How to build an adjustable height computer desk for under $100

Update! Great article on the WSJ about standing desk use on the rise in Silicon Valley and another from the MIT Technology Review on the dangers of workplace inactivity

I spend a lot of time using computers and this tends to give me a sore neck or back and so changing positions regularly and being as ergonomic as possible is important. I use laptops, but in most cases I’ve got them hooked up to external natural curved keyboards and I always use an external mouse… even on the go. To make the setup even more ergonomic I use adjustable laptop risers which bring the monitor up to eye level. My computer chair has lumbar support and I also wear special prescription digital performance glasses called Gunnars that accommodate for my near sightedness and minimize eye strain. I also employ ambient back-lighting with an Ott-Light that helps to reduce glare and improve nighttime work.

Even with all of these refinements in my computing environment, I still get uncomfortable and so after a while I will kneel at my desk instead of sitting or I’ll head into another room and stretch out on the floor. I’d like to think this setup is as good as it gets but people just weren’t meant to stay in one mostly-stationary position for hours on end. In my quest to improve ergonomics and keep my body working right, the stand-up desk has long been of interest. I remember seeing very expensive motorized desks like this when I worked as an intern at Hewlett Packard, but that just seems like overkill for my house and definitely out of my budget.

What I’ve got here is a combination of low priced reliable components that work together forming a computer desk you can use standing up. Compared to sitting down, a human body is much more comfortable standing and we’re designed to do it longer. In fact, I’ve read that people who stand more often live longer! Do a quick Google search and explore the many theories and testimonials… All I know is, I don’t like sitting all day and kneeling isn’t so great after a while. Having a third option to rotate in between is great and here’s a way you can do it too for under $100 in supplies!

  1. Start with an over-bed table like this one made by Drive Medical that goes for just $50 if you get it on Amazon. These tables are designed for bed-ridden medical patients as a sort of counter top that can be hung over the bed.
  2. Depending on your computer setup and how tall you are, the next couple of options may vary. Instead of mounting a computer keyboard tray which could mess up the wood on the desk and would reduce the overall height potential, I chose to use the over-bed table itself as my keyboard tray and mousing area. So that meant I needed to boost my laptop monitor higher to reach eye level and get it above my keyboard. To do this I bought an Allsop Redmond monitor stand from Fry’s Electronics for $25.
  3. Since I’m not using a stand alone monitor I still needed to get my laptop higher and tilt the screen properly. To do this I bought a Fellows laptop riser from Office Max for $25.

I realize some of these parts cost more online vs. in store and we’re about to cross the $100 mark but not everyone needs a laptop stand and the next couple of pieces might already be part of your existing setup. If you don’t mind moving them back and forth for this standing desk then they’ll work fine.

  • I used Command Adhesive Velcro tape to secure the monitor stand to the desk. This isn’t necessary but I felt it would make the overall design more stable for just $5 at Office Max.
  • I purchased a black Microsoft Natural Elite Keyboard from Fry’s for another $40 since it matched the other black components and I didn’t want to move my keyboard manually each time. I also purchased Philmore rubber bumper feet at Fry’s for $2.99 so I could elevate the keyboard above the legs of the monitor stand. There are many ways around this, I considered cutting out a rubber riser pad but in the end the bumpers elevated the keyboard just fine and look more professional.
  • I got a regular black mouse pad for $2 and a simple USB hub for $5 that complete the setup. Not everyone will need the USB hub but I use a MacBook Air sometimes that only has one USB port so it’s a must.

Overall I’m very pleased with the setup. I’m about 5’9″ and there is more than enough height in this system to allow me to stand up straight. Since the desk is light and has built in wheels I can move it around the house to avoid glare and stand on softer platforms like my carpeted living room. I can even use it while laying down in bed by adjusting the height and using it as a proper over-bed table which is pretty sweet. The one downside is that the desk wobbles a little bit, especially when I type fast. I think this could be reduced by positioning the monitor and keyboard at the end of the table that connects to the base. It’s not a deal breaker, just something to consider.

There are many ways to achieve what I’ve got here but after nearly a day of searching every store from Best Buy to Office Max, Office Depot, Fry’s and the hardware store and the Internet I can vouch for this combination of parts. Good luck!