Fitting yourself a sit-to-stand desk

July 9, 2011 – 3:06 pm

It’s been a while since I wrote about geeky things, viagra so here goes: I love my new desk setup. Several months in the making and saving, health system a few days in shopping, look and a few hours of setup and calibration… and it makes me smile every time I use it.

Design criteria:

  • A sit-stand workstation that makes use of my existing laptop, monitor, and keyboard/mouse.
  • Assisted lifting that does not require power – which means hydraulics or springs or levers or something of the sort. Sorry, geekdesk.
  • Affordable on a grad student’s budget. (This desk is the most expensive piece of furniture in my apartment, but it’s also the one I’ll spend the most time at. The bed is the second most expensive, and it’s probably the one I’ll spend the second most time using, so this seemed fair.)
  • Sturdy — which, for something this specialized and load-bearing, means getting quality components meant for the use, rather than cobbling together stacks of boxes and books and clamps myself.
  • Portable, such that I can disassemble the components and haul them to the next place in a minivan (better yet: car).

I wanted a sit-stand workstation because I spend ridiculous amounts of time on my computer and am the restless sort, so being able to change positions and maintain proper alignment while I fidget around is a real boon to ergonomics. I’ve made makeshift sitting and standing desks for years, from kitchen counters to book piles to a strategically placed empty dresser, but no matter how well I set them up, a static desk just didn’t seem right.

The past few years of experimentation did teach me about how one should be aligned in both sitting and standing positions, though.

Once you know the proper alignment, all you have to do is measure three dimensions, then figure out how to buy or craft the components so the desk will fit you. Here’s what to measure on yourself:

Based on that, you need equipment with the following specs:

  • A = vertical distance between monitor top and keyboard bottom
  • B-C = vertical distance the sit-stand mechanism needs to adjust
  • Don’t forget to get the weight of your monitor, keyboard, and laptop, or whatever you’re thinking about putting on your sit-stand mechanism, and making sure it can support and lift that!

For all of these, it’s a good idea to get things that adjust beyond the minimums you need – for instance, if my next laptop is bigger and heavier, the stand should still support it. One thing I appreciate about my chosen stand is that the monitor can adjust both together with and independently of the keyboard – that way I can move the whole setup up and down in one go (since dimension A does not change between sitting and standing), and also change the keyboard-monitor height difference (for instance, if a taller friend wants to use my computer for a bit).

Here are the relevant specs on the sit-stand workstation I chose. They didn’t specify dimension A precisely, but the pictures and the 5″ of dimension-A-adjustment specification convinced me that I could get it to fit within my range.

  • Weight Capacity: Maximum load on height-adjustment assembly = 31 lbs (14 kg). LCD weight = 6–16 lbs (2.7–7.2 kg), laptop = 6–10 lbs (2.7–4.5 kg), combined weight of LCD/laptop = 12–26 lbs (5.5–11.8 kg)
  • † Lift Range: LCD and keyboard adjust 18″ (46 cm) in tandem; LCD and laptop adjust 5″ (13 cm) independently; maximum LCD/laptop height adjustment = 23″ (58 cm)

My final bill of materials:

Total: $580 USD

You’ll notice I chose to put the monitor stand on a giant desk, and use the same surface for digital and paper work. I could also put it on a small table and use that as solely a computer workstation, then have a big desk separate from that just for papers and workshop-type adventures — and I may, depending on the nature of my lab classes in the fall semester (if I have any) or whether I start doing hobby electronics or something of the sort. If you go this route, you can do the whole thing for under $500; just get the ergotron and a cheap but sturdy folding card table, or a small computer desk at Goodwill, and you’ll be all set with a more compact computer desk than mine.

It’s not perfect; I’ve yet to figure out cord management, and adjusting the tension on the spring so it counterbalanced my computer equipment precisely took a bit of awkward fiddling ’till I got it right, but I’m a huge fan. Over the next few months, we’ll see how my back and productivity feel, but as of day 3, I like it very much, and find myself moving it up and down frequently enough (multiple times an hour — told you I was restless) to think I’ve made a rather good investment in this setup.

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  1. 25 Responses to “Fitting yourself a sit-to-stand desk”

  2. Awsome setup :) the only concern i have is that you do not have elbow support, isnt that necessary for proper ergonomic setup?

    By Venky on Jul 9, 2011

  3. Genuinely cool, thanks for posting. Would like to investigate such a thing someday.

    By dgoodwin on Jul 9, 2011

  4. Nice analysis of the situation and the diagrams are well notated. But the nearly 400 buck price for the erogron is screaming out for a ‘open hardware’ solution from a nice mechanically included person :) If I ever get the time, I may try something like this.

    By Kevin Mark on Jul 9, 2011

  5. Beware ET neck! In the photos, when you go from stand to sit your head is floating forward an inch or so relative to your spine. I have the same problem when I dance, and it’s killer on my neck and shoulders.

    Coveting the Ergotron though. Unpowered assist is tricky to get right, so I totally believe the pricetag. Let us know how it holds up in a year :)

    By Katie on Jul 9, 2011

  6. @Venky: Hm. I think if I were spending longer in a given position, I might want elbow supports, but I’m going to try motion and good posture first and see how that goes.

    @Kevin: I agree with Katie that this thing is fairly priced at $400; it’s a well-made, complex, multi-material, sturdy, good-lookin’ high-tolerance mechanical device that’s not being purchased in massive quantities. Not impossible to recreate in open hardware, but not trivial, I’d say.

    @Katie: ET neck is my nemesis! It’s actually there in the sitting photo as well, but that’s actually really good ET neck for me; I used to look like this and am amazed at how much my bones and muscles have adjusted since (stretching, Rolfing, and general awareness of posture). Thanks for the friendly remindernotice – it’s great to know other people who are aware of these sorts of things!

    By Mel on Jul 9, 2011

  7. Nice, option, but still a little spendy for a tight budget. I recently hacked together a standing desk for $51 from Ikea parts: http://steven.bitsetters.com/2011/07/09/51-standing-desk/ along with my standard IKEA Jonas desk ~$130 I have sit/stand options for under $200.

    Of course your build has some obvious advantages, my standing desk is a fixed height and non adjustable. So my wife wouldn’t be very confortable working at it for instance.

    By Steven Osborn on Jul 10, 2011

  8. nice post. these days, i like to work laying down,off edge of bed,arms extended, sometimes doing leg exercises–an easier/cheaper set-up. but i don’t type that much.
    if type lots, wouldn’t voice dictation software save the body a lot of pains?
    [have you seen treadmill-desk set-ups? wish they were more affordable] really wish i could rig up my mac to work in front of me while i lounge in anti-gravity chair. & it would be great if i could suspend even just an ipad above bed or floor, so i can fiddle w/it on my back w/o holding it. seriously! any ideas appreciated.

    By computerkillingme? on Aug 20, 2011

  9. I’m thinking to change my chair for a gimnastic ball so i have few questions to you.

    1. How long are you using gimnastic ball for sitting?
    2. Are you siiting only on the ball or half ball half chair?
    3. Do you feel less back pain after switching to the ball?

    I’m asking becouse i couldn’t find any reliable reaserch on this topic (some of them recommend the ball some of them say it’ not good for long sitting) so i courious about your opinion.

    By the way great post!

    By Greg on Nov 6, 2011

  10. @Greg: I have the ball for sitting; I don’t use it with any sort of schedule/proportion/regularity. Sometimes I sit on the ball all day, sometimes not at all (I’ll stand, use a chair, even slouch on the sofa).

    I’m no doctor, but I personally think it’s the variety of muscle positions (rather than a specific sitting device or posture) that helps keep my back healthier. Seems to work for me, anyway. I’d say that if you only have one sitting device, get the ball so you have a significantly different alternative, and then switch them up as you feel like it.

    By Mel on Nov 8, 2011

  11. Oh man, I can’t believe I missed this post, Mel! I just saw a link from HN, and checked this out. It’s an excellent set up!

    I did http://imperialwicket.com/diy-adjustable-stand-up-desk-for-under-175 a while back, and have been pleased, but I need to use a tall chair, or spend about 15 minutes on the adjustment if I want to switch heights (but I also spent a lot less, ha!).

    I hope the chair is working out well for you, like I said, great job!

    By nicholas on Jan 9, 2012

  12. I’ve read that sitting on an exercise ball increases compression on your lumbar spine? Your sit stand desk setup is awesome. Many thanks for sharing.

    By Tony on Feb 8, 2012

  13. Nice! I’ve been hunting for a standup desk and I think this one will work perfectly for me!

    How did you get the LCD monitor positioned exactly parallel to your eyes. In the models advertised on ergotran, one has to look either left or right into the monitors.

    By Ranjit on Feb 20, 2012

  14. @Ranjit — it’s probably the angle the photograph that’s being taken I *am* looking left or right into the monitors — they are on either side of the center support. I look back and forth between the two so often, though, that I actually like it best that way. The displays are slightly angled inwards so they’re parallel to your eyes when you swivel your head, and their individual position/height/tilt are also adjustable.

    There are models that only hold one monitor (or laptop), and those models will have the display centered. Hope this helps!

    By Mel on Feb 20, 2012

  15. Thank you so much for this terrific and informative post, which I just discovered. It looks like it addresses a lot of issues for those of us who sit at a desk for long periods of time. Your detailed instructions and ergonomic descriptions are very helpful.

    Now that you have been using the set-up for almost a year, it would be great to have an update on how it is working for you. Thanks again.

    By Barbara on Mar 19, 2012

  16. Hey Mel, thanks for this geeky post. I really enjoyed reading it and am sure the implementation will be more fun :) Keep geeking!

    By Manav on Apr 5, 2012

  17. Hi Mel,
    Have you thought about using an adjustable height desk? Don’t get me wrong, your standing desk is actually very beautiful (nicely done!) but what do you do when you want to take a break for a moment and sit down?
    I use a NextDesk at work– it’s a type of adjustable height desk. I really like it. At first I was sitting most of the day and taking “standing breaks,” but now I hardly ever sit down. When I do want to, though, it is nice to have that option without having to have two desks or a stool (stools usually don’t have the best back support, which kind of defeats the purpose of having an ergonomically friendly standing desk, no?)
    Anyway, I just thought you might want to check them out. They also just came out with a smaller and more affordable model, good for home offices, etc: http://www.nextdesks.com/models
    Cheers!
    Natalie

    By Natalie on Nov 20, 2012

  18. @Natalie: my setup *is* adjustable-height — in the pictures, you can see how the keyboard/monitor setup slides up and down. So when I want to take a break from standing, I slide things down and sit on a stool or a chair or an exercise ball. As you said, it’s nice to be able to do that!

    By Mel on Nov 21, 2012

  19. I am using a Mac 24″ monitor and a 15″ Macbook Pro. I have been researching the Ergotron Work-Fit S, Laptop & LCD Sit-Stand Workstation and have concerns as to whether it will work with my monitor. It is the only setup I have seen that appears to fit my needs. Can you offer any advice on this? I work very long hours so I need to be able to sit or stand with ease. Thank you!

    By Jennifer on Dec 5, 2012

  20. @Jennifer — Any laptop should work fine with the stand. I can’t speak to Mac monitors, since I don’t have them. The product specs say the monitor should be 20″ or less, but the Dell monitor I have on my stand is a 24″ and it works beautifully. The only question you’d need to consider is whether your monitor has the mounting holes/screws in the back you need to attach it to the stand — this interface is called a VESA mount (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Display_Mounting_Interface).

    A bit of initial searching (I should really be working on my statistics homework) seems to indicate that they don’t, but that you can buy adapters that do: http://store.apple.com/us/search?find=mount+adapter+kit, and then they’ll work just fine assuming your monitor is under the weight the track can lift (12-26 lbs, according to the specs).

    Hope this helps. I’m pretty sure you can also call the manufacturer with more specific questions on how to make your setup work with their product.

    By Mel on Dec 6, 2012

  21. great write up and report……gave me some pointers here and headsup…still using this everyday???how many hours you use per day??

    By gary lim on Jan 30, 2013

  22. Excellent posture tutorial. The heights make all the difference in the world.
    Here’s a standing desk that we’re making here in California for under $200 (Standee Classic)

    By Cliff-Rich on Apr 3, 2013

  23. Interesting article, it seems expensive for a student desk though. I’ve been using various sit-stand desk setups (mostly DIY) for 10 years and have written a summary of the different options available here

    http://www.simplysitstand.com/?page_id=13

    By Jody on Jun 4, 2013

  24. I really like what you’re having. If I had known of this earlier, I would have save up and spend even thousands of dollars just to stay fit while at work. It is only now that I am in my mid 30′s and had suffered cervical injury due to 8+ hours of sitting and working in front of my computer and no exercise whatsoever that I get to appreciate the importance of staying fit even at work. Haven’t thought of ergonomics before and now it is a big deal for me and oh I have started using sit-to-stand, too.

    By MomTechy on Sep 29, 2014

  25. For any Canadians looking to buy a manual OR electric standing desk, come check us out at AnthroDesk.ca!

    By Michael on Jan 16, 2015

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