DIY adjustable stand up desk (for under $175)


Almost a year ago I converted my cubicle desk to a stand up system. Since that time I have changed employers and now work from my home office. My current desk is an IKEA Mikael desk that is about 10 years old. I seem to remember purchasing it on sale for about $70, and it is just the desk, no add on units above or below. It has been a great desk and I am not certain if I am ready to part with it entirely. I am sure that I do not want to sit at the Mikael desk for 40+ hours a week while working or using my computer.

I first set out designing stilts for my Mikael desk. I decided to make them adjustable, in case I wanted to shift heights (whether slight or dramatic). I also decided that I required the ability to control the height of my keyboard and displays independently, such that they were appropriately positioned for my hands and eyes. This meant a little more effort in generating stilts, a couple of display stands, and a keyboard tray. As I started calculating costs and thinking about labor, I decided it was silly make so many hacks and/or concessions when I could spend a little bit more time and money, and build an entire solution that better suits my needs.

I will point out here that there are several nice stand-up desks on the market, but I could not find any that supported my requirements without purchasing add on components (keyboard trays, display stands, etc.). Also, most of the nicer adjustable stand up desks are well over $1000, and I was hoping to spend much less.

Sneak peak




I felt that my requirements were straight-forward and should be easily accommodated. As it turns out, I guess I am really picky, or just plain strange, because I could not find a desk that met the following:

  • Adjustable height (not necessarily hydraulic/pneumatic, just adjustable to reasonable increments)
  • Enough real estate for at least two 22” monitors, one open laptop, space for additional closed laptops, and area for paper and notebooks
  • Integrated cable management
  • Independent height control of keyboard and displays (rules out the simple adjustable table-style desk)
  • Built in shelf or ledge for computer case to avoid using desktop real estate for computer case (and avoid computer case being on the ground)

Nice to have:

  • Storage shelf or ledge for printer
  • Dedicated shelving or storage for books, notebooks, etc.
  • Foot rest?

Initial designs

After a few designs were thrown away, and some basic calculations were made for weight and sizes, these are what I scribbled out. These are also the plans I used for the build.

My primary criteria for the design was to meet my requirements, and to be buildable with inexpensive and common tools. It also had to be relatively simple to adjust and assemble/disassemble.


Parts List


  • Saw - I used a circular saw and would recommend either a circular saw or table saw. With care, a hand saw would do just fine
  • Drill - A drill press would be excellent (and far easier), but any reasonable drill will work. If you use the hardware listed and my techniques, you will want bits supporting 1/16”, 1/8”, 7/16”, ¾”. The ¾” would be optional if you are using a drill press.
  • Tape measure (and pencil)


  • 20 - 3/8” Carriage Bolts 3.5” length, with washers and nuts (I also purchased lock washers, but decided not to use them)
  • 4 - 3/8” Carriage Bolts 3” length, with washers and nuts (Again, I purchased lock washers for these)
  • 20 - Wood screws 2.5” length (I purchased a box)
  • Optional: 16 - Wood screws 1.5” length (these are ideal for screwing desk and shelf surfaces in place, I just used 2.5” screws from the box)


  • 2 - 2”x2”x8’: these are used for the front sliding supports for the desk
  • 6 - 2”x3”x8’: these are used for supports under all shelves and along the top, bottom, and back of the sides
  • 3 - 2”x4”x8’: these are used for central side supports and also support the main desktop
  • 1 - 4’x8’x3/4” ply: shelf and desk top

Finishing (optional):

  • Sandpaper - at least 60, 120, and 220 sheets
  • Paper towels and drop cloth
  • Stain (I used Minwax 225 Red Mahogany, 2 quarts was sufficient to cover everything twice and the shelf/desk surfaces three times)
  • Seal (I used Minwax Satin finish polyurethane, 1 quart was sufficient to cover lumber once and plywood two to three times)
  • Foam brushes - buy several, they are cheap and usually far from durable


Cost notes

The $175 cost includes everything listed. A lot of cost savings are possible. For example, I purchased all the sandpaper I needed. While this is not a huge expense I purchase about 12 dollars worth of sandpaper, some will likely have sandpaper around.

A few dollars went toward drop cloths and paint brushes, these are also things that you may have lying around. For reference, I spent about $20 on stain (including supplies) and $15 on seal.

Perhaps most costly, was my decision to purchase sanded hardwood plywood (Birch), which was $46. Using a carefully selected non-sanded plywood wood the cost would drop to around $20-$25.

Finally, I purchased extra lumber to be safe. In my case, this worked out well, as I made some changes to my initial design during the build. You can learn from my experience, and avoid the extra $15 in lumber.

This makes a ballpark low figure of under $100. Bear in mind that this is a non-sanded (or sanded using previously acquired paper), non-stained, and non-sealed version of the desk. It is much cheaper, and would be a lot faster to build.


The desk has an adjustable primary workspace height from 30” to 52”. Using a 4’x8’ piece of plywood to support a 4’ wide desk area yields two 12” deep shelves (only one pictured), one 14” deep shelf (intended for monitors), one 24” deep shelf (intended for printer/computer case), and one 28” deep primary desk area. Note that while many desks are more than 28” deep, having a dedicated display shelf frees a great deal of space on the primary desk area.

The each shelf/desktop adjusts independently, allowing a great deal of customization.

Because shelving is mounted between two side pillars, width can easily be adjusted. Keep in mind that adjusting much wider may necessitate additional shelving support beams.

Given my arrangement, the larger lower shelf is great for cpu and printer, and doubles as a foot rest.

Build notes

The only building issue I encountered was due to hand drill use (as opposed to a drill press). I ended up with a lot of holes that were not quite true or slightly offset. As a result, I decided to drill ¾ holes in my shelf supports to allow for additional play from the mounting carriage bolts. This actually turned out to be quite convenient, as it also offered the ability to clean up subtle leveling issues.


I do not do a lot of woodworking, but I feel comfortable doing it. Nonetheless, I grossly underestimated the amount of sanding time this project required - and I did not put as many coats of seal (220 grit in between each coat) on the desk as I would have liked.

Over all, I am pleased with the desk. It took a lot longer than planned, but was much cheaper than commercial alternatives. There is a shot with a couple laptops, monitors, and a computer over on G+. If anyone wants more details on the plans, add a comment, and I’ll do my best to help, or possibly publish full plans.

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