How to Build Your Own Standing Workstation For Under $25


Dave Laptop Table

Regular readers of this blog will know that sitting for long periods of time is very bad for your health, regardless of how much you exercise.  For the full details check out our 5-part series on sedentary physiology (a condensed version can be found at ScientificAmerican.com), or look over this very cool infographic.

While it’s pretty clear that sitting too much is bad for you, many of us in North America have jobs that force us to do just that.  So what to do if you can’t quit your office job? There are a few fancy options (treadmill desks anyone?) but even if you can find yourself a cheap treadmill it still requires a lot of space and electricity.  An easy alternative is a standing workstation – you’ll burn less calories than if you were using a treadmill workstation, but it also takes up a lot less room and costs almost nothing.

Here is what you will need:

1.  A cheap desk.  Personally I use an IKEA Dave laptop desk, which currently retails for $24.99.

2.  Something to elevate the desk with.  I use textbooks (being a grad student I have a fair number of these) but anything at all could be used for this – wooden blocks, bricks, old phone books, milk crates, you name it.

3.  That’s it!

In my mind the Dave Laptop Table is ideal because it’s incredibly cheap, and also because it can be raised and lowered very easily.  I have mine on a stack of books about 6 inches high.  This means that at its maximum height the desk is perfect for working while standing, while at its lowest height it is ideal for working in a chair (for when I need a break, or for when someone else wants to use the desk who is not so keen on standing).

My $25 Standing Workstation

The above workstation is how I work at home, and I’ve used it regularly since we moved to our current apartment 5 months ago.  I find my feet and back get a bit sore if I spend all day working at it non-stop, but it’s great for a few hours at a stretch.  When I get tired I either lower it or just sit on the window-sill which happens to also be at a good height (I’ve heard other people say that a bar stool is also a good height for leaning on).  Having the books on the floor is also handy as I can use them as a foot rest while I’m standing, which seems to take a lot of the strain off my back (I’ve heard that bar stools are good for this as well).

So there you have my $25 standing workstation!  I know that some others have created standing workstations of their own, most notably our friend Dave Munger, who created a standing workstation using a bookshelf and his iPad.  If you’ve created one I’d love to hear about it in the comments – especially if you’ve come across any ways to further reduce the cost of setting up the workstation.

Travis

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35 Responses to How to Build Your Own Standing Workstation For Under $25

  1. G says:

    Here’s another one, cheap and easy and also adjustable in height, and folds for storage or transport:
    Portable Standing Laptop Desk

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  2. Roberta says:

    I have a desktop computer and a LARGE oak desk, so I just raised the level of the computer and keyboard by using a stack of bound copies of the university newspaper I used to write for. At tabloid size, they are large enough to keep everything stable. Nice to see old media still has its uses!

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  3. Ernesto says:

    Hi Travis,

    Great post on the standup desk! I am actually using one of those IKEA desks at the neighborhood co-working space where I do most of my writing.

    I have started piecing together a blog about staying active in the workplace – theactiveoffice.org. Right now it is pretty bare, but I will start putting up more content soon. Most of it will deal with DIY treadmill desks and other solutions like the standup desk you describe.

    Mind if I excerpt some of this blog and link it back?

    Thanks!
    -E

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    • Travis says:

      Thanks for that link, Ernesto. Keep me posted on the blog, it looks like it will be a great resource.

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  4. Devin Baillie says:

    If you include the cost of the textbooks in the desk you built, it’s waaaay more expensive than just buying a standing desk. ;)

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  5. For your feet, I bet this would make a world of difference:

    http://www.caparadis.com/product.detail.php?pid=6115

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    • Carol says:

      I second the idea of a rubber (spongy) mat. When I finally got one, it made all the differences in my standing comfort level. Mine is a very cheap mat and it has lasted over a year.

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  6. danielle says:

    This is good Travis.!! I just got my first Tenure track position and the first thing I knew regarding my starting funds was that I wanted a Trek desk and I will.

    Soon enough I will work while working. I will let you know if it is great or not.

    Danielle

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    • Travis says:

      That’s awesome, and congrats on the tenure track job! Is the Trek desk a treadmill or simply a standing desk? Let me know how it goes!

      T

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  7. I just mounted a countertop from Home Depot on the wall at standing height. Cost more than $25 but I have a complete workspace at that height. Then I bought an inexpensive stool from I use occasionally when I need to sit. But that doesn’t happen very often. :)

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  8. Sarah D. says:

    I have a full size desk at work that I have on sturdy plastic risers that are actually meant to elevate a bed (and were really inexpensive); they are the perfect size and height and are recessed at the top so that the legs of what ever is sitting on them (in this case, my desk) won’t slip off of them. I have a pneumatic drafting chair for the times when I am tired of standing and it works perfectly for me. I get very tired and cramped if I have to sit all day and this has been a great solution.

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    • Travis says:

      I know exactly what you mean – do they look like upside-down plant pots? My mother uses them to elevate her quilting table to the proper height. I hadn’t thought of those for this but I can see why they would be perfect.

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  9. Pingback: No Treadmill? No Problem. The $25 Standing Desk. » The Active Office

  10. Pat Brassard says:

    For those who don’t necessarily want to stand up for an entire day, sitting on a Swiss ball could be an interesting alternative to the chair !

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    • Travis says:

      I’m still not sure how I feel about the swiss balls. My labmate uses one and I’ve tried it a few times, and I feel like it doesn’t really recruit very much muscle mass, especially compared to standing. It’s probably better than being in a chair, but I’m not convinced it would be enough of a difference. It would be interesting to look into!

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  11. Similar to Pat’s comment, do you know of any studies that compare active sitting with regular sitting and standing? I’m thinking of sitting on a large pilates/yoga ball (is that the same as a swiss ball?) or on a spring loaded chair like this one http://www.relaxtheback.com/wheeled-swopper-office-chair-1004.html that I never bought but sat on and loved. I figured something that engages your core muscle groups to help you balance while sitting might provide some benefit, maybe even comparable to standing? Just wondering if there’s been any research in this area yet. :)

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    • Travis says:

      That’s very cool, I’ve never seen a Wheeled Swopper before! As far as I know there haven’t been any studies on the metabolic impact of standing vs exercise balls, although there is this paper which suggests that a single day of sitting in a chair dramatically reduces insulin action compared to a day of regular standing.

      I would agree with Patrice that there might be benefits for things like core/back strength, but I don’t think there’s any evidence related to balls/balancing devices and metabolic health.

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  12. Lisa says:

    Hi Travis, Great idea! Most of the standing desks out there are quite expensive. We are a new company just launching our first product. The StandnSit, an adjustable sit-to-stand desktop workstation that is placed on an existing desk or work surface. We are offering it at an introductory price of only $299.99. Indeed it is more than $25.00 but it is an alternative for those looking for another solution. People are using them at home as well as in the office. StandinGoodHealth is focused on providing simple, affordable solutions that help individuals take control and improve their environment, shifting to a healthier lifestyle.
    Our goal is to help individuals get out of the chair and move to a less sedentary, healthier way to live. Please check out our facebook page and our website :) http://www.standingoodhealth.com. thanks!

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  13. Satu says:

    I don’t have a stand up desk nor a treadmill desk. Stand up desk would be the only possibility because my apartment is so small.

    Thanks, Travis! This got my imagination fired up: the budget is next to nothing and I definitely have enough books…. and the nearest Ikea is not far away :-)

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  14. Valerie Schelinski says:

    You mentioned that this inexpensive solution doesn’t burn as many calories as a treadmill workstation, and I know that to be true. My computer use is all day, and is mainly for the classes I am taking online, so I have to do alot of reading. My solution, which could be added to your inexpensive solution, is to just walk in place…march if you will…at least ten minutes out of every hour. When I am reading material, the time passes very quickly. This simple solution has helped my body to stay more limber and not feel so sluggish as it did when I simply sat in front of the computer for hours. Maybe it will help someone else, too.

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  15. Anke says:

    Great to see all of you trying to tackle this problem, too! I bought a portable lectern just a few weeks ago. It works quite well – the height can be adjusted to over 40 in. For better posture I also added a laptop riser (one that props the laptop up to near vertical) and a USB keyboard/mouse.

    I am experimenting with using a mini-elliptical at the desk – then I have to elevate the keyboard and mouse – with books :) . The motion takes a while to get used to, especially when typing a lot, but makes standing for 8 hours much easier.

    The contraption is not too pretty to behold, but I hide it in the closet when I’m not working at home… I also can move it to the deck if the weather is nice :)

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  16. Sue H. says:

    I am a researcher with a local community health agency in Colorado, with about 70 full-time staff. Many of us have jobs that are primarily computer work station based, and sitting for hours on end was the norm. I’ve been following your posts about the growing body (pun intended) of research about the risks of a sedentary and seated work environment. In fact, I wrote a “wellness tip” on this topic based on your series that went out via email to all employees. Budgets are tight these days and completely redesigned work stations were out of the question, but that didn’t stop me and (so far) about a dozen of my co-workers from coming up with inexpensive and creative conversions to standing work stations. We scrounged the surplus office supply stocks at the office, our garages and basements at home, and even hit a few thrift stores, with tape measures in hand. Unused shelves out of book cases, plastic craft storage drawers, reams of office paper, and thrift store curio cabinets were just some of the raw materials put to use, and none of us spent more than $35 out of pocket. As the oldest one of the bunch of newly standing employees, it was important to me that I could easily and quickly switch back to sitting (takes less than 1 minute), although I find I am doing that less and less. Some opted for a fixed standing station, as there is plenty of opportunity to sit during meetings, while proof-reading reports or on breaks. Three of my co-workers purchased “balance trainer mats” for about $20 – these are soft & squishy pads that they stand on that requires them to actively engage muscle groups to maintain balance. It certainly seems like this activity is contagious, as just this week two more co-workers made the rounds checking out our various conversions and are about to start the creative scrounge themselves.
    I hope to put together a little guide to how we each tackled this challenge creatively and cheaply, complete with photos that maybe some other worksites would find helpful. I am not a blogger, but perhaps Travis could help – maybe a place for posts and tips and pictures.

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    • Travis says:

      That’s phenomenal! I think the guide is a terrific idea, and I’m more than happy to share it here on Obesity Panacea once you put it together!

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  17. Pingback: No Really – Sitting Is Killing You | Obesity Panacea

  18. steve says:

    Getting the right height is important if you’re going to stay with it for any length of time. A friend has a slightly different challenge. She’s very tall and dealing with countertops was killing her back. We looked at many studies on the proper height for doing normal food preparation and found a good deal of agreement. A simple calculation is given on her blog http://www.6footsix.com/colleenify/ It turns out the best height for writing and reading is an inch or two higher than this, so that would be a good starting place. Of course your back and arms will inform you if you’re too far too…

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  19. Pingback: Standing Desks – Not Just For Adult Nerds Anymore | Obesity Panacea

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  21. Joe says:

    I’m looking to build a sit / stand station with a table top. Did you run into anyone who has done this?

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    • Travis says:

      With a table specifically? Not that I know of, but I think just about anything can work if you are creative with it.

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  22. Caroline says:

    Another way to go about it if you want to save money, is the sit-stand desk conversion route. So instead of paying for a height adjustable standing desk, you could just buy the mounts and adjustable monitor arms. works quite well.

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  23. Hoa Cocopoti says:

    Do you care if I put part of this on my site if I post a reference to this web page?

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    • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

      If you give us credit and link back you are good to go! Thanks for asking.

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