I wanted a standing desk. “He who sits the longest, dies the quickest“, or something I’ve read along those lines…
Unfortunately, most DIY standing desk projects assume you have an IKEA within driving distance. Seriously, I looked all over the interwebs for build-your-own, hack-your-own standing desks, and was flooded with articles about IKEA-hacking. These desks looked great… I just couldn’t make any of them.
I am not what you might call a short man. And after years of hunching over desks not built for people of such heights as I, it became increasingly popular in my mind to develop standing solutions. I was given a ‘high-rise’ desk at a job, and found that I seldom used the chair unless fatigue set in. Once I had changed positions, I was forced into a regular-height desk with a very nice chair that simply was not built to lower itself enough to provide appropriate ergonomics for me.
So I went to a local store, and bought a very cheaply-made coffee table-type thing and plopped it atop my existing desk. Strange looks from co-workers aside, it almost provided what I needed. But the same solution at home really just devolved into a rickety, unstable solution with the existing under-desk being filled with random clutter.
So, after much research, and the ridiculous price tags of existing options, I built a standing desk out of a hand-me-down slab of… something possibly intended for the side of a shelving unit (?) … and some pipe and fittings. Mostly based on a post I found, with some personal changes…
Typical standing desk seem to be about 45 inches tall, which might necessitate a separate keyboard and mouse tray for folks not as tall as I. Ergonomic wisdom says that your interface items (KB/M) should be just below elbow height as you stand straight up, so 44 or 45 worked fine for me.
So, the pipe I procured from my local hardware store (which offers free cutting and threading) were as follows (note these are all 1 inch diameter):
- 4x end caps
- 4x 6 inch lengths (“nipples” they’re labeled)
- 4x 8 inch nipples
- 6x T-joints
- 4x flanges
- 1x 36 inch length
- 4x custom-cut 34 inch lengths
One thing to note about the custom cutting – the hardware stores can typically not cut and thread really short lengths. Buying one long pipe and having it cut to account for your custom lengths is cheaper by far, and necessary for this build, but let’s say I had 6 inches left over from my custom cut – they can’t do anything with that, and you’ll have to buy a pre-cut and threaded 6 inch nipple instead. Or thread it yourself, but I don’t have the tools for such a thing…
So I bought a 10 foot length of 1 inch diameter pipe, out of which three of my four custom 34 inch lengths were cut and threaded. I ended up having to get another 45 inch or so for the fourth, leaving me with a remainder to use as “home security”…
Interestingly, most sites with DIY instructions on pipe furniture use galvanized, and rightly so – it looks great and will probably take paint well with the right prep. But, tight-budgeted as I am, I found the black iron pipe was actually cheaper. My hardware store employee was already cutting my 10 feet of galvanized steel, so I didn’t stop him from finishing, but I did get as many nipples, end caps (for the feet of the desk), T-joints, etc. as I could in the black iron. Just cheaper by little bits per part, but it adds up.
The flanges (for attaching the assembly to the desktop) were only available in galvanized, and over $10 a piece (so 40 bucks right there…). Every little bit saved helps. As for the desktop itself, some friends of ours are moving, and had this… piece of an old desk or side panel to an IKEA something or other… so they gave it to me. I hear the NUMERAR Oak countertop from them is actually pretty nice, and relatively cheap, but I didn’t have an extra $129 laying around, so the freebie works for now.
Preparation & Assembly
It would probably have been smarter to clean the pipe and fittings before putting the assembly together, but I’m probably not smart. I was so eager, I cleared a space in the garage and went to town like a kid with new Lego’s. After everything was attached, I grabbed a bottle of Purple Power degreaser and spent the next thousand years spraying the whole thing down and scrubbing it. The price stickers on the pipe were not only sticker-ed on, but had packing tape wrapped over. So it took some cutting and peeling and scraping to get them off.
The grease on the pipe scrubbed off with relative ease, but I was thorough, as my little one will probably be at the crawling / tasting furniture phase soon.
Upon attempting to stand on the cross-bar to test it’s stability, I noted how loose most of my connections were. Once everything’s put together, it’s not hard to use the leverage of the rest of the assembly to tighten the joints (and align them, tightened, to point in the right directions).
The pipes still looked more than a little rough. I’m all for the rustic, industrial look, but this was just… dirty looking. So I grabbed some 80-grit sandpaper, slapped it on mt sanding tool and went to sanding everything down. I suddenly realized that this was giving the piping a sort of “brushed metal” look, which wasn’t what I was originally after. But I felt that any getting rid of small, sharp, ready-to-cut-your-child-badly edges was worth the reduction in looks… and ultimately it didn’t turn out too bad anyway.
Remember to wear a mask when sanding pipe. I know that the coating (especially on the black iron) is probably harmless, but I doubt breathing in the dust of it is wise in any way.
The assembly from floor to desktop (vertical) –
- End cap
- 6 inch nipple
- T-Joint (side)
- 34 inch length
And from the T-joint’s center connection (horizontal)
- 8 inch nipple
- T-joint (side)
- 8 inch nipple
From there, its as simple as connecting each leg (vertical) assembly to either end of the horizontal, and putting the 36-inch length between them as the crossbar. Once this was done, and tightened thoroughly, I stood on it again, and found very little movement in the legs. Successish!
As I got out the level to make sure everything was… um… level… I noticed that the floor of my garage itself was not completely flat.
So, I flipped over my hand-me-down desktop and set the structure on it upside down (flange-side-down). Sure enough, some of the legs were not aligned straight, or were just slightly too short/tall. Slight loosening or tightening of some connections, and everything lined up flush with the desktop.
Because of how thin the desk itself was (3/4 of an inch), I had to use the shortest wood screws I could find, with heads still wide enough to not slip through the holes in the flanges.
The screws were still a bit too long, and just eyeballing it – they would pop straight out the other side. So I went in at an angle, carefully, after drilling pilot holes. Not the best solution, but this desktop will be replaced with something nicer one day, perhaps.
After the top was firmly attached to the base, I flipped the whole thing back over. Not bad-looking… But still a little off-balance. After taking the desk inside to its new home, I found I had to slightly loosen a foot (end cap) to make it stable. Used the level again, and viola.
Finishing Touches (Monitor Stand)
Now that my hands were resting comfortably on a height-appropriate surface, I had to do something about my monitor. As big as it is, I was still looking uncomfortably down at it, which kind of defeated the purpose of this entire exercise.
Ergonomics state that the top edge of your screen should be at eye level. Not the top edge of your entire monitor, but the top of the actual screen, under the bezel. So, I found I’d need a monitor stand of about 7 1/2 to 8 inches in addition to the stand my monitor came with.
Quick trip around the internet wasn’t entirely helpful. Again with the IKEA hacks. Or mounts to the wall. Or mounts to the desk with no stand. Didn’t work for me. I need to be able to move my monitor.
Ultimately, I found one post (can’t find it again), and ran with the idea. I went to another local hardware store and picked up two sort-of-matching cheapo shelves and eight doorstops. Drill holes, screw in doorstops like legs on the shelves, and stack upon the desk.
Again – not the sturdiest option, but hey… some storage for keyboards and mouses and such, and the monitor is now (almost) the perfect height for my neck’s sake.
In the end… should you do this kind of thing?
If we’re talking about the benefits of standing at a desk at all… the jury’s still out on that one. I’ve found I enjoy it, it keeps me mobile around the house even when I’m working at the computer, and its easier to just stop what I’m doing and pick up the baby for dancing time. My feet kill me sometimes, so I should have factored in a fatigue-helping floor mat or some shoe insoles or something. Next on the list.
If we’re talking about the project itself (building furniture with pipe), I would recommend putting more attention and planning into this than I did. Price everything, but also measure accurately, try connections out in the store (as far as piping goes) even if you look stupid playing tinker-toys in the isle. Pipe looks cool, but its not the cheapest of materials by far. I don’t have the tools to make wood furniture (yet), but I’d imagine that ends up taking more time, but way less money.
Anyway, that’s my build. I think it looks sexy, and my neck and back seem to be already feeling less angry at me. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions about the process, etc… that’s what the comments are for.