Electric Height Adjustable Desk




I wanted a height adjustable desk so I could stand while using my computer (but also sit when I wanted to), but I didn't want to spend a fortune on it and was also in need of a good project. So here's what I came up with. It's an electric desk that moves up and down at the flick of a switch. The height difference between sitting and standing is 18" and it takes about 20s from top to bottom position. All electronics are contained inside the desk, with only an AC plug coming out the back. The frosted glass, which was taken from a desk I had previously, worked out really nicely with the pine for a cool, modern look.


- Premium Pine (from Home Depot, about $150)

- Desk top (mine taken from a glass computer desk from staples)

- 2 x Linear Actuators (http://www.progressiveautomations.com/actuator-lin... $135 ea)

- 12V power supply (Amazon, $25)

- Voltage Regulator (Amazon. $15) - I'll explain this later

- 2 x DPST relays, 1 DPDT switch (Radioshack, $10)

- Wire

- Various Hardware (~$30)

Thanks a lot to this guy for his inspiration! ->jwilcott's desk. I took some of his ideas and expanded on it.

Step 1: Design

This might be the most time consuming part of the process, but it should make everything easier in the end. I tried using SketchUp to design this, but learning that was a lot trickier than I had hoped... To the paper!

Sketch what you want it to look like. The actuator I chose presented a bunch of interesting design problems. I would actually recommend using something a little smaller, so you don't need quite so large legs and a big hole in the side of your desk for the motor (even though it looks kinda cool). The 200 lb rated load each might be a little overkill for a desk.

Some tips:

- I initially designed the outer and inner leg pieces to have a small tolerance between them (to facilitate sliding). Turns out you don't need that. If you have nice and straight wood, you can design without tolerances and then just sand down the parts if you need to. Of course make sure to make accomodations and tolerances for moving parts though. You don't want anything inside getting jammed or interfering.

- Make sure to consider screw placement. As I found out, screw placement can be a little annoying later if you haven't thought about it at the start. Screws start interfering with each other.

- When designing, try to use common plank sizes if possible (1x3's, 1x4's, 1x6's, etc). That will reduce your cutting time.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials

This was actually done of the course of several weekends (took about 4 weekends total). But here's a photo to make it look like I had everything together before I started.

Step 3: Cut and Assemble the Legs

I made each leg independently because the leg inserts and outer stands would be inevitably slightly off. It was important that each insert matched its outer stand perfectly. How the build process worked for each leg was:

1. Cut and assemble the leg insert (inner moving part). Clamps will be your friend.

2. Put actuator inside the leg insert and attached it, making sure that the actuator is spaced in the center of the leg (using bolts, nylon spacers, and washers).

3. Cut and assemble the leg stand (outer stationary part). My design required that I cut a 2-1/2" hole for the motor. Assemble this around the leg insert, making sure the two pieces aren't too tight and things can slide. Sanding may be necessary.

This is the process I used, but I ultimately ended up taking things apart a few times in order to put in the center support brace.

Step 4: Attach Table Top Supports and Try It Out

The desk top I used, which was taken from a glass desk I bought from staples, had four aluminum pegs attached to the bottom. This worked out great because I just drilled four 1" holes with a hole saw and the pegs fit nicely into the supports.

This is where it became apparent that the two actuators had different speeds. One was faster than the other... That's a problem because it means the desk will be on a slant while it's moving. There are several different ways I could address this, but I decided to take the easy route and put a voltage regulator on the fast motor, to limit its speed to that of the slower motor. I'll discuss this later.

Step 5: Build and Assemble the Center Support/Electronics Box

I wanted the center support brace to house all the electronics and controls, so I mounted the switch, power supply, and voltage regulator inside. The relays and wires are floating around in there as well. Lots of soldering required...

The speed matching works pretty well with this circuit, but it's not perfect. It is a little uneven on the way down. Fortunately, the down motion doesn't matter as much as the lifting motion because I always bring it to the bottom when I'm lowering the desk. Lifting is perfect though. Some ideas for a future desk:

- position control with an ultrasound sensor/arduino

- multiple settable height positions (memory)

Step 6: Button It Up and Enjoy

Attach the feet and button up the center support/electronics box and you're good to go. Enjoy your transformer desk!

Let me know if you have any questions or other ideas. I'd love to hear any ideas for making it simpler/cheaper/better/cooler. I considered lots of different possibilities before designing this. Some thoughts I had were making it mechanical, pneumatic, or hydraulic, but electric linear actuators seemed to be the simplest and best approach. Plus I'm not all that mechanically inclined.

Thanks again to jwilcott for inspiring the design.



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    11 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I hope to make on like this very soon.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Looks like a GREAT project. Do you have a link to the 12v power supply you used?


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Howdy @etoz5000 Just checking in to see how you're liking everything and if you made any of your mentioned improvements? I recently purchased the actuators and other parts to control it (presets for sit/stand position as well as the "manual" up/down toggle button). using an arduino + high powered motor controller for it. just curious if you'd want to elaborate on your sensor-based control and what you were referring to?

    4 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    hey, glad you're trying this out! I'm loving the desk and making use of it often. I haven't gotten around to trying any sensor based control yet, mostly because I'm perfectly content with the open loop voltage regulator. what I think might be cool though is if you had actuators with position sensor built in (or you could use ultrasound position sensors) then you could make both actuators move at exactly the same speed. one actuator will most likely be faster than the other, so with a little logic, you could make the faster one slow down a bit to match the other's speed.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    etoz5000 so, i'm in the finishing stages of my desk, similar to yours and have the same issue with actuation speed. which voltage regulator specifically did you get? also, were the relays specifically for the regulator as well? thanks much.

    also, i should have heeded your advice and not built the outer legs with tolerances factored in. there is too much desktop "wobble" with the legs extended. i'm hoping paint will close up some of the tolerance "gap".


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Here is the regulator I bought:


    The relays were not specifically built for the regulator, they were just DPDT relays from radioshack, very similar to this one:


    I just realized that I incorrectly specified DPST relays in the parts list... They're actually DPDT.

    The desk looks great so far! If you're planning to live with slight speed differences in your actuators like I did, make sure the desktop is not too rigidly secured to the legs. If it is, the desk will probably loosen itself over time. My desktop is only held in place with pegs, not bolted down.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Looks like I"ll have to abandon my arduino/motor shield route as no matter what i try, i can't get the motor controller to drive the actuators. wired up correctly and the controller works as i'm able to control an led through the motor shield with my dpdt rocker switch, and the motor controller supports the amount of voltage and amperage required by the actuators.

    so, all that to say, do you have a basic schematic of the switch/relay/voltage regular/power setup you're using? or maybe direct links to which power supply, voltage regulator and relays? that'd be supremely helpful! thanks!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Looks great! I'm so happy I could inspire you to Make :)


    4 years ago on Step 6

    Any suggestions for an Ikea Hack type version? I ask because I don't have many tools (yet), even less time and of course, the least amount of money...but just have to make an adjustable desk. Thought about a real basic one using a smallish scissors lift attached to a shorter table with a larger table top on top of it but seems like that'd be one unstable table.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 6

    OK, this isn't even worthy of posting but I'll admit to having purchased two of these as the easiest and fastest and cheapest adjustable desk I could come up with. Totally missing out on the fun of creating and building but perhaps I'll hack them and make something post worthy eventually.