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All Rise or A Standing Ovation

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"I spent literally a day and a half last week researching the ergonomics of standing desks and looking at a number of pre-constructed options. I finally decided I didn’t like most of the options (especially the cost). So, I would design and build my own standing desk. A few more hours on the InterWebs getting design ideas and I was ready to locate the parts."

Last week I decided it was time for a major change in my working lifestyle. This weekend I made it happen. I spent the entire weekend offline, tearing apart my home office and working on my solution. I now have a beautiful, modern, standing desk.

To be accurate and fair, this lifestyle change was spurred on by my wife. She’s wanted a standing desk in her office for sometime. As I looked into the benefits of such a setup, I decided that I should switch to a standing desk as well. Now, both of us have a standing desk in a home office that we share.

Pull Up A Chair

I spend a considerable amount of time at my home office, sitting in a chair, working at my computer — writing, coding, chatting, and sometimes just starring at the screen. I average about 60 hours a week sitting on my rear in front of my computer. Since I usually do that six days a week, that means I average 10 hours per day sitting at my computer.

With only 24 hours in each day on Earth, and with my often-met goal of getting at least eight hours of sleep each night, that meant I was spending at least 18 hours of each day in a sitting or supine position. When I added in sitting for meals and other activities, I calculated that that meant I was in a fully-upright position (standing, running, walking) for fewer than 5 hours each day — only about 20% of my life.

Wow! For creatures that evolved efficient, bipedal locomotion, it sure seems like a twenty precent usage rate might make such a feature secondary in importance. Modern office dwellers should have evolved much larger butts as sitting is clearly more important. Of course, many modern-day office workers do indeed obtain that feature overtime because they fail to appreciate our body’s natural design.

It’s About Wellness and Productivity

I’m an active person. I usually workout an average of 1.4 hours per day, four to six days a week. However, I am not getting any younger. I’m always interested in steps I can take to maximize and maintain my health for as long as possible.

In the past, I had read articles about the adverse health effects and risks associated with sitting for hours on end — pun intended — and learned about the many benefits of working in a standing position. Along with reduced back strain and increased energy, you can burn up to 60 calories more per hour than sitting. That means that in a week’s time, and at my average hours worked per day, I will burn 3600 additional calories per week just by standing at my desk instead of sitting.

Now I am not really too worried about burning extra calories, but as I said, I am not getting any younger. Every little bit will help me stay in good to great shape, to age more gracefully, and to continue leading an active life.

My Solution

I spent literally a day and a half last week researching the ergonomics of standing desks and looking at a number of pre-constructed options. I finally decided I didn’t like most of the options (especially the cost). So, I would design and build my own standing desk. A few more hours on the InterWebs getting design ideas and I was ready to locate the parts.

Surprisingly, I ended up purchasing most of the parts from Ikea. As Ikea is known for their love of particle board, I was skeptically that I could find a solid wood table top. That was an important feature. I avoid particle board and other processed, composite wood products as they outgas formaldehyde — often for up to two years. Whereas you can get low-emission composite wood products (Ikea apparently uses such material in their particle board offerings), why would you want to expose yourself to any emissions.

Fortunately, Ikea has a few solid wood, edge-glued countertops and tabletops that are acceptable. Their solid wood tabletops have been pretreated with linseed oil, so there is a slight outgassing from that, but it is not nearly as toxic as formaldehyde. Besides, I plan to finish treat the desktop with a non-toxic beeswax furniture polish which will not only protect the surface better, but also it will help reduce any remaining linseed oil from outgassing.

Here are the items I purchased from Ikea for each standing desk I made:

For the shelf, I went to my local Lowes and purchased an edge-glued 3/4” x 15” x 48” solid aspen panel. Since the screws that come with the Capita brackets were too long — they’re meant for shelf depths of at least 1” — I purchased 5/8” #8 flat head phillips wood screws. They worked fine to anchor the Capita brackets to the shelf.

As you can see in the pictures, each table has five legs. Based on my research, I discovered that the Vika Byske adjustable legs do not offer the most stable base if used for a free-standing table. Unfortunately, the higher you extended the legs, the more unstable they can become. I decided to go with a fifth leg to add a little more stability.

Although that did seem to work, in the end I determined that the table still wobbled too much for my liking. Since we planned to position our new standing desks next to a wall, I took Ikea up on their assertion that the legs “should only be combined with a wall-mounted table top” (see the “Good to know” section on the Vika Byske adjustable legs webpage). Each leg comes with one small angle bracket. You attach one end to the bottom of the tabletop and the other to the wall. I used two of the small brackets to secure one side of the standing desk to a horizontal 2 x 3 board (not 2 x 4) that I attached to the wall. The depth of the board is what mattered, not the width. So a 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 would have worked equally as well. I just had an odd dimensional piece of stock lumber in the garage so I used it.

With the additional stability of the wall attachment, our standing desks are very solid. Furthermore the three sets of Capita brackets and the fifth leg centered under the centerline of the shelf, allow the shelf to hold considerable weight. How much? I am not sure, but my iMac weighs thirty pounds. Normally, you would not want to place such weight on a solid 3/4” thick board that is supported on only two ends (laminated wood would be much stronger).

The total cost (not including my time, of course) for each finished standing desk was $300. As I was in Chicago last Thursday, I took advantage of the trip to visit one of their local Ikea stores and picked up all the items needed. When you deduct the cost of gas and toll, traveling to Ikea saved $230 on shipping. The Vika Byske tabletops are too bulky to ship via UPS or FedEx, so they must be shipped freight. To ship two of the Vika Byske tabletops to our house would have cost $300 extra.

The End Result

What is the end result? Well, I am off my end and have started this week working at my awesome standing desk. So far I’m enjoying the experience. I’m having no issues using my computer, typing on the keyboard while in a standing position. I’ll let you know how it turns out but I’ve already burned 420 more calories today than I would have had I been sitting on my rear.

And yes, as tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, this is my gift to my wife. Instead of chocolate, it is better health and longevity. Besides, we always have plenty of dark chocolate around the house.

More Resources

Gina Trapani’s interesting read, Why and How I Switched to a Standing Desk

Standing Desks Are on the Rise

Article Comments

  1. Boone Gorges says:

    Congratulations on the switch, Jeff! Looks great.

    For me, the hardest part of the transition was finding a standing position that didn’t hurt my shoulders, and the muscles between my shoulder blades. Once I hit my stride, I was feeling more productive during the day, and happier to sit down and enjoy time with my family in the evenings.

    After the better part of a year at a cobbled-together standing desk, I hacked together something more permanent out of Ikea parts last month. Here’s the write up: http://teleogistic.net/2012/01/ikea-standing-desk/

    Good luck with the transition!

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Nice! I had not realized that you converted to a standing desk. As this is my first day using the new configuration, I’m sure I will find various muscles that I did not know existed. I’ve read that it takes awhile to get used to standing while working. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to adjust.

      I appreciate your new-found joy of sitting with your family now that you spend much of your day on your feet!

  2. Thank you! I have thought about this idea for awhile. Your post helps me understand how I can do the same soon.

  3. Emily Morgan says:

    Jeff,
    April posted a link to your blog on Facebook. I’ve never heard of a standing desk, but it makes sense. Nice job! This got me thinking…as I sit here with poor posture in my chair…maybe I should try it.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Emily

  4. Manu Sporny says:

    My wife convinced me to make switch about a year ago for health reasons. The first three weeks were brutal – the arches of my feet hurt, my back hurt, everything hurt. I was exercising regularly, but not the sort of standing-in-one-place-for-hours exercising that the stand-up desk was demanding of me. We didn’t buy chairs to go along with the standing desks and I would consistently work 10-14 hour days in front of the computer with only a few breaks. After the first three weeks, though, everything went fairly well.

    We wanted the desks to be fairly low impact on the environment (responsibly harvested US Forest Service approved Douglas Fir and pine, no VOC natural-pigments-based paint, etc.). The table top was Ikea butcher block (very similar to what you have). The legs and skirt were 3.5″x3.5″ douglas fir and 1×4 pine, respectively, painted black.

    A year later, we’re pretty happy with the desks. We have two very high bar stools to alternate 2-3 hours of standing w/ 1-2 hours of sitting. One of the unintended positives for the desk is that it allows us to wear our daughter in a sling or carrier while she sleeps and write/code. She gets a long nap and we get to have a solid 2-3 hour block of uninterrupted work. 🙂

    It took a while for me, but the desk really has grown on me and I’m considering making our corporate office desks into stand-up desks.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Manu, thanks for the comment. What a great story about your daughter! That is a wonderful way to give her the connection she needs with her parent as she sleeps and for you to get work done at the same time.

      We looked at Ikea’s butcher block/countertop options as well. We could have gone either way but the price and size were what sold us in the end. Two of the tabletops could just fit in our car. The countertops were either too long or too short for our needs.

      After almost five days of working at our new standing desks, we are doing okay. I do have a slight pain in my left heel which interestingly enough is sufficiently mitigated by going barefoot. The padding of my shoes is apparently doing the opposite of what it is designed to do. As I switched to barefoot-style running about 18-months ago, this is not too surprising.

      I am curious how we will feel at the end of next week!

  5. Cameron says:

    I’m looking to build a desk and am going to use the Vika Byske legs. I haven’t been to ikea in person to check: do they adjust by screwing the bottom portion (therefore entirely customizable height) or do they have increments they have to be “locked” into?

  6. Dude the wobblying of the Byske is such a disappointment. For $30 a pop you think the things would weather a hurricane. Did you jam anything up the pipes to reduce the indiv leg give?

  7. Whatever potentially billable time you’ve invested may be more than offset by a slightly longer lifespan and lower medical costs, in addition to the ongoing value of this blog post. Even for custom work like this, I’d much rather contract it out.

  8. Jeff Self says:

    I’m looking at the Vika Byske table top as well. I was looking at the legs too but I may have to look elsewhere. Although, I guess I can mount the desk against my wall. I was initially looking at having a desk built with reclaimed wood, but then I saw something done to an Ikea Vika Amon desk where the girl torched the desk to give it a rustic look. I think that looks awesome. Wonder if I can do that to the Vika Byske? Here’s what she did: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ikea-vika-desk-hacked-to-look-132521

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