I’ve written about using a standing desk; now let’s talk about building one. Commercial standing desks are ugly and overpriced. Building standing desks out of Metroshelves is a great alternative: economic, ergonomic, efficient in their use of space, robust, and flexible. Best of all, if you decide you no longer want a standing desk, its easy to reconfigure into shelving or a sitting desk.
Choosing a design: Standard or Cantilevered
There are two major designs for a standing desk: “Standard” or Cantilever. I prefer the Cantilever design, but it’s less well-balanced than the Standard design, and requires a little more care in its placement and construction.
The Standard Design puts the keyboard tray in front of the standing desk, and the iMac over the center of gravity of the desk. It’s the most stable design, although it’s not as comfortable or efficient in its use of space as the Cantilevered Design.
The Cantilevered Design puts the keyboard on top of the center of gravity of the desk, and cantilevers a shelf off the back for the iMac. This is a great design for desks which face windows or exterior walls; because the shelf is offset off the back, it can sit above an air conditioner or HVAC system that ring exterior walls in many offices, saving space. Because the keyboard surface is above the footrest, it’s also a bit more comfortable. It is imperative that a cantilevered desk is secured, either by leaning it directly against a wall or setting a counterweight on the base, or both. Failing to do so may tip the desk over, sending your beautiful and expensive iMac crashing to the floor. CANTILEVER AT YOUR OWN RISK!
- 4 Rods. I like to mix a pair of short rods in the front with a pair of long rods in the back.
- 4 Shelves. 36in shelves are a little tight pairing situations where you’ll sit two people abreast, but they work. 48in are nice and roomy. From top to bottom, you’ll need:
- Monitor shelf
- Storage Shelf
- Keyboard Shelf
- Foot Shelf
In a Standard design, the Keyboard Shelf will connect to 2 rods; the others connect to all 4 rods.
In a Cantilever design, the Monitor Shelf will connect to 2 rods; the others connect to all 4 rods.
- 4 Wheels. Mobility is your friend. Buy two plain and two locking casters; the locking ones should go diagonal from each other.
- 3 Surfaces. I like wooden butcher blocks, but you may also find plastic.
- 1 rubber mallet (or hiking boot) for assembly.
- A counterweight (required for a Cantilever desk; encouraged for a Standard desk)
- Screw the wheels into the bottom of each rod
- On all four rods, clip a plastic collar onto the bottom notch, and send them through the first shelf. This will be the Foot Shelf. It’s easiest to do this by putting the narrow edge of the shelf on the floor and sliding the rods through while they’re still parallel to the floor.
- Flip everything up from the floor so the four rods and one shelf are sitting on the wheels.
- On all four rods, clip the next collar about 28 notches from the bottom (you might want to modify depending on your height). Put the next shelf on. This will be the Utility Shelf.
- Place the butcher block on the Utility Shelf—it may be hard to get it on after you add other shelves.
Building a Standard Desk
- On the front two rods only, clip the a collar directly about the Utility Shelf. Slide the next shelf only on the front two rods, so it overhangs in front of the rest of the unit. This will be the Keyboard Shelf.
- On all four rods, clip the next collar about 39 notches from the bottom (you might want to modify depending on your height). Put the next shelf on. This will be the Monitor Shelf.
Building a Cantilevered Desk
Follow steps 1-5 from above. Then:
- On all four rods, clip the next collar about 5 notches above the Utility Shelf; this will be the Keyboard Shelf. Set the height so that your arms will be at a 90 degree angle when typing. Don’t forget the butcher block will add another ~inch of height.
- On the back two rods only, clip the a collar about 39 notches from the bottom; this will be the Monitor Shelf. Set the height so that your head will be level when looking at the center of the monitor. Slide the shelf only on the back two rods, so it overhangs behind the rest of the unit.
- Ideally, place the desk so that the Monitor Shelf is in direct contact with a wall, preventing it from tipping over.
- Put a counterweight on the Foot Shelf before loading the Monitor Shelf. If you don’t counterweigh the desk, it will fall backwards, potentially injuring you or wrecking your equipment.