of the arm, 25 pounds.

If you want some advice on making your own setup like this, hit me up in the comments section. I’m interested in seeing what everyone has done and if anyone has suggestions for improving on my workstation.

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