Introduction: DIY Custom Standing Desk
These are instructions for how to build a standing desk out of 2x4s and iron plumbing pipe. I recently built the L-shaped desk seen in the picture which I will use for this tutorial. I will also include suggestions for customizing the build to your own specifications.
Step 1: Plan the Size, Style, and Height of Your Desk.
In this step, you'll want to plan out the length, depth, and height of your desk.
I wanted to maximize my desk top space and customize it to fit nicely in my office. I also wanted to combine work space with meeting space into one L-shaped desk. So I started by measuring the lengths of the area where I wanted the desk to fit. The outside edge lengths of my desk are 7' and 8' respectively.
Next, I decided on the depths of my desk tops. For my work space, I went with a 24" (standard counter depth) which gives me my preferred distance from a wall-mounted monitor. Of course, this is really just about preference. For the meeting-space side of my desk, I went with a depth of 30" (conventional office desk depth).
Next, I decided on the height of my desk. I did some experimenting with other bar-height desks, using my laptop to see what height felt most natural and comfortable. There is plenty of information online about the benefits of standing desks as well as the ideal arm bend and position for typing while standing. You definitely want to figure this out ahead of time on a static standing desk because even an inch or two too tall or too short could be very uncomfortable and lead to fatigue or stress in the joints of your arms and wrists. I went with 42" (standard bar height).
I recommend writing all these specs down and drawing a basic outline of your table with dimensions noted for reference as you begin to build.
Step 2: Collect and Test Your Desk Top Materials
I used mostly scrap 2x4s joined together side-by-side along the tall sides (3 1/2") for my desk top. They don't have to be perfect, but I recommend using straight and non-warped lumber. The most important aspect of the lumber is the top edge which will be your desk top surface. You want to make sure the top edges are free from sizable cracks or holes. The super glaze, which creates the smooth surface for your desk, will fill in minor dents or knots, but the more pronounced these indentations are, the more glaze you will need and the longer it will take to finish.
Because the 2x4s will be joined together, it is unnecessary to use boards that are the full length of the desk. This is where scrap 2x4s are put to great use! I do recommend using full length 2x4s for the outer edges of the desk for stability and aesthetics.
You can use the dimensions of your desk top to determine how many 2x4s at what length you need. Standard with of a 2x4 is actually 1 1/2" (not 2"), so for a 30" desk top depth, you need 20 2x4s.
This is also the time to test your stains to decide which colors you want to use. I used 3 different wood stains on some scrap wood and put them side by side to see what I liked. I ended up using different colors than seen here in the picture, but this is all personal preference.
Step 3: Cut and Position the 2x4s
On a solid, flat surface, lay out a plastic drop cloth and begin laying out the 2x4s in the position you want them to be for your desk. Again, use full-length boards on the outside edges of your desk.
To add to the character and look of the desk, I cut the length of the inside 2x4s randomly (see photos). The shortest lengths I used were 12" and I tried to avoid putting the shorter pieces near the inside corner of the L-shaped desk. Don't worry about the ends of the desk being perfectly even. I cut these after the desk was assembled which made this part much quicker and easier. Just try to get them close to the same overall length or as much as an inch or two longer than your desired length, to be safe.
Since the two sides of my L-shaped desk were different depths (24" and 30" respectively), I randomly staggered the inside joints (where the 2x4s butt up to each other). There isn't a perfect way to do this, I just wanted it to look random.
Cutting: I used a compound miter saw to cut the 2x4s to ensure a straight, clean edge.
Pro Tip: I didn't do this, but if I had to do it over again I would run the 2x4s through a planner tall-wise and cut both narrow edges (the 1 1/2" edges) down by 1/16" each so that you have a perfectly flat edge for your desk top and bottom (this means that the width of the 2x4s will be reduced from 3 1/2" to 3 3/8". This will really help with the finishing portion of the build by requiring fewer coats of super glaze. Check with a lumber yard to see if they will plane your boards if you don't own a planner.
Step 4: Staining
Next, prepare the boards for staining by spacing them out just enough to stain each separately. I used cheap brushes to apply the stain. Since the sides of the 2x4s (3 1/2" tall side) won't be seen (except for the outer edge pieces), it is only important to make sure the tops of the 2x4s are stained well. Using the brushes, I applied the stain down the top edge allowing the brush to make contact with the inside edges of the 2x4, just enough that no unstained wood could be seen once assembled.
Since I used three stain colors to give it a varied look, I tried to keep a good mix of the colors throughout (see photos).
I took pictures of the inside joint/seam to ensure I didn't mix up the order of the boards as I moved them.
Pro Tip: I did not sand the boards since the super glaze will cover any minor roughness. I did use Miniwax Pre-Stain before staining to ensure an even stain.
Follow instructions for staining. Do not allow excess stain to dry on 2x4, wipe off excess with a cloth after the instructed time.
Step 5: Assembling the Desk Top
As you see in the photos, I built a temporary stand for the desk top so that I didn't have to crawl on the ground while assembling. Make sure whatever surface you use to assemble is flat and level.
If building an L-shaped desk, use a framing square to make sure your outer edges are set at a right angle. If possible, clamp or fix these boards in position so the rest of the table is assembled off this angle. I was able to use my temporary stand to help hold them in place.
IMPORTANT STEP: Make sure each board is tightly fit together and flat and level on top. You do not want gaps in between 2x4s or on the ends where they butt up to one another. Gaps can create problems for you later when you apply the super glaze. I clamped each new 2x4 to the table and used a mallet to knock them tight into place.
Starting with the outside edge of the desk, I used wood glue and 1" screws to attach the second row of 2x4s to the outer 2x4s. Make sure not to sink the screws too deep so you don't go through the outside face of the desk. Insert screws along the unstained tall edge, at about 1 or 2 screws every 8-12", attaching each new board to the table.
Once you begin assembling the third row of 2x4s, I stopped using wood glue and only used 3" deck screws every 8-12". Continue assembling each new board until all but the last (outer edge) 2x4s are assembled.
To attach the final, outside edge 2x4s, brush on good quality wood glue to both inside edges and clamp together for at least 12 hours. I sunk a few screws in from the very bottom to give it some extra hold.
Step 6: Cut, Sand, and Stain the Ends.
Measure and mark a straight edge on the ends of the desk top. I used a chalk line to mark the line. Then I used a circular saw to cut the ends to a straight edge.
Using a belt sander, I sanded the ends to a smooth edge. Be sure to avoid making contact with the top edge of the desk, as it will sand across the grain leaving marks.
It was very difficult to match the stain on the ends with the correct stain on top, so I just stained all the ends the same stain color (the darkest of the three).
Step 7: Stain the Bottom and Touch Ups
At this point you'll want to do any touch ups to the stain on the ends or anywhere else and stain the bottom of the desk top (if desired).
Photo: the unstained edge is the temporary stand, not the desk.
Step 8: Add Supports
I was worried that the size and layout of the table might put too much stress on the joints/seams down the middle of the L-shaped desk, so I screwed two metal beams to the bottom of the table, stretching from one side to the other across the seam, with 2 1/2" lag screws. These can be found at a local hardware store (usually in the hardware section at Home Depot).
Pro Tip: Think through where the legs of the desk will be mounted, so that these support beams are not in the way.
Step 9: Cut and Assemble Pipe Legs
Factoring in the height of the desk top (3 1/2" for un-planed 2x4s), I planned out the cuts for the legs of the desk. These metal pipes can be purchased at home improvement store or a plumbing warehouse. The plumbing warehouse was much cheaper in my experience.
Chose your connection pieces (fittings), measure their heights, and calculate the lengths of the pipes to equal the desired overall height of the legs.
I used the following pipe and fittings:
1" Mueller Streamline black steel pipe
1" floor flange (for top and bottom of legs, attached to underside of desk)
1" threaded tee
You'll save some money if you can incorporate standard size, pre-cut pipe. I used 10" pipe on the bottom of the leg (this put the cross beams at ideal foot-resting height for the bar-height desk), and 8" pipe on the top. At this point, you'll need to calculate the length of all the pieces and deduct that from the overall height. This will give you the length of the middle pipe of the legs. Home Depot will cut and thread pipe to the needed length for free, just check the threading to make sure it works before you leave.
I used tees to connect the legs to the other legs (see pictures), but this is customizable to your preference.
Pro Tip: Bring a measuring tape to the store and assemble the pieces to make sure you end up with the height and connections you need. Assemble and test out the pieces in the store.
Pro Tip: Larger diameter pipe can be purchased, but this was the largest Home Depot carried, and the price does jump quite a bit the larger you go.
Step 10: Assemble Desk and Prepare to Glaze
Place plastic drop cloth on floor and fully assemble legs in their desired position. You can use your hard or a pipe wrench to tighten pipe, but it is not necessary to get them very tight. It doesn't have to be so tight that it becomes hard to turn. 2-3 turns on the thread is plenty. Once the pieces are all assembled and attached to the table, the pipe will not move.
Place the desk top on top of the legs and position where desired. A level can be used to ensure the legs are level and in the correct positions before attaching. I designed my legs in two main pieces, one for each side of the L-shaped desk. Each side has two legs on the end that connect by a cross beam at the bottom which includes a tee in the middle which connects it to one leg near the inside corner of the desk. These inside legs have a tee at the top which connect them, thus joining all the legs of the table together. It might sound a little complicated, but it is really easy. Just play around with the design until you have something that works for you.
Finally, I attached the top flanges to the desk using 2" screws. After completing the table and setting in place, I used screws to attach it to the floor, but this isn't necessary at this point (it isn't necessary at the end either unless you like super sturdy desks like I do).
Pro Tip: If you build a desk this size or similar, it's going to be very heavy, so get plenty of people to help you move it.
Step 11: Applying Super Glaze
Begin by vacuuming and removing any dust or debris from the table and room. Wipe the table down with a cheese cloth to ensure no dust, hair, or other debris is on the table before applying the glaze.
Next, tape the edges of the desk with masking tape or painters tape. Begin at the top edge, allowing the tape to stick straight up above the edge by about 1/8" around the entire desk. Cover the sides of the desk completely. This will help hold the glaze in and prevent it from pouring over the edges.
Parks Super Glaze can be purchased at Home Depot. It is advertised as being equivalent to 60 coats of varnish, and they're not exaggerating! This stuff goes on like honey and does an awesome job! BE SURE TO FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY! The two most common issues I read about were: 1) The glaze not curing which was usually a result of not mixing properly. 2) Bubbles. I did not have any problems with the glaze curing, but I did experience some bubbles, but nothing that couldn't be resolved (see pro tip below).
This step will take multiple coats to get a thick, super smooth surface.
Start by mixing the super glaze (following all instructions) in some plastic containers. Since my desk was so large, I mixed 3-4 boxes of super glaze together for each coat. After the instructed mixing time, gently pour the glaze evenly over the desk top and gently spread evenly across the table using a shower squeegee or something similar. Be careful not to push the glaze over the edge of the tape, but make sure the glaze covers the entire desk top surface. Don't worry about smoothing it out, just spread it out evenly. Super Glaze is self-leveling and will smooth out any wrinkles or lumps as it sets up. It moves slowly after 15-20 minutes, but it will continue to self-level. You'll be amazed how it smooths itself out.
Once the glaze has set up for about 30 minutes, remove the tape from the sides and allow it to drip or pour over the edge. You'll need to be both quick and steady at this point. Immediately, take a high quality staining brush (2-3" preferred) and brush the drips on the side edges smooth. Don't brush too fast or else it won't spread the glaze very well since it will be like the consistency of honey at this point. Just keep brushing until it is smooth and there are no more drips. It could take up to 30 minutes or more before drips stop completely, but don't stop brushing them smooth until they do!
Be careful not to touch, brush, or get anything on the top glaze once it has begun to set up as it becomes less and less possible to smooth itself out.
Pro Tip: Bubbles do happen and the most persistent bubbles take place because of gaps or air pockets in the wood from a crack or dent. Most bubbles will disappear on their own. Persistent bubbles can be helped out in several ways: 1) Gently blow on them; some people use straws to get precisely on target. 2) Use a needle to pop them, but only in the first hour after applying. 3) Use a propane torch to pop them. I've done each of these, and in my opinion the straw works the best. The propane torch does the same thing the straw does, just with heat, and you do risk burning or melting the glaze into an ugly blemish.
Pro Tip: Have absolutely everything you need ready to go before you start this process. Because you can't put the glaze on pause. It will take a while to really harden, but it becomes more and more difficult to work with the more time it has.
Pro Tip: Use gloves and clean everything you can immediately after use. Floors, tools, buckets, etc. I used both Acetone and Mineral Spirits. The stuff is tough and doesn't like to get cleaned off of anything.
Step 12: Second Coats and Troubleshooting
Let each coat set up for the instructed time. It should be dry and hard once fully cured.
Continue applying coats as instructed in the previous step until the top is completely smooth and flat. It took me 4 coats, mostly because I had some really difficult gaps, but 2 or 3 at the most should be fine for most, especially if you plane your 2x4s.
For difficult holes or gaps, you can mix a small amount of glaze and apply directly to the hole using a children's medicine syringe (pick up for free at most pharmacies).
If you screw something up and have lumps or bumps or lines in the glaze, you can sand it smooth (after it is fully cured) and apply another coat. I recommend using high grit sandpaper (220+) or steel wool. It will create scratches, but these will be completely hidden by the next coat of glaze. Always vacuum and/or wipe with cheese cloth before applying glaze.
Super Glaze is not designed to be applied to a vertical or slanted surface, so you can't really apply it very well to the sides or bottom of the desk. However, with the drips and over pouring from the top to the edges, there should be plenty to give it a good covering. Always spread these drips and pours out with a brush! Be quick about it. Letting drips stay unbrushed even for a minute can make them set up and be hard to smooth out.
I did not glaze or seal the bottom side of my desk. If desired, wipe on polyurethane is recommended.
Step 13: Finishing Touches
Once the glaze is to your desired smoothness, the desk is ready to be set in place and screwed into the floor or anchored to the wall if so desired.
I also used a hole saw to cut a hole for my power cords, and inserted a power cord grommet I picked up from Office Depot to make it look nice. The grommet came with specs on the size of hole to cut.
Step 14: Additions
I added a locking drawer from Scale 1:1 (http://www.yliving.com/scale-1-to-1-hanging-box-box-drawer.html). They have a few different styles. They're not cheap, but very good quality and works just like I had hoped.
I tried a drafting chair as an alternative to a standard desk chair that would give me the height I need, but after a week I decided I preferred to stand and have rarely use a chair since.
I ordered some folding bar-height (29 1/8") chairs from IKEA for guest chairs. They were fairly inexpensive and work great. I like that I can easily move them out of the way when not in use.