Introduction: Cheap Treadmill Desk

I've wanted a treadmill desk for some time- the health benefits of walking more are evident, and the efficiency of being able to multitask while walking is appealing. This study claimed that a person could burn many more calories while walking even quite slowly (1 mph) than they could while sitting- about 3 times as many. Replacing even one hour of sitting-work with walking-work could turn a day from a gain of 100 calories to a gain of 0 calories, preventing the steady creep of obesity so many Americans face. (assuming that the average person eats 2700 calories per day and the RDA calories is 2600.)

The downside is that Treadmills, and Treadmill Desks in particular, are quite expensive. (This one is on sale as I write this. Note that it does not include the treadmill.) You can expect to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a brand name desk. So it is not unexpected that people would try to make their own, and you can see some of their work here on Instructables.

These desks by ewilhelm are very nice, and the instructable is very popular. I wanted something like that, but don't really have the capability (or possibly the inclination...) to make things out of wood. Plus, they seem a bit permanent.

The Fancy Ikea Treadmill Desk by dworley is very nice indeed, but we've gone right back to hundreds of dollars for the desk again. The build is also waaaaaaay more involved than I am going to do- I'm not going to rewire my craigslist treadmill.

However, this desk by calebjc seemed to be more my style. Foam is light, cheap, and easy to work with. It is also removable and doesn't affect the treadmill at all. I followed this model when making mine.

Step 1: Material List

It is very possible to make this desk with simple tools, and about 20$ of consumable materials.

The main ingredient is a large sheet of rigid pink foam. This is the building material that gets shaped to fit the treadmill. I used a glue that specifically said it would work on foam.

Pink Foam - 15$

All Purpose Glue - 5$

Tools I used:

Level / straight edge

Water spray

Bread Knife

Box cutter

Black marker

Masking tape

And if you can round one up,

a secret weapon.

Step 2: I Lied About Only Using Hand Tools

Rigid foam board is really easy to cut with a craft knife/ box cutter. You just need to score it as deeply as you can, and a typical blade will go nearly all the way through. Then just snap it off for a clean break. Using a long deep draw cut is better than a sawing motion because it will leave a smoother edge.

That being said, a circular saw works REALLY well and cuts cleaner and straighter. I had the folks at the store cut my foam board into three pieces so it would fit in my small car to get it home, and the cuts they made were almost indistinguishable from the precut edges.

If you can get your hands on a saw, consider using it. I did my cuts with hand tools for the most part, and I think that the hassle of using the saw might be worth it since I couldn't cut a perfectly straight line easily with my knife.

Step 3: Slice Into Strips

In order to build up the supports for the desk, I sliced a lot of the foam into 2 inch strips. I didn't really plan my build out so, I made a few different sizes.

I had the store slice my board into three pieces. It was originally a 2 x 8 foot sheet, so I had them cut it into a 2x2, and two 3x2 sheets. I sliced up the small sheet into 24 inch strips, and a larger sheet into 36 inch long strips. Some of the 36 inch strips got cut in half to make 18 inch strips.

It took me a few days to slice them up, but a person who actually cared about doing things in a timely manner could do it in less than an hour, I suspect.

Step 4: Glue Into Stacks

The glue I used is cured by water, so I used a spray bottle to mist each strip pretty well. I don't know how wet they NEED to be, but these had water running off of them as the glue dried, so it was enough.

I think I could have done a better job gluing these. I made a simple oval pattern with a line done the center, and while it was adequate, I had some glue seep out the sides, while ironically not being tight enough on the side as I might like.

A better way might be to put on a line of glue, and then use something to smear it into a thin film. The glue I used expanded as it cured, and the line of glue proved to create a noticeable gap between strips. The bond seems strong enough.

I glued two strips together, and then used the works of Robert Jordan to press the strips together. Once they were done, I glued them together into a set of four, and then those into a pile of 8 strips. You'd think about 10,000 pages would be a suitable weight, but you really need more to keep the glue from expanding too much.

I didn't want to use clamps even though I have a perfectly usable set because I thought they might crush the foam. I think you could probably use them if you pad them.

Step 5: Plot Your Treadmill Angle

This is going to be different for every treadmill, so you are on your own. My treadmill has support bars that drop down at about 30 degrees.

I traced it out on a piece of paper, and then transferred it to the stack of glued together strips. I was lucky that the angle needed ended up being complementary, which meant that with one cut I could make two supports.

If I had been even more lucky, the treadmill would have had horizontal arms, and I would have been able to just build the supports straight up.

If you are not so lucky, you may have awkward angles, or things like cup holders to cut around. Do they best you can, and don't worry- foam is cheap, and you will likely have plenty leftover if you make a mistake. I still have a bunch of strips incase I need to make another one.

Step 6: Cut Them Up

While slicing the foam into strips is easy, cutting them into the supports is surprisingly hard. You can slice through the 1/2 inch foam with a knife with only a little effort, mostly concentrating to make sure you go in a straight line.

Cutting through 2 inches of foam is another matter. You won't be able to score it and snap it- no, you will have to saw it up.

I used a bread knife, and this will be how I let my wife know about that. Don't worry, dear, I washed it afterwards.

It takes a lot of sawing to cut through. Some advice-

Mark your pattern of both sides! I thought I was cutting vertically, but I had an angle.

Cut a groove across the top to keep you on the right path.

Try to slice, rather than crush through the foam for a cleaner edge.

You might try a heated wire- I read that some people have had success with that.

After some sawing, I ended up with a serviceable triangle that could be further worked to make a good support.


This is where I cheated and asked a friend to help me cut it with a circular saw. I had another stack of strips and we cut that with the saw. It was faster and straighter, and altogether a superior technique. I had to do some minor touch ups with a knife anyway, but less than with the hand carved triangles.

Neither the bread knife or the saw noticed the glue at all. Don't worry about troubles cutting through it.

Step 7: Fit the Pieces Together

I used masking tape loops to fit the pieces together for a test build. By balancing the supports where they should rest on the treadmill, I could place the remaining 3x2 foam sheet on top where it should go. If you have formed your supports right, they should rest on the treadmill without any help.

I used my level to make sure that the desk was level, adjusting the supports and placement as needed.Once I had it the way that seemed best, I traced around the supports to mark where they should go.

You can see that the desk won't block access to the controls. That's pretty handy because it means you can adjust it while you walk. One of my potential iterations had the desk over the controls to make it higher and possibly more stable, but it wasn't needed.

You might need to cut your foam board around the controls, especially if it has funky upholders or curved design elements.

Step 8: Final Glue

One final glue step, permanently fitting the supports into the patterns I'd marked for them. I also glued a perpendicular strip across the front lip.

This piece slips in between the control panel and another grip bar in the front. The desk rests well enough on the supports that it isn't inclined to go anywhere, but this will keep it in the proper position. It means the desk can't slip down, and it is long enough that the desk can't slide to the left or the right.

If things ever get crazy, I'll replace the blocking piece with a strap or velcro loops to really hold it in place. Craziness has yet to happen on the treadmill desk though.

Step 9: Add a Top and Start Walking

I placed a piece of scrap wood on top to act as a firmer surface. It helps distribute the weight of objects in the middle to the supports. If you don't do this, and just want to use the foam, glue some of your leftover strips across the bottom to prevent bowing, and keep the weight to a minimum. Books, not laptops.

The desk is finished, and is cheap, completely removable, and leaves no trace on the treadmill. It works quite well- I have no complaints over the weeks I have been using it, and it has held up over the last fifty (very slow) miles.

I tend to walk at about 1.5 - 2 mph because a) going faster is not conducive to typing or working, and b) going faster tends to shake things up a bit much. A cheap craigslist treadmill is not going to be a towering monument to stability, and vibrations are noticeable. 3 mph would be too fast to keep water in that glass, for example.

I haven't tried jogging speeds because I think things would just fall off. If you do, let me know how it goes.

If you have a gym at work, I recommend making one of these, and bringing it there to walk-work. You can clean out a lot of email in a 15-30 minute walk, and if you do that twice a day, you'll really be better off, health wise.