Introduction: Electric Height Adjustable Desk

Picture of Electric Height Adjustable Desk

I really wanted a geek desk, but they're like 1,000 dollars. So I built my own for about 200 bucks (not including top). This is simply a regular desk that can rise up with a push of a button and turn into a standing desk. It takes about one minute to raise, speedier linear actuators are expensive. 

Pair of linear actuators (found on eBay for 150)
Premium pine (Home Depot 50 bucks)
12v power supply (found in my electronics junk box)
electrical tape

miter saw
wire cutters

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design

I wanted to figure out how this thing would all fit together before I started making any cuts. So I drafted a 3D mock up in Autodesk Maya. I know Maya is usually used for animation, but it’s what I know, and it works. I wanted to take my current IKEA desk and just swap out the static legs for dynamic columns.

Step 2: Gather All the Parts

Picture of Gather All the Parts

I found a pair of linear actuators on eBay for only 150 bucks shipped. They came with a wiring harness too which is great because I don’t know anything about electricity. They have a 16 inch stroke and are rated at 220 pounds each, but I wouldn’t put more than two monitors on this desk.

I went to Home Depot to find some wood, I ended up spending about 50 dollars for premium pine. All the cheap pine was warped and I figured a telescoping column should probably have straight edges.

Step 3: Cut and Assemble the Legs

Picture of Cut and Assemble the Legs

I’m basically going off my 3D mock up here for measurements
I mounted the linear actuator to a small wood base, then built the inner column around it. Then the outer column around the inner.
I tested the first leg built to see if it could lift the table top. It did, so I built another one.

Step 4: Attach Legs to Table Top

Picture of Attach Legs to Table Top

This was pretty simple. Just keep in mind that if you plan on using an IKEA table top, most of them are just made of cardboard, so drilling legs into it isn’t strongest hold.

Step 5: Mount the Switch and Route the Wires

Picture of Mount the Switch and Route the Wires

I just drilled out a large hole in the side of the table top to mount the switch
I ran some extra wire so the desk could rise without snags.

Step 6: Finished

Picture of Finished

Takes about 60 seconds to change position, cost about 200 bucks. 

If I spent maybe another 200 on the linear actuators I think they would be a bit faster and stronger. Also I would have rather had 18 or 20 inch stroke, but 16 was the most affordable. 
The legs are definitely version 1.0, I know they don’t have to be this big, it was just really easy to make it this way.
I will eventually add something to program height positions. So I could just press the button once instead of having to hold it down. I have a Raspberry Pi laying around here somewhere.


Cometeer (author)2013-12-29

Can you post a link to the actuators because I don't see them on ebay?

jwilcott (author)Cometeer2014-01-06

looks like the seller only has a 12 inch stroke pair listed right now. But I bet you can contact them to see if they have 18 inch stroke actuators available.

DellA2 (author)2017-11-09

very creative and flexible design, but if you want faster raise/lower and more travel (?) you should check out the Jarvis can buy the frame for well under $500 (I have two of them and love them). $25 extra for 4 position programmable stops. Can't beat it

Ebb_27 (author)2017-03-26

How is the stability of the desk in the raised position? I am tempted by the simplicity of your design. However it looks like when it is in the raised position, the fit between the inner and outer columns would be the main thing keeping the desk top from rocking side to side. But if I make the fit too tight, I am concerned that seasonal expansion of the wood could make it bind. I imagine the issue would be that much greater if you used the longer linear actuators you suggested. Is this something I should be worried about?

maxpayne28 (author)2017-01-23

Do these 2 actuators sync at all time?? I would like to make a 4 leg version but i concern about they will out of sync

jwilcott (author)maxpayne282017-01-23

They stay together pretty well, but it's not perfect. They have internal limit switches so when one stops the other stops about 1 sec later. I think you'd be fine with 4 actuators with this application.

lampmanjosh (author)2016-12-01

Hello, I'm interested in this project. Any ideas or tips to make this quieter? I have roommates, and don't want to disturb them.

Daniel_Lee1 (author)2016-06-03

How did you synchronize two dc actuators !!?? I don't know how to figure out....

pauldezo (author)2016-05-25

Looks great. I want to make a similar set up for a 6X8 foot table top so it will be heavy. Do you think this will work for 4 legs? Any suggestions?

RogerSilva (author)2016-03-01

Great article!

I am interested in doing a similar project.

Please, May you post/publish the project Autodesk Maya mock up file?

It was not clear for me how to mount the desk legs mechanism.

I appreciate any help you can give me

jwilcott (author)RogerSilva2016-03-02

Sure thing, I added the Maya file to my site: Check it out here:

JacktheRabbittt made it! (author)2016-02-23

It took some time, but I finally build a very nice desk based off this idea.

jwilcott (author)JacktheRabbittt2016-02-23

Wow! Really nice job.

teotsin (author)2016-01-04

Thank you for this very nice instructable, makes the project look easy.

Once I get to round to gather the parts and do it, I ll post my effort.

Mohit Thakur (author)2015-09-22


ElizabethJ8 (author)2015-08-24

I was wondering if you could do this as a pedestal table with just one support. I don't need that much clearance. That would take out the synchronization issue. Probably have to use a much more heavy duty actuator though. Great article! Thanks!

bonfire62 (author)2015-07-25

Might do this in a few weeks, here is a great option I just found on ebay for actuators, 12" and 14mm/s (or .5 inches per second).

dave367 (author)2013-09-01

Not to be a Luddite and playing around with limit switches, breadboards and all are way cool, but I think I'd look at setting up a couple of 1:4 cable purchases inside the legs, and snare a couple of $10 hydraulic bottle jacks from Harbor Freight. You could cross-plumb the jacks so they'd always produce identical force, and get "calibrated" every time the table comes all the way down. $25 for 4 double sheaves from Home Depot, $20 for the bottle jacks and $0 for electrical design or troubleshooting. If you wanted to get fancy, order some bare ball-bearing sheaves, use stainless cable (or Spectra!), build the whole thing of Lucite. Watch it work.

Heck, both my Prius and Jetta have "pump-em-up" adjusters on their drivers seats. Who needs electronics?

KellyS10 (author)dave3672015-07-16

I love this idea...Did you ever try it out?

dave367 (author)KellyS102015-07-16

No, but this type of setup is pretty common on sailboats--used for things like raising/lowering centerboards and canting lead keels, raising outboard motors and the like. @MrRedwood; the need for the sheaves/pulleys is in order to increase the throw, using a 1:2 or even 1:3 purchase. The bottle jack's good for 2 tons ($10 cheapie) reducing that by half or even 2/3 isn't going to break the deal. Use high quality/low cost pulleys/sheaves. Like these:

nboers1 (author)dave3672015-03-21

I'm thinking about building something using these materials over the summer. I'm having trouble visualizing how exactly you are putting these materials together. Can you post a basic draw-up of this jack-cable-sheave system?

MrRedwood (author)dave3672013-09-01

As far as I can see from some webpage reviews, the throw of a bottle jack is pretty limited — five to eight inches? To switch from a sitting to a standing desk requires about fifteen inches or so.

I'm thinking about using a dampened gas strut or two repurposed from some minivan for this, instead.

buckeyefan (author)MrRedwood2014-01-29

I think I'm going to try this with these:
These jacks go from 24" to 44" which I think should be plenty. I'll just leave a cut out in the side of the bases for the pump handles. May not be as cool as the electronic, but I figure it will be cheaper, easier to set up, and more reliable (anything electronic seems to be doomed to give out).

jwilcott (author)MrRedwood2013-09-01

I think a gas strut would be the next step in simplifying this design. Please post if you give it a try!

a.steidl (author)dave3672013-09-02

I like hydraulics, myself. Tractor supply sells or can order just about any size ram cylinder.

TonyD11 (author)2015-04-02

Great Job, and article. It insprired me to make my own very version. Very similar to your design, execept, mine just slide under my existing work table. Now I stand/sit during day. it great. My link:

jwilcott (author)TonyD112015-04-02

Wow! It looks great. I'm so happy to have inspired you to make :)

TonyD11 made it! (author)2015-04-02

Great article. It inspired me to may my own very. Very similar, but mine slides under my existing work table. Feel better standing or sitting as I choose. A link with more info on my built

derekvan (author)2013-09-01

I've read in other places ( that the actuators can sometimes be "out of sync," with one moving up at a different rate than the other, causing some desk wobble. Does this happen to you? Maybe the actuators you bought have some mechanism for preventing it?

radi_ka (author)derekvan2015-03-14

I'm build one like this with actuators that are pretty much out of sync (10 to 20 sec.). I slow the faster one down using PM with an ATmega8.

jwilcott (author)derekvan2013-09-01

Great question. This pair stays in sync really well. I haven't had a wobble yet. The only thing I've noticed is one will finish about one second sooner or later than the other. Which is unnoticeable as far as tilt of the table surface. There might be something in the wiring kit that helps with this, I'm not sure.

nishants2 (author)2014-11-23

Your instruction is quite helpful. And thanks for posting these tips in the internet. If you don't mind will you please add more detail how you attached the linear actuators to the legs? I am planning to made for myself too, But I haven't did that yet.

Build_it_Bob (author)2013-09-02

I am looking to do something similar and appreciate your sharing in detail this project. The power supply you are using looks rather small ...what DC voltage and output current does it deliver ?

jwilcott (author)Build_it_Bob2013-09-02

It's 12v 2amps. I think. Go for it bob! Send me a link when your project is finished.

jwilcott (author)jwilcott2014-10-07

I switched out the 12v 2amps PS for a 12v LED PS. It can provide up to 15 amps. The desk rises much faster now lol.

dakiddk4 (author)jwilcott2014-11-13

Hi im interested in doing a similar project, with the new power supply, 12V 15A, how much faster does it rise? I know you mentioned that it took about 60 seconds for it to fully extend before. And also I saw another comment where you mentioned that they get pretty loud, would it be possible to maybe use some padding around the actuator to reduce noise or is that not recommended. Thank you.

jwilcott (author)dakiddk42014-11-13

I would say it's about twice as fast. So maybe 20-30 seconds to rise and lower.

I think most of the noise comes from the motor vibrating the wood columns. If I hold the actuator in my hands while its running, it's pretty quiet. But it's resting on the workbench while running, the workbench vibrates and it's pretty loud. So if you could pad all the contacts of the motor to the mounts, I think that would help reduce the noise a lot.

jaswicki (author)2014-10-29

Great plan, I really like what you did. I am looking to do something similar. How did you wire up the power supply to the switch and actuators? What is the device you seem to have in line with the wiring?

jwilcott (author)jaswicki2014-10-29

Thanks jaswicki. I think the device you're asking about is the four relay switches. Here is a great explanation on how they work and what they can do:

I'm still new to electronics, so I'm not sure if my wiring is correct, but the way I got it to work was with 4 relay switches. Each switch can connect and disconnect one wire. The reason I'm not sure if this is safe, is because and error in the code could short out the power supply. Here is a simple sketch on how I did it:

pddonovan2011 (author)2013-09-01

Great Idea, jwilcott. A pair of Roller Contact Switches and a different Control Switch, are all you need to make this fully automatic. If you want it adjustable you can mount the second switch in Tandem to the switch you current use and have a smaller selector switch to choose between them. If you use your desk in the two positions only, THAT is the easier modification. Let me know what you decide and if you want my help. I'll draw a wiring diagram for what you decide. I do this type of control system all the time for the Garbage Trucks I repair. Garbage tricks now have an industrial computer to make an automated arm pick-up the cans instead of a human being. This eliminated TWO workers off the truck. Now the driver uses his wrist ad thumb on a Joy-Stick to collect the cans. When they work correctly they save backs and are WONDERFUL. But, when they fail, they are a nightmare to repair!

Great Idea, I think I'll give this consideration for a project I have in mind. A pop-up for the teardrop trailer I plan to build!

B2Pi (author)pddonovan20112014-01-05

I'd love to see a diagram for what you're talking about.

I was thinking about doing this with some number of presets, and a method of 'saving' a preset. I think that's going to require an arduino, though, and I haven't figured out how to have the arduino 'measure' the displacement of either actuator.

jwilcott (author)B2Pi2014-01-06

I'm currently trying out a Raspberry Pi to control presets. I haven't tested it yet, but I'd like to try a ultrasonic sensor to measure distances. Here is a great tutorial on how they work with the Raspberry Pi:

brentmore (author)jwilcott2014-01-15

The actuators that I picked up from Surplus Center have hall sensors built in. I'm just at the beginning stages of building my own, so I'll let you know how it works with the Arduino.

B2Pi (author)brentmore2014-01-23

Do you have a link for the actuators?

brentmore (author)B2Pi2014-01-25


jwilcott (author)pddonovan20112013-09-01

Awesome! Thanks for the great ideas.

mushisushi (author)2013-11-05

Can I ask, how did you connect the Linear Actuator into the Table Leg itself? From the diagram, it looks like a metal foot was created?

I'm interested in this as well, but I would like to work out the details before I go and buy the parts/pieces.

jwilcott (author)mushisushi2013-11-06

well for the bottom i used (2) 1 inch angle brackets (one for each side). For the top I just ran a long bolt through the column and added spacers and tightened and adjust. The long bolt method was easier because the bracket method required cutting the linear actuator mount. The actuator came with a ball and socket type mount, but I wanted it to be stationary, so I had to file down the ball so it was flush with the socket, took a while and it was really messy. I attached two picks to try and help explain.

mushisushi (author)jwilcott2013-11-06


Thanks for the info, this helps a lot!

tyscof (author)2013-09-05

Hey cool project, instead of buying your actuators you could have made them for cheaper? I made one for a project using a 18v motor from drill and a psu its pretty powerful and cost like 30 bucks. Pulls around 12 amps not sure on the load it can push(I didn't need as much power as you) but I think it could probably do the job. Or you could even take apart the actuators and change up the gearing.

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