How To Build A Standing Desk for $36.40

I think we've all known that sitting is bad for us, but in the last few years the news on how bad it really is has crashed home. First there was research from Dr. James Levine (not the conductor) at the Mayo Clinic and Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Hennington said

Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.
Other studies have followed, adding more weight of evidence to how harmful extended sitting is. The most recent – and to a runner like me, the most disheartening  – came from a just-published study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that provides runners with a benchmark of just how unhealthy extended sitting is for you: 

According to a research team from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, each time unit of sitting cancels out 8 percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.

People who engage in an hour of moderate-intensity exercise–running is considered vigorous exercise–fare much worse. They lose 16 percent of their workout gain from each hour of sitting.

As a result, everyone's going mad for standing desks. Desks that glide up and down on servomotors, treadmill desks that slowly walk you forward while working at your keyboard (I have runner friends that would probably trip and fall while trying to work with one of those), and all kinds of standing desk additions and accessories.

And they're all expensive. The cheapest I've seen for a commercial standing desk addition to a traditional desk is about $80, and the price climbs rapidly from there. So with a little blue-sky thinking, I built a very basic standing desk out of some home improvement store oak and some screws:



1   1x12x4 red oak board $30.65

2   #8 x 2in flathead brass wood screws (2 per package) $2.48

1   Round felt pads $3.27


  • Handsaw or power saw. Or, if you're really clever, have the store make the two cuts below for you.
  • Drill and bits, Philips screw head bit
  • Bar clamps (allows you to clamp big items)(optional)


  1. Cut 9 1/2" off each end of the board. These are the legs. I came up with 9 1/2" as a compromise of the height I needed to get while still having enough room for a mouse and keyboard. Of course, you could just cut them from one end, but I'm a lousy rough carpenter, and by cutting from each end you're assured each leg will have at least one squared end as it came from the store. Make these cuts as square as possible; in retrospect I'd have had the store do it and save me a lot of adjusting!
  2. Clamp one leg/top side together to hold it in place, or get a helper to do the same.
  3. Drill two pilot holes through the top and into the legs for the wood screws. As you can see from the photos, I put the screws relatively near the edge of the board. I'm afraid I don't remember the bit size; just start conservatively (i.e. small) and work your way up. You can't work your way back down if you've made the pilot holes too large!
  4. Screw two of the wood screws in until they're flush. Remember to press hard, as brass is soft and will strip out the Philips head if the screwdriver bit slips.
  5. Repeat the process on the other side.
  6. Set the standing desk on your existing desk to see if it stands without wobbling. There's a very good chance either a) your didn't make the legs quite square, or b) the desk isn't perfectly flat. This is where the felt pads come in. Add them to one side of either (or both) legs until you've gotten rid of the wobble.
  7. You're done!


  • This desk does NOT accomodate a monitor stand; I have a cantilever monitor stand and don't need it. You could construct a similar, second stand for the monitor, but since a monitor is a very stable load, you could simply put a box or a stack of books to move the monitor to an appropriate height.
  • You'll probably want to sand the front edges of the desk, as they can grow to feel pretty sharp against the heels of your hands.
  • If you stain it, the dirt that accumulates from your hands won't be as noticable.

Even though this is a very cheap solution, it has a nice advantage: Standing up for long periods while working takes some getting used to. With this setup, when you get tired you simply pick up the mouse and keyboard, move the stand to a corner of your office, set everything down on your original desk and relax that back for a few minutes.

I also recommend getting a pad to stand on, as that will greatly increase your comfort standing. Here's what the whole setup looks like: