Standing up to the $22 IKEA desk

If you’re sold on the health benefits of working with a standing desk but not sold on spending hundreds of dollars for one, there is a way to save money and flex your DIY muscles: create your own adjustable desk.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination -- we’ve seen Flickr photos of standing desks built with Coke cans (finally, Coke is healthy!), cinder blocks and shelves. But one popular, dirt-cheap idea centers around an IKEA side table that you can put atop your sitting desk. I thought I’d give it a test drive at my home office, and I’ve been using it for a month.

The $22 standing desk was invented by Colin Nederkoorn last year, and it’s as simple as it is cheap. Here are the components, all from IKEA (not including the screws):

I stacked the 18-inch-tall table on top of my 30-inch desk, and I’ve been using it for a month with mostly favorable results. Here’s how it rates (I’ll explain how this can vary for different people):

Assembly: Even in my unskilled hands, this was a snap. You can find the instructions here, but it comes down to attaching the table legs, screwing the brackets into the table, placing the shelf on top of the brackets and putting the finished product on top of an existing table. You can also screw the shelf on, but I haven’t found this necessary.

Ergonomics: Like any good standing desk, this creates a separation of several inches between monitor height and keyboard height. You may need to buy a wireless keyboard and mouse if you use a laptop, as I do, but your joints will thank you for it.

There is one catch -- you’ll need to be a certain height to go on this ride. I’m 5-10, and I screwed in the brackets as low on the table as possible to make the shelf align comfortably with my elbow. If I were even an inch shorter, it might not have worked out. So do the math in advance.

Another quibble is that with a 24-inch distance between me and my 13-inch monitor, I have to keep my laptop as close as possible for me to read comfortably. The solution here would be to simply buy a bigger monitor.

Adjustability: While you can stack some books under the monitor to adjust the height, this is mostly a one-size standing desk. So it’s a bad idea for, say, a basketball player who works with a jockey. I do, however, like the desk’s versatility when I want to sit – it takes me about 30 seconds to take the table to the floor where it becomes, once again, a side table.

Aesthetics: You be the judge, but I got used to the looks of it after two weeks and I like the added shelf space it gives me. It should be remembered, though, that this is IKEA hardware, so don't expect great craftsmanship. My shelf has already chipped in a couple of places.

All in all, I like the desk, and at this point I don’t see the need to spring for a Geek Desk or a cheaper adjustable desk, like a Safco. I can also say I’m drinking the standing-desk Kool-Aid with childlike glee – it really does feel better with one.

One last, important note: whatever standing desk you get, make sure to get some kind of anti-fatigue mat so your feet don’t wear out. After some research, I spent $25 for the 14-by-21 industrial-grade rubber mat (left) sold by Ergomart. It has all the beauty of a cutting board and there are prettier options, but at ¾-inch thick I can safely stand on it for hours.