Introduction: Standing Desk for Engineers

Picture of Standing Desk for Engineers

I decided I wanted a standing desk. Looking around, it became obvious that I wouldn't be able to buy what I wanted - I couldn't even find any instructables that came close. So, I decided to design and build my own, and document here for others underwhelmed by the internet.

First I wrote out a list of requirements:

  1. Lots of work space
  2. Room for 5 monitors
  3. Really good cable management
  4. Built-in power outlets
  5. Fully-enclosed back
  6. Lots of storage
  7. Proper height
  8. Simple to build, and inexpensive

I'm not a real woodworker, so I needed to be able to build this with fairly basic tools and experience. I built this with a circular saw and homemade guide, cordless drill, router, tape measure, and that's about it. A real table saw would have made things go quicker, but it's not really necessary. Total cost was about $550 for wood / screws / drawer hardware, $250 for electrical / USB ports / lights, etc. and $120 for a good mat.

I build it all out of hardwood veneered plywood and pocket hole screws, with a couple 2x4s glued together for the corner post.

Obviously this desk isn't just for engineers. As a hardware designer, I needed a lot of room for working with hardware and test equipment, so I added the L shape, and lots of power and inbuilt USB and ethernet ports. Most people probably don't need 20 USB ports, or powered Ethernet, but just think of something else you might like to have built into your desk.. the possibilities are endless when you make it yourself!

Step 1: Design the Desk

Picture of Design the Desk

The first step is of course the design the desk. I decided to use SketchUp for this step, as I already had some basic experience with it. I also taught myself the accompanying tool LayOut for creating cut diagrams. This extra work at the beginning really paid off for such a large project.

The design phase basically went like this:

  1. Measure the space for the desk
  2. Build the desk in sketchUp
  3. Create diagrams in LayOut

Measuring my office was pretty important, as I have an office mate, so the space is a bit limited. I wanted to maximize the size of the desk, while using only half the office. Also, I measured doorways, hallways, etc. to make sure I could get the desk into the office (in pieces).

Building the desk in sketchUp is beyond the scope of this instructable - there are a lot of good instructables about using sketchUp for woodworking. The important things here is to make sure that every piece of wood in the design is a component in sketchUp.

Creating the cuts diagram was a fair amount of work. This basically involved cloning the desk and taking it apart in sketchUp, and arranging all the pieces into 4' x 8' shapes so I know how many sheets of plywood to buy, and how to cut them up. Then, I used LayOut to create cut diagrams for printing.

In LayOut, I had 2 pages for each piece of the desk - one showing it put together, and another with the dimensions of each piece. I also had 1 page per 4' x 8' showing exactly how to cut them.

Having these in the garage while doing the actual cutting was just really nice compared to how I usually build things!

The ideal height for your standing desk depends or your height. I'm pretty tall (6' 2") so my desk is too tall for most people. Keep this in mind when designing your desk!

I'm including my design files for anyone interested.

Step 2: Buy Materials

Picture of Buy Materials

Now that the design is complete, you need to buy wood. I decided to use pre-finished 3/4" birch plywood for a number of reasons:

  • It was cheap at the local lumber yard ($50/sheet in Canada)
  • It's pre-finished so I don't have to worry about staining / poly or any of that stuff

Since I've already laid out my cuts on 4' x 8' pieces in sketchUp, I know I need 7 pieces.

For the corner post I glued together two 2x4s - mostly because 4x4s are expensive, and I had lots of 2x4 around. After some sanding it looked pretty good!

I decided to use pocket hole screws to put the whole desk together, with no gluing. I needed to be able to take the desk apart to move it because it's so big, and also I'm not really set up with clamps, etc for gluing. This may come back to haunt me in 10 years as the screws loosen, or maybe not, but the desk is extremely solid, so I'm happy. I'd never used pocket hole screws before, so I had to buy a jig too - these are super simple to use and I couldn't be happier.

For the raw plywood edges I decided to use real wood edge banding - I used maple instead of birch just because it was more available at the local lumber shop. This edge banding is iron-on and awesome, really easy and fast to use. I also bought some water-based poly to finish the edge banding and match the pre-finished plywood.

For the basic desk, this is really all that's needed. My desk also has built-in power and data connections, but that's a later step.

Step 3: Cut Out the Pieces

Picture of Cut Out the Pieces

Next step is to cut out the pieces. This should be really easy because of the work you put in on the design step - it's really just cutting out everything as per the plan.

I used a circular saw with a homemade guide to do my cutting, but if you have a table saw, that would go much quicker. It's really important to get your accuracy to preferably 1/64" so that everything fits together properly.

You will probably make some mistakes as you go, and that's fine. The mistakes I made I could generally fix by making a new piece, or using the router to flatten an edge, or any of a number of things. Thankfully I didn't screw up badly enough to need to buy more wood, so that was nice. I did get some tear-outs near the beginning but these aren't too big a deal, I just took the pieces that tore out and glued it back in place - so long as it's not on the desk surface, you probably won't even notice.

Don't forget to mark your pieces. I would mark each piece as I cut it on the plywood edge of the piece and also in the plan with an incrementing number.

Step 4: Cable Management / Extras

Picture of Cable Management / Extras

At this point you need to think about any extras you want.

For my desk, I wanted really good cable management - this means no cables touching the floor, no cables behind the desk, no cables on the desk surface, etc.. I designed a cavity underneath the monitors where I could run power, monitor cables, USB cables, etc.

For power, I added two cable runs underneath the desk and also added power bars. On the top of the desk, there are four 2x power outlets.

Since I design USB and network hardware for a living I wanted easy access to lots of USB and ethernet ports on my desktop. I added a shelf under the desktop for USB hubs and ethernet switches and added a 1x24 patch panel to the desktop - into which I inserted a selection of USB and CAT-6 keystone jacks.

I also added HDMI and ethernet in the corner behind where my laptop will live and more USB ports behind where my keyboard and mouse will live.

Some of the USB ports go the the Linux box, and some go to the Windows PC.

I also embedded some speakers, and added LED strip under-lighting with a touch dimmer control.

Every desk will be different, but you will need to plan our all of these additions, and cut out cable routing holes, and outlet box rectangles, etc. as needed before you start to assemble the desk.

I also added a shelf in the corner under the desk for my computers - it's big enough and strong enough for 2 computers and a UPS. I wanted to keep the computers off the floor to help with cable-length issues to the monitors and also the just keep things looking nice and tidy.

Step 5: Building

Picture of Building

I decided to make the desk in 8 pieces so that I'd be able to move it.

  1. right side back with drawers
  2. middle back
  3. left side shelving
  4. right side desktop
  5. left side desktop
  6. right side monitor stand
  7. left side monitor stand
  8. desktop support structure

While building, I would connect the pieces with 1 or 2 screws, so I could easily take it apart to move. Then, after moving to the office I put in all the screws.

The hardest part of assembling is just deciding where to put the pocket hole screws to be the least visible. Also, just making sure that everything fits together properly. I cleared an area in the garage where I was building, and made sure the floor was really level, and just kept a tape measure handy to make sure everything was aligned as I assembled.

You should be able to just follow the plan to assemble. It's just a series of drilling the pocket holes, clamping and screwing pieces together, and then doing it again.

The pieces are pretty big, but I was able to build the whole desk by myself because I kept everything at a manageable size.

I found it easiest to apply the edge-banding to each piece before putting the pieces together - so that I could clamp the pieces vertically for the ironing. Just make sure you understand which edges need edge-banding (any edge that will be exposed in the final desk).

Step 6: Drawers

Picture of Drawers

Pretty basic drawers here - but this is the first time that I had made drawers. The pocket hole screw are really perfect for drawer construction. I used some 1/2" sanded pine plywood I had lying around for the bodies - with 1/4" for the bottoms. For the slides, I decided on pretty heavy duty full extension. I also added some dividers to some of the drawers.

There are a ton of instructables on drawer building, so I'd recommend you have a look at those if you are inexperienced, as I was.

Step 7: Move and Assemble

Picture of Move and Assemble

This step does need a helper. I moved the desk to my office with a friend in 2 pickup trucks.

Pretty simple. Just move the pieces, then assemble. This took me most of a day mostly because of time spent wiring up the ethernet ports, and routing all the cables. I really wanted to keep under the desk and also behind the desk really clean looking. Power and ethernet enter the desk from the side through a hole and get distributed to the computer, monitors, desktop, etc. from there.

I really couldn't be happier with the result - It's comfortable to work on, has tons of work / storage space, impresses my co-workers, and is just really nice to use.. and it was easy enough to build that someone with basic woodworking skills could do it (ie. me).

Step 8: Chair

Picture of Chair

I think it's important to have flexibility to sit or stand with a standing desk - so I needed to find a chair.

After looking around, it was obvious that you just can't buy a chair that's tall enough for my extra tall desk. You can buy components to convert a standard office chair into a tall chair - and that's what I did, but even with the tallest cylinder, it was too short - so I constructed a riser out of 2x4's, bought some extra long replacement screws, and had my 4" taller chair - at a perfect height.

Also, I really need to empty my trash.

Cheers!

Comments

Maker Saga (author)2017-08-09

This is well thought out and executed, especially the drawers. I like the little personal side comments in the instructable, they make it more enjoyable to read. I have a concern though, can a human brain handle the stimuli from that many monitors at once?

very well done nice design

Marucotchan (author)2016-06-12

Very cool your project, it was very good. well defined offices, easy access and well-ordered to cables and connectors, efficient lighting and very efficient.
Congratulations for the excellent work presented my friend.
Sincerely

gomibakou (author)2016-06-10

Next time ;) you can use specific software like "Polyboard" (for design) and "Cutmaster" (for cuttings).

watsonpsykosis (author)2016-06-06

I do IT work and I often bring computers back to my office to work on them, so I got permission to build this desk. I'm really excited about it! I have one question though. How did you attached the upper section that the monitors sit on that have the cable management cavity to the lower section that your keyboard and mouse sit on? See picture.

kalfalfa (author)watsonpsykosis2016-06-06

This part is attached using dowels - these just provide some extra insurance against the top slipping off. I also ran screws up into the front part of the monitor stands, up through the desk top, so that the top can't be lifted up.

wordsnwood (author)2016-04-20

How is the electrical handled? I see the one long power bar -- are the monitor stand outlets also plugged into that? ie: how many outlets/circuits are supplying the desk?

(That price on the plywood was surprising. When I lived in Edmonton, Windsor Plywood was certainly not considered the cheapest place around!)

warriorethos2 (author)2016-03-06

kalfalfa, your standing desk for engineers is an engineering marvel. The desk looks store bought from the pictures that you took. Your PDF drawings show in detail all your work. Did you use any screw type leveling legs on the bottom of your desk or does it sit flat on the floor? All that equipment, did you have to add a small fan to keep everything cool? What do you use to run so many monitors off of one laptop or desktop computer? I used three monitors in the military but there was a special box we used to run the monitors in sink or independently, just don't remember what it was called. We also could switch from one computer to the next as well but can't remember the name of that box as well. Your set up does look neat. I hope your boss gave you a raise for using your own desk? Great job and good luck in the plywood contest.

i think the switch your refering to might be a KVM switch.

kalfalfa (author)warriorethos22016-03-06

Thanks! The desk does just sit flat on the ground - I was careful to keep everything square when building, so as long as the floor is flat, it's good. The 4 monitors on my PC all just go into a single 4 output video card, and the 5th goes to the laptop.

warriorethos2 (author)kalfalfa2016-03-07

Thanks for the reply. I will look into a single 4 output video card for my computer. Good luck in the contest.

Dwargh (author)2016-03-07

Just great! Voted for you!

PC_Payn3 (author)2016-02-22

What an amazing set up! Congrats on building a masterpeice!

TomasF1 (author)2016-02-15

The desk looks fantastic, but what about your neighbor on the next desk now faced with a wall rather than a co-worker?

shotgunshane (author)2016-02-14

Jealous...

teodoropires (author)2016-02-14

Awesome job!

JamesS59 (author)2016-02-13

Great work! This is nearly my ideal desk, I'm a bit envious. Guess you wont do much stting though eh?

kalfalfa (author)JamesS592016-02-13

Thanks! I generally sit for lunch, but stand for the rest of the day.

Imetomi (author)2016-02-11

Beautiful job, I should make something like this!

juanm115 (author)2016-02-11
Excellent project!!
zaphodd42 (author)2016-02-10

Me Want!!! And thanks for including the sketch-up file! Bonus!!!

AlanL21 (author)2016-02-07

A realy good well designed project

askjerry (author)2016-02-05

Excellent job... nicely done!

Cable Management: I did a project where I didn't want my cables hanging down the back... I used the plastic RAIN-GO gutters as cable trays behind the desk. They are non-conductive, white, paintable, PVC and durable. The brackets are designed so the sections snap in... so modification is easy. The Rain-Go is unlike other brands which have a flat side and a curvy side... these are like a "U" shape with a flattened bottom... perfect. And... you can cut/drill where you need any kind of pass-through with ease.

axello (author)2016-02-04

People mention they love you cable management, but I don't see any close-up picture of that. I also see multiple types of cable coming out of the woodwork. USB for one, but also something 'Mac like', like Thunderbolt or Firewire. Could you provide some pictures of the cable management from the backside and closeups of the front?

I did see the humongous power outlet bar!

kalfalfa (author)axello2016-02-05

I added some more pictures to the cable management section - hope this makes things clearer.

axello (author)kalfalfa2016-02-05

Sweet! Thanks.

kalfalfa (author)axello2016-02-04

I did have some trouble showing the cable management. The cables are mostly hidden within the desk - under the monitors there is a cavity within the desk, where I ran power, usb, and ethernet. Behind the mac laptop I have ethernet and HDMI. Under the desk, there are 2 power bars, and under the big power bar is a cable tray - this gives all the power cables a place to go without hanging down to the ground.

Leathaldose (author)2016-02-05

Love this desk, everything is awesome except for 2 things, standing..... and I would shove that crapintosh off the back of the desk and use it as a door stop. I really like the cable management system. and the speakers you added to that face. One thing i hate about my desk is the speakers are constantly in the way of other cords. if all goes well I am going to build a new desk tomorrow. I will be going to a different route then the awesomeness you have provided for us. Thanks for the inspiring desk idea. Have a good day.

SteveMann (author)2016-02-04

Excellent!

Its probably much healthier for your back.

I find similarly I like variety, e.g. sometimes stand, and sometimes sit on a fitness ball, and do a few situps on my monkey bars or some "planking" to feel better after long hours of sitting.

DAYJAY (author)2016-02-04

Good job!

Yonatan24 (author)2016-01-26

$550 on wood? That's soooooooooo expensive! Also, Why do you need so many screens?

Anyway, That is an awesome desk! I need that amount of desk space too!

And... Ummm... I wish I "wasn't a real woodworker" like you are, And had all of the tools that you have... :)

torq5252 (author)Yonatan242016-02-04

yonatan24, This is my wobbly, bouncy can't lean on it at ALL $550.00 standing desk they bought me at my company. I'd gladly trade with kalfalfa!! lol

Yonatan24 (author)Yonatan242016-01-26

How do you power all of the 20 USB Ports? Are all of them connected to your computer, Or do you have a separate high amperage power supply?

And you (obviously) have my vote too

kalfalfa (author)Yonatan242016-01-26

7 of the USB ports are going through a 7-port hub, and the rest are directly connected to either the Windows PC or the Linux box.

kalfalfa (author)Yonatan242016-01-26

Well by 'not a real woodworker' I mean that I've never done anything cabinet-makery like this before. I do have basic experience with saws, etc.

As for cost, I think $550 is fairly inexpensive for using 7 sheets of hardwood plywood. The wood itself was just 7 x $50 = $350. The rest is the real wood veneer and screws and various bits. I don't have my receipts anymore, so I'm just going by memory. You could certainly build a desk with less wood by not completely enclosing the back. And wood is certainly cheaper if you don't live in Canada.

So many screens because I work with OS X, Windows and Linux, and for coding it's really nice to have at least 3 screens on the mian development PC.

rolaugh (author)2016-02-04
Sitting at a desk is really unhealthy! I bought a standup desk and a standup quilting table for my wife because she was experiencing some serious health problems that could be traced to her sitting for so many hours. These health problems disappeared in weeks, once she started using stand up position equipment. At the university (where she works) they also bought he and her staff stand-up equipment and most everyone now can work longer and feel better and suffer less health problems.

Having said that while sitting here writing and reading, I can feel the pressure on my mid regions and my legs (I turned 72 today...) and feel the pressure to move on to a stand-up bench-desk while I design hard ware and do some software work for CNC projects (this will be an awesome CNC cut project especially when all the parts are laid out as he did here).

As soon as my wife sees this article the pressure will be ON for me to convert to this type of desk. And the cost is low by comparison to commercial units! Her quilting table cost was nearly $4000 retail! But - it is adjustable.

So this is a great article that is very contemporary! Maybe an adjustable version?

Thanks for sharing your work, it's very inspirational to say the least...

Randall O'laughlin

kalfalfa (author)rolaugh2016-02-04

One nice thing about designing / building this specifically for myself is that it didn't need to be adjustable like the commercial units. Adding adjustability would have made it a lot more complicated.. I've been using this desk for about 6 months now and I love it. Generally stand all morning / afternoon, and sit for about an hour during lunch (yes I eat at my desk).

BackyardWoodworks (author)2016-02-04

that bottom drawer is soooo far down there... what do you keep in there, dust? lol

as far as the cost of the wood, probably could have gotten it cheaper but then you would have had to spend extra on stains and finishes, all in all you got what you wanted and it looks great. Good job!

Oddly, most of the unfinished wood was more expensive. This plywood is pretty low-grade, and the veneer is very thin, but since I wasn't going to be doing any sanding, I wasn't too worried. Wood is just expensive in Calgary, it sucks.

bryanmaree (author)2016-02-04

I love it. I work on hardware too and having desk space and screens are both necessities. I only see one keyboard so I assume you use Synergy, if not you should check it out because unlike 'Mouses Without Borders', it works on Windows, Mac and Linux. This is an awesome build, thank you for sharing.

kalfalfa (author)bryanmaree2016-02-04

You are 100% correct, synergy is awesome.

pescabicicleta (author)2016-02-04

Brilliant build. I am in awe.

One thing you will want is something to rest your feet on, Captain Morgan style. You'll find it much easier to stand for longer periods if you can elevate one foot, and switch off between the two.

Assuming you have two feet, of course.

kalfalfa (author)pescabicicleta2016-02-04

Yeah I've read that. I brought in a stool, but found myself not really using it.

cfrussen (author)2016-02-04

Wow! Excellent! That's some awesome work.

kalfalfa (author)cfrussen2016-02-04

Thanks!

salemwhich13 (author)2016-02-04

This is really nice but, What is the purpose of a standing desk. Doesn't it get tiring standing all day? Just wondering.

It's much better on your lower back than sitting all day. Most people switch between standing and sitting throughout the day.

I built my first standing desk six years ago, after experiencing problems with my lumbar region. Haven't had that problem since.

Thanks, interesting.

rkrishnan7 (author)2016-02-04

Great design and excellent write-up! Just wondering if you added any anti-static materials, but perhaps your components are all wired in.

terrefirma (author)2016-02-04

Personally, with nice plywood like that I would leave the edges exposed. Otherwise it sort of looks like MDF (because so often it is) I like that there are no extra holes to make it 'adjustable'. Commit! So often even high end furniture has this row showing...

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