Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Plywood Contest

Runner Up in the
Plywood Contest

Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

2x4 Contest

Participated in the
2x4 Contest