This DIY adjustable standing desk project was designed and built by Matt Rowan of StartStanding.org.
Want a beautiful wood standing desk but don’t want to shell out big bucks to buy one?
You can make one and it’s a relatively project with no prior woodworking experience required. Many standing desks manufacturers are beginning to offer their desks as frame-only, meaning it doesn’t include the tabletop surface.
These frames only products are significantly cheaper, commonly found in the $200 to $250 range. For around $200 in lumber and supplies and a total investment of ~$450, you can have a custom made high end standing desk comparable to desks around the $1,000 mark and above.
Here’s what you’ll need to get this project done right. If you don’t have some of the more expensive tools on this list, try to borrow them from friends or family. If you plan to do more woodworking in the future, this project may make it worth buying them, especially the miter and circular saw. All these tools are available at big stores like Lowes or Home Depot and you do not need expensive versions of any of these items.
Table of Contents
- 3 to 4 Large woodworking pipe clamps ideally a ¾ inch size
- Assortment of other trigger clamps
- Small paint roller or brush for spreading glue
- Wood planer
- Palm sander with 80 grit and 240 sandpaper
- Impact wrench or drill
- Circular Saw
- Tape Measure
- T Square
- Miter Saw (for optional border)
Materials and Supplies:
- Standing desk frame
- Desired lumber for tabletop
- 16 ounces or more of a quality woodworking glue
- 4 pieces of scrap wood longer than the width of your table top
Step 1: Build the Desk Frame
In order to get the measurements for your standing desk tabletop, it’s a great idea to build the frame first. You’ll also want to place the frame the desired area of your home, office or business.
This helps you figure out not only the size of the tabletop but the width of the frame. For this project we ’re planning on building a 5’ 5” table top length, so we set the frame width relatively wide. Once this is set, take some measurements of the frame, most important being the depth of the frame brackets since you do not want the desk to be too narrow.
As you’re measuring you’ll want to settle on a desired length and width. Keep in mind that finished lumber is commonly available in 6-foot lengths and it easy to transport even in a small car. For this project, we did 5’5”X 26” which gives you plenty of surface area for multiple monitors a great work space for writing and space for decorations or displaying pictures.
Step 2: Select Your Wood
Once you have your measurements, it’s time to select your lumber. Keep in mind how you plan to finish the table top. Your budget, whether you plan to paint or stain are all things you should decide on beforehand.
Since this is a budget focused project we choose Pine and planned on staining it. While pine isn’t known for being easy to stain, with wood conditioner it is possible to get a great result. If you plan to paint the table top, Poplar is a great choice.
If your budget allows, Oak or Walnut can make great table tops, but those choices will blow away any savings potential on this project but will give you something truly beautiful. As you select your lumber, make sure you are looking down the boards checking for bends, cupping and twists.
Bends can be corrected in the clamping process but cupping or twists will be harder to resolve so be careful in your selection process. While in this project we used a 4×4, 2×4 lumber can be used as well and will likely save you a small fraction of cost.
Step 3: Glue
The next step is gluing.
The large pipe clamps really help in this step since they:
- keep the lumber off the ground during gluing,
- help level the boards, and
- provide powerful clamping force while still keeping the wood square.
Start by laying out the wood and clamping it together dry. This will help uncover any problem areas that will need further clamping. We experienced alignment issues at the ends of the boards we clamped scrap lumber to ends (pictured above) to keep the ends aligned.
We recommend practicing the process of gluing without glue a few times. At a high level, you’ll be rotating each piece of wood 90 degrees so you can roll or brush on the glue then after the glue has been applied rotate it back 90 degrees before clamping everything down. Let your glue dry for as long as you can, but 6 to 12 hours it plenty.
Optional Step: Using a miter saw to cut 45 degree angles you can add a decorative border around the circumference of the table top. Simply cut your lumber and glue it to the edges of table top.
Step 4: Cut to Length
Next up is cutting the tabletop to its final length.
This process also cleans up the often dirty or rough cut ends of your lumber. For this reason, it may be worth trimming both ends. Make sure your circular saw has a sharp blade and use tape to prevent tear out.
Lastly, make your cut from the bottom of the table. This will further prevent tear-out since the blade will be spinning into the finished surface vs out of it.
Step 5: Plane Level
Now it’s time to plane down any edges or inconsistencies left from gluing. Use a level or square to expose any high points or ridges. Using your planer work at alternating 45-degree angles to get the table smooth. Don’t worry about any roughened areas as they will be taken care of in the next step.
Step 6: Sand
With your tabletop plained level, use an orbital sander to start finishing the piece. You can start right away with 240, but depending on how rough the surface is, it may be worth doing a two-step sand starting with a more coarse grit like an 80 or 120 grit then refining with a 240.
Step 7: Staining/Finishing
With your tabletop sanded smooth, make sure it is free of any dust or debris prior to starting the staining or finishing process. Since we choose to use pine we made sure to use a wood conditioner before staining. Depending on which wood or stain combination you choose, make sure you research the process thoroughly.
Step 8: Installing the table top
Installing the table to is fairly straightforward however it may help to have a helping hand with lifting the table into place.
Lower the desk to lift the table top on the frame and raise it all the way up for the rest of the install. Once roughly in place, take some measures from the frame and make any fine adjustments to ensure the table top is centered and squarely aligned.
Once you’ve dialed it in, clamp the tabletop to the bracket to prevent movement when driving in screws. Before driving in any screws compare the length of the screws to the thickness of the table top to make sure they are not too long. Stack extra washers if you’re concerned about the screw length. Lastly always use wood screws when fastening to wood material.
Step 9: Install the Controls
Lastly, you’ll want to install the control unit. This becomes the easiest step if you have a set of small trigger clamps.