The adverse effects of sitting have been well-documented in recent years. And those of us who work behind a computer, are especially prone to such health-risks caused from a sedentary work environment. Attention to the ill-effects of sitting and bad workplace ergonomics have given rise to the standing desk concept for the health-conscious office worker. However the costs of outfitting everyone with a new desk can be prohibitive for a small shop or freelancer so we started investigating a few DIY standing desk options and eventually designed our own.
Adjustable Height Stand-Up Desk Project Overview
- Total Cost: $150 (will vary depending on material cost in your area)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Tools Required: Drill & Bits, Screwdriver, Allen Keys, Clamp
- Assembly Time: 1 Hour or less
Our initial research led to a few of the following options and provided the inspiration for eventual end product:
- $22 desk option from Ikea (stack-desk approach)
- Hack a Standing Desk from Ikea (another stack-desk approach)
- The $100 Ikea Standing Desk (unstable when adjusted to mid-max height)
- A desk that is elevated by automotive jackstands
- Life Hacker’s Build a DIY Wide, Adjustable Height IKEA Standing Desk on the Cheap (uses the same legs as the $100 desk above)
- Article on adjustable height desks that won’t betray or kill you
- Ikea Hacker’s Standing Corner Desk (not a good solution if you’re anywhere other than a corner)
The most budget-friendly and lowest barrier-to-entry option was the $100 Ikea desk so that’s what we started out with. However, we quickly found that the legs weren’t going to cut it, and the desktop became very unstable when adjusted past the mid-height. Additionally, we experimented with placing bed-risers under the legs, but the end-result was no better in terms of stability. When supporting pricey computer equipment, the last thing we wanted was someone bumping into a desk only to have it crashing and damaging some serious technology.
Our Adjustable-height Stand-Up Desk Design
After exploring some cheap pre-made and existing DIY options, we determined most of the plans and tutorials out there sacrificed quality and design so we decided to build our own. From our previous failed attempts, we knew we required the following in a stand-up desk:
- Large work surface
- Industrial Aesthetic
- Ease of storage when disassembled
After sketching up some initial ideas, we looked into sourcing the materials that would fit our design and needs. Given the size/weight constraints, we knew that the parts had to be sourced locally, or else shipping would negate any potential cost-savings. Any mid-sized metro area should have a building supply with the parts you need.
Simplified Building has a plethora of information covering a range of projects you can build with cast fittings and Schedule 40 pipe. Additionally, they have Sketch-up models of all the Kee Klamps they stock which is very handy when designing your own project. When asking about our design, the staff was extremely helpful and knowledgable. In fact, they were working on a similar desk design to ours and were able to recommend lengths, desk-top dimensions, and build us a sample order so we could estimate final costs.
Towers Plumbing is a plumbing supplier in Salt Lake City. They had plenty of pipe in stock that fit our needs and were willing to cut it to length for free! This made it a no-brainer to go with Towers for all our pipe.
Fastenal in Salt Lake City is the Kee Klamps official distributor in Utah.
Grainger, a tool, materials, and equipment supplier, with supply warehouses across Salt Lake City, is who we sourced our initial cast-iron fittings from.
ZoroTools.com – Their price for a brandless cast iron fitting of the style we wanted was around half of what any other supplier we found was selling them for. Our fittings showed up quickly and have met our expectations.
Stand-Up Desk Parts & Cut List
This is the list you’ll need to send to your local pipe & fitting supplier. Because pipe is intended for plumbing, you have to tell them to leave the ends unthreaded (they may scratch their heads at first when you mention this). It’s not a huge deal if they show up threaded, as this is primarily an aesthetic concern.
- Dia: 1″ | Length: (1.75ft) 21 inch | Quantity: 2
- Dia: 1″ | Length: (4.25ft) 51 inch | Quantity: 1
- Dia: 1″ | Length: (3ft) 36 inch | Quantity: 4
- Dia: 1 1/4″ | Length: (2.5ft) 30 inch | Quantity: 4
- 1.32″ Single Socket T Connectors (designed for 1″ pipe) | Quantity: 6
- 1.66″ Base Flanges (designed for 1 1/4″ pipe) | Quantity: 4
Table Top Options:
- Ikea Linnmon table top | Quantity: 1
- Dimensions: 59″ x 29 1/2″
We chose a $35 Ikea top however the options available are endless and you can always upgrade the top down the road. As expected, the quality, is well, Ikea quality so don’t expect it to hold up forever. Still, we now have a solid year or more on these desktops, and they seem to be holding up well.
DIY Adjustable Stand-Up Desk Assembly
The biggest challenge is creating a template for where to set the base-flanges. If you’re building multiple desks, the first one takes a little time to get dialed, however once you have the template built the additional desks go much more quickly.
Determine where the centers of your legs should be. Start by putting the lower brace assembly together on a level surface. Ensure the adjustment screws on all the connectors are facing outward or upward so that they can easily be adjusted later when the frame is assembled. Pipes should connect square and even. If building multiple desks, put all your braces together at the same time. Tip: Use your extra 1” leg sections to help line up the end braces.
The bottom of the desk, assembled. Use this to measure the flange distance.
Once you have the distances between the centers, transfer your measurements to the bottom of your tabletop so the frame is centered on all sides of the table top. (If you are using an Ikea tabletop, use the cardboard box the top came in as a protective barrier between the tabletop and the work surface). In our case, we marked out lines 3” from the long and the short edges. We used a square to extend the lines from the edges to about 4 inches past where the lines intersected.
The flange is mounted to each of the corners of our Ikea desk tops.
Align the flange over centering lines so they pass through the centers of the mounting holes and meet in the middle of the pipe opening. Mark the center of each mounting hole. The set screw on the flange should be facing the closest outside corner in each of the four spots. Remember which flange goes with which corner, as there are discrepancies in the hole placement between flanges (largely a byproduct of the casting process). Using an appropriately sized drill bit, make small, pilot holes in the table top for the screws that will hold the base flange to the table top, then screw the flanges in. Building your desk tops all at once will help. If your tabletop’s cardboard box is still in good condition, you can store the top in the box again until you are ready to assemble – just make some openings in the box for the flanges.
Most places that will cut your pipe are going to use a pipe cutter rather than a metal saw. This means that there will be a sharp rim of metal on the inner surface of almost all of your pipe ends. This can present a safety hazard while handling the pipe so wear gloves and use caution! But more importantly, the rim will prevent your 1” pipe from fitting inside of your 1 ¼” pipe. This is easily fixed by reaming out one end (the other end will act as a stop) of each of your 1 ¼” pieces, and has the added benefit of making the pipe fit tighter than it otherwise would have, as long as you don’t ream too much. We used a sheet metal bit in a hand drill, but you can use whatever you please.
Assemble all of your leg sections; this will make the final assembly easier.
At this point, you have three groups of components: legs, lower brace, and tabletop. This arrangement is convenient if the final resting place of your desk is somewhere other than where you are drilling. Take your pieces to wherever you’re going to set up the desk, and start with the tabletop upside down on the floor, with the cardboard underneath it. Insert the leg pieces, but don’t tighten down the set screws yet.
Slide the brace assembly down over the legs. It should be upside down at this point. Tighten the set screws in the flanges so they’re all lightly pressing against the pipe. Then go around the desk and tighten each flange fully.
Next, slide each of the 1” leg sections until you reach the desired height from the ground (length of leg + tabletop thickness = desk height) and tighten it fully before going to the next leg. With everything tightened firmly, flip the desk over, move it to its final position, and make any adjustments you need to. Use a level to make sure the desk is plum when you are finished. One of my favorite aspects of this design is that each leg is individually adjustable, so you can make it sturdy on any surface.
The Final Product
We have over a year with our stand-up desks and have since received many comments on the design. Additionally, we paired the desks with tall chairs, so users can alternate between sitting and standing (we’ve found some tasks simply require sitting for). Everyone has their desk set at a height appropriate for them, and even the tallest desk is rock-solid. If at some point in the future we decide to upgrade the tabletops, we can do so easily. One added benefit of the design that we didn’t initially consider is that the lower cross beam makes a nice leg rest, while sitting, which alleviates some of the circulation issues caused from sitting.