Home Studio: Building a Standing Desk | StrongStart.fm – 028

In this episode, we're starting a new series on building a home video and podcasting studio.  I needed to get my home office up and running after an unexpected evacuation of my home due to a forest fire.

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The first step was to build a standing desk. As you may know from previous episodes, I am a fan of adjustable standing desks. I'm also an amateur woodworker and would normally make my own nice solid wood desktop. In this case with my shop inaccessible due to the fire, I had to go commercial but found an awesome source I'll tell you about.

In this episode you'll learn:

  •    Why a standing desk (and how much do I really stand)
  •    Standing desk options
  •    How to build a desk like mine (and one critical accessory you will need)

Action plan:

  1. Consider the health benefits of a standing desk
  2. Decide if a standing desk will work for you
  3. Plan and build your own standing desk
  4. Download my standing desk blueprint and parts list

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Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Transcript Download

How to Build an Adjustable Standing Desk

Image of the adjustable height standing deskI'm starting a new series on building a new home video and podcasting studio.

Before we get into that, there is the obvious question: why am I building a new studio when I already have an elite level studio in my home office?

You may have noticed a bit of a gap in my publication schedule. About a month ago a lightning strike near our home started a wildfire that has since grown to over 35,000 acres.

Having been a volunteer firefighter for a couple years and living in the mountains of the Pacific northwest, I know not to tempt fate so we began preparing immediately and within a couple days decided to evacuate from our home.

A couple days after evacuation became mandatory.

In the time we had, which fortunately was a lot, I did a ton of preparation ranging from clearing all trees/brush within 50 feet of the house, designing and building an Internet controlled 10 sprinkler system for the roof and perimeter, and protecting all exposed areas with flame resistant tarps.

We also moved all our valuables, including all of the home studio that I had only recently gotten all set up into storage, and now into a rental house.

It was a lot of work and needless to say interrupted all of my work on my virtual summit and membership site.

Fortunately, a very large team of firefighters was able to hold the fire just outside (meaning 500 yards) of the community we live in and no lives or structures were lost.

It will still be about a month before we move back due to smoke and other issues.

So what's the upside of all of this? Well you will see me build a new temporary studio now, and then you will see me rebuild my full studio when we move back. So there will be tons of great content!

Once I got the family settled and our rental home was set up for normal living, my focus turned to my office.

I have a massively complex and demanding day job at Microsoft as well as building StrongStart.fm so I needed to get my home office up and running.

The first step was a desk. As you may know from previous episodes, I am a fan of adjustable standing desks. I'm also an amateur woodworker and would normally make my own nice solid wood desktop.

In this case with my shop inaccessible due to the fire, I had to go commercial but found an awesome source I'll tell you about shortly.

So, for this episode we will cover three points and one critical accessory you will need:

  1. Why a standing desk (and how much do I really stand)
  2. Standing desk options
  3. How to build a desk like mine

Why a standing desk (and how much do I really stand)

I got into standing desks a couple years ago when I was trying to improve my fitness. You burn more calories standing up than sitting down and given I'm at my desk 10 – 12 hours a day at least, it seemed like a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

Also, there are many studies that show that sitting for prolonged period of time can be very damaging to your health. In fact, the week I recorded this episode, a new study was released in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In summarizing the study, WebMD reported that: “Spending more time sitting for longer periods increased the risk for an early death, regardless of age, gender, race, weight or how much one exercised, the researchers found.” and “Those who had the lowest risk of dying were those who didn't sit longer than 30 minutes at a stretch, the findings showed.”

Smithsonian magazine has listed five health benefits of standing desks:

  1. Reduced risk of obesity
  2. Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  3. Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  4. Reduced risk of cancer
  5. Lower long-term mortality risk

Bottom line, they help you stay healthier longer.

Once you've decided to try a standing desk there are a few tips and one critical accessory I'd recommend.

First, transition slowly. If you sit for 8 hours a day now, don't immediately stand for 8 hours a day. You will be surprised how tired you are and run the risk of giving up on the concept too early.

I'd recommend starting with 30 minutes and doing 30 minutes more each day until you are standing most of the time.

The reason I always go for an adjustable standing desk is so that I can change things up at any time. The key to most of the health benefits is movement, so even when you are standing, don't stand rigid in one place the whole time.

The critical accessory that I recommend is a high quality gel mat to stand on. Even in my home office with very thick carpets, standing for long periods of time, especially in the first month or two until you are adjusted can become painful to your feet.

If you’re not familiar with those, those are basically like an inch to an inch and a half thick floor mats made out of gel. They’re used by chefs and factory workers and people that wind up standing in the same spot for a long period of time.

Yes, you’ll be standing behind your desk, but if you don't have something that relieves the strain on your feet and knees and so forth, especially in the early transition to a standing desk, then it can cause fatigue and you might decide, “Hey, this isn't for me, because I’m having some knee or foot pain”.

A high-quality gel mat changes that picture dramatically. Gel mats are different than foam or some of the other things you might stand on, because basically they don't deform and they don't compress and they don't basically lose their padding over time as long as you just move around a little bit, that gels going to even out and it will be good as new assuming you move around a little bit as you’re standing throughout the day.

A gel mat relieved much of that stress and increased the comfort level significantly. The reason for gel as opposed to other choices is that it never develops flat spots or becomes uneven.

So let's talk about some of the options for standing desks.

Standing Desk Options

I break adjustable standing desks up into three categories:

  1. An adjustable height surface that sits on top of a normal desk (Varidesk)
  2. Manually adjustable standing desks
  3. Motorized adjustable standing desks
  4. Permanent standing desks

Adjustable Surface on top of a normal desk

Imagine a 3-foot by x 1-foot type of metal platform that sit on top of your normal desk. The idea there is you’re basically just putting your monitor and your keyboard and mouse onto that surface and then that surface can raise up 1 to 2 feet so that it’s bringing your monitor and your keyboard and all that to a higher height if you're standing in front of your desk.

It’s basically a way to retrofit the standing capability to the desk that you have currently. You just clear off enough space, plot that thing on there, put your monitor and keyboard on it and then you're ready to go.

The leader in this category is Varidesk. As you can see from the image below, the Varidesk can be placed on top of any normal desk.

Image of the Varidesk adjustable standing desk

Manually adjustable standing desks

The second option is a manually adjusting standing desk, and that’s normally what I use. With a manually adjustable standing desk, you raise or lower the desk using a crank or handle. It takes about 15 seconds in most cases to raise from sitting height to standing height. These options tend to be several hundred dollars cheaper than motorized desks.

Image of the handle for adjusting the standing desk

Motorized Adjustable Standing Desks

These options raise standing desks to a new level (yep, I said that…) Instead of a handle or crank, these include a small motor to automatically raise or lower the desk. Some have specific height settings so it goes to the same level every time.

There are many different options but one I've heard good things about is UpDesk. The arrow in the picture below shows the push button controls for raising or lowering the desk.

Image of the UpDesk motorized standing desk and an arrow pointing to the control buttons

Having built three adjustable standing desks now, I recommend going with the manually adjusting options. They are less expensive and give you a bit finer adjustment capability than the motorized options.

For me that is important because I have two desks arranged in an L shape and I want them at the exact same height. That is hard to do with the motorized options but the manual crank options can be adjusted by the slighted amounts.

Permanent Standing Desks

The fourth category is basically a permanent standing desk, where it’s just designed for fixed height and it's always at the standing height all the time. I’m not a fan of that, because you maybe this doesn't work out and you don't like it, or maybe you want to stand most of the day and sit other times of the day. That’s why I generally go with an adjustable desk.

I am able to stand for most of the work that I do. If I’m on conference calls or I’m doing emails or lightweight writing and stuff like that, then standing is fine. What I have found though is if I really need to focus and concentrate, like if I’m writing code or a script or something like that, or doing something really technical, in those cases sometimes I do want to adjust it back down to a sitting desk. Again, I like to have the option to be able to do both.

How to build a standing desk like mine

If you’re going to build a standing desk, there’s two different parts to consider.

There's the desk surface itself and then there is the adjustable leg system.

If you go on Amazon or any other supplier, sometimes you can easily find combinations where those things are sold as one unit. I prefer splitting the two as it really lets me select the exact desktop surface that I like.

For some of you that may not be a big deal, for me, I'm a believer and you really have to love the workspace that you're in. If you’re doing a full-time job, if you’re doing a side hustle at the same time, you’re going to be working a lot and you really need to love your workspace, how it looks, how it's designed.

You want that desk surface to be exactly the type of thing that’s going to make you feel good in your environment.

I’m a fan of wood furniture. I’m an amateur woodworker when I do have some time for hobbies. For the standing desk I have in my main studio, I built the wood surface out of bamboo plywood.

In this case, even though it's a temporary studio, I was going to make a very solid and permanent desk that I’ll bring back to my main studio when I’m done.

Obviously, there are many choices out there. There’s all kind of synthetic materials. Some people like what's called whiteboard desk, which is a desk surface that you can actually write on dry erase pens.

The main things you want to think about there is what type of material that you're interested in and then also the dimensions or the size of the desk.

Choosing the desk surface dimensions

I like a pretty big surface, so in my case I went with a 72 inch by x 27 inch surface. That's a pretty wide desk, because basically a lot of times I’ll run multiple monitors, I’ll have keyboards on there. I want to have my laptop on there. There’s a number of different reasons, in my case, for getting a large surface. Depending on your space, you may want to go with a smaller surface or something that’s going to fit your exact scenario.

You can also just buy surfaces as well. If you like the idea of a wood surface or a bamboo surface or something like that, IKEA actually makes a really nice surface. It’s a little smaller in size. It's 55 inches by 25 inches, but you get it made out of solid bamboo plywood and that's available for only $80. That's a very inexpensive option that looks great.

Now, in my case, I was looking for something a little bit different, because I already have some bamboo surfaces, so I wanted to go for a nice hardwood. I did some searching online and when I went to Amazon, surprisingly, the options were pretty thin. There wasn’t a ton of choices on there. I was searching for things like wood tabletop or wood bench top.

Luckily, after a while, what started popping up in my Amazon searches was wooden kitchen counter top surfaces and butcher block boards. That was really interesting, because I never really searched for those before and I found on Amazon a really incredible supplier named John Boos makes really nice blended walnut island counter and butcher tops.

Image of a blended walnut desk surface

You can see that it’s a solid inch and a half thick walnut surface. It's really a beast. It weighs about 80 pounds or 90 pounds, so it's really heavy and thick. A great looking surface.

Now, it’s very expensive. It was about $550 for that particular desk surface, but I like building these things. I like having a nice workspace.

Choosing an adjustable leg system

Choosing such a heavy top and knowing that I'll be putting a lot of weight on it in terms of a couple of monitors and things like that, weight becomes a consideration.

When choosing the adjustable leg system, that's where you have to be careful and think about the total weight that you're putting on top of those legs. Does the weight rating include whatever the desk surface weighs plus whatever you're putting on top of that?

There's dozens of leg options. I've used one by MultiTable in the past that I was really happy with, but in this case I went with a heavier duty options that I found on Amazon from a company called FlexiSpot.

Basically, what these things are is it’s an adjustable leg system. The width of the legs are adjustable so that you can fit them to any different dimension surface that you might use for your desk. Then obviously their height is adjustable, since that's the purpose of the whole exercise here, to go from a sitting height all the way to a standing height.

Image of the FlexiSpot Adjustable Height Standing Desk Legs

In this case these heavier duty ones from FlexiSpot have 170 pound capacity. With the 80 or 90 pound desk surface that I have on there, plus a couple of monitors, I’ll be well under 170 pounds total capacity.

I decided to go with those. Wow! When these components showed up, the desk surface, those heavy-duty legs, they are some heavy components.

Once you put it all together, the desk weights probably about 140, 150 pounds. The thing is just absolutely a beast, and I'm super happy with it. It’s very heavy-duty and stable.

These legs are all steel construction. Like I said, they’re adjustable up and down, adjustable by width so it could fit any surface. You can’t really tell from the pictures how heavy-duty they are, but man, they are really a tank, so I’m very happy with FlexiSpot legs.

Assembling the standing desk

The last thing we’ll about is the assembly process.

In this case, it's really simple, the assembly process takes less than an hour.

Basically you put the desk surface down on the floor upside down then you unpack the adjustable leg system.

There’s six or seven different parts that you have to put together. That takes about 20 or 30 minutesr. Most of  the tools and all of the hardware are included. The only tool you need in this scenario is a screwdriver.

You assemble the legs according to the instructions. Then you flip them upside down on to the desk surface and make sure everything is square and aligned and the legs are where you want them to be under the desk. I like to make the legs almost as wide as the desk for maximum stability.

Then you attach the legs to the desk surface with screws.

IMPORTANT: Make sure the screws you use will NOT push through the top of the surface. Make sure the screws are no more than 3/4 of the thickness of the surface.

Once you’ve done that, you flip it over and then your standing desk is ready to go. It's really a simple process. Order the parts on Amazon, they’re there a day or two later, an hour to assemble it, and then your standing desk is completed. Your future self will thank you for increasing your lifespan!

The beginning of the new, temporary studio

For me, building the desk  that was the key to getting the new studio set up. It gave me a place I could start my normal work. A place I could start thinking about how I was going to do the rest of the studio.

At that point as I was talking to my wife and my young son came screaming into the room, I realized the my temporary office/studio is a horribly echoey room that I will have to fix to turn it into a recording studio for my podcast and videos.

In the next post, we’ll talk about that process.