Standing desk

A couple of months ago, I switched to a standing desk. I figured I'd give it a try, after so many years of reading how sitting will kill you.

Anyway, I like it. It didn't take any time at all for me to get used to it, I don't get tired or sore standing for hours at a time, and I've noticed that my neck is basically never stiff any more. So it seems like a solid plan!

I find that it makes me pace around a lot more. Without the overhead of having to actually lift my ass out of the chair, I wander more when I'm thinking, and I take my hands off the keys more often when I'm not actually typing.

The biggest downside is that I couldn't figure out a way to continue using my beloved and long-discontinued Kinesis Evolution chair-arm-mounted keyboard (what with there no longer being a chair). I tried attaching it to an arm, but that didn't work out. The whole contraption was too wobbly. So currently I'm using a Kinesis Freestyle2, but I don't like it very much. The layout is ok, but the keys are mushy.

For the keyboard tray, I got a Vivo laptop arm, which is adequate. I got a 3'×1'×½" piece of plastic from Tap to make it be wide enough for the hand separation I like.

And now, for what I did wrong:

Look, if you're thinking of switching to a standing desk, don't try to do it halfway. Just commit. Raise the legs on your existing desk, or go to Ikea and get an end-table that's about the right size, cut its legs to fit, and set that on top of your existing desk. Just do the obvious, easy thing.

I decided that I should come up with something adjustable, in case some days I wanted to sit. So I wanted to be able to bring my monitors and keyboard back down to desk height as needed.

Well first of all, after standing at this desk for months, I have never wanted to do that, so that was a waste of time.

There are motorized desks out there, but they look like slow, noisy and expensive pieces of shit, so instead I went with monitor arms, thinking, hey, just grab the thing and pull it to the position you want it in.

First problem: there aren't very many monitor arms that will support a 35 pound iMac. The most promising-looking was the Ergotech Freedom Arm. That's what I got. Do not under any circumstances buy this. Here's why it sucks:

  1. The mounting pole is too short. At maximum extension, it will only bring the bottom edge of your monitor about 12" above the desk, which isn't nearly high enough to turn a sitting desk into a standing desk. They don't sell a longer pole. If you were designing this product, you'd just use commodity threaded plumbing stock, right? Of course they didn't. I managed to find some pipe of the right diameter, and with a second pipe inside and a bunch of duct tape was able to shim it, and make it extend to the 20" I needed, but that was a pain in the ass.
  2. With the longer arm, you can't just grab the monitor and move it from "sitting" to "standing" height anyway. It doesn't extend that far. To change it that much, you'd need to undo the set screw and re-adjust. So that was a waste of effort.

  3. They have two models, one for iMacs and one with standard VESA screws. If you were designing this product, you'd make one arm, and ship a mounting shim with the Mac version (like, say, this). Of course they didn't. They have a custom iMac-only head-end on the arm, and it's riveted in. So you can't ever use the iMac version with a non-iMac.

  4. Oh guess what, by "iMac version" they mean "discontinued iMac version". Because you see, the old iMacs let you remove the leg to mount this thing, but any iMac manufactured after 2011 no longer has a removable leg! You have to order a different Mac with VESA screws and no leg for that. And it's not an option on the standard Apple order-configuration page. There's a completely separate page for the VESA-screws iMac, with all the same configuration options as the normal page.

  5. And then -- it turns out that the VESA version of the Ergotech arm can't actually support the weight of an iMac. I don't even understand why this is, because they look physically identical, except for the mount point, but it seems to be the case. Maybe they put a wimpier spring in it or something. I had to splint it into the fully-extended position with a piece of plumbing strap and a random steel bar. Oh, the indignity.

  6. So now you've got an old 2010 iMac to use as a hand-me-down at the office. You take off the arm and put the leg back on. Oops, no you don't. The leg doesn't go back on after the arm has had its way with it. So now both your old and your new Mac are arm-only models. Get used to it.

What I'm saying is, forget the arms, just make your desk taller somehow. This was a dumb mistake, even though it gives me more surface area to clutter up. Also, the monitors wobble a little bit when I type, which is irritating.

But, standing good!

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27 Responses:

  1. I have a sit/stand station at work (dual monitors and keyboard/mouse tray with a shelf that raises and lowers) and recently welded up my old Ikea desk into a standing treadmill desk at home (yeah, my home office is a disaster zone at present...) Works for me.

  2. Stephen Harris says:

    I spend a lot of time on telephone conference calls. I'm so glad I have a cordless headset. I can walk 5000 or 6000 steps extra a day when I'm on a lot of calls. And this habit of pacing means I do get out of my seat and walk when thinking.

    (Last week I worked out that it's 200 steps to walk around my building's floor... but the headset gets out of range so I either have to turn around and retrace my steps or short-cut through the elevator lobby).

    My co-workers hate me pacing so much... but I've noticed at least 2 other people doing it now :-)

  3. I second the "don't go halfway" comment. I switched about two years ago, and I welded me up a big ol' desk, after figuring out the exact correct height. (Stand up straight with your arms straight down, then hold your forearms straight out. Measure the distance from elbow to floor. That's the final height.)

    For reasons that pass understanding, given my normal hell-for-leather approach to problem solving, I foresaw the wobbly aspect, and overbuilt the desk by a long shot. I then found a dual monitor arm that was the correct height, and welded _that_ to the desk. My jank is solid as fuck. No wobble, no bounce.

    I did end up getting a tall stool to plant my ass on while gaming and shit, which I do rarely. But for music work or coding, everything works great as-is.

    I will say that some of the motorized radio desks (which are built for a heavy-use environment) are quite good, and can certainly take a beating, and aren't _that_ expensive in the scheme of things. (I priced one out at $3200, and mine ended up costing me about $1500 in parts, never mind all the labor.) The "prosumer" ones you see at Copenhagen or whatever are shit, though.

  4. FWIW I got a GeekDesk Max adjustable desk (on the company's dime) and I've been really happy with it. It's not particularly noisy, it adjusts in about 10s, and it lets me be a lazy-ass and sit first thing in the morning while I read email over a cup of tea. I do spend the vast majority of my time standing though, which I did not expect.

  5. someguy says:

    What is the knob-controller device between the two halves of the keyboard?

  6. Stuart McDow says:

    If you're wealthy or, as in my case, you can talk your employer into purchasing it for you, get the NextDesk Terra. It's built like a tank, has a beautiful solid bamboo desktop, its motorized height adjustment mechanism is surprisingly quiet, it's easier than IKEA to assemble, and it has three programmable height presets.

    Way pricey. Really great desk.

  7. James says:

    Two cardboard boxes, 15 cm tall by two A4-sized drawers, 14 RMB each, Taobao. I got five, actually, for both home and work, plus a backup.

  8. crowding says:

    FWIW this is the correct iMac-to-VESA shim for the current iMacs with nonremovable feet.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I saw that -- it means your iMac ends up with a dumb little shelf of the foot dangling below it. Bleh.

  9. Dave Pease says:

    Been thinking of getting a couple of 27" monitors, so I just looked and they're under 13 pounds. Just another reason to dislike Apple's insistence on building the computer into the monitor, I suppose.

  10. Neil Girling says:

    I need to do this. Thanks for the motivation.

  11. Tom Boutell says:

    I've experimented with this. The trouble I have is that some days I'm highly vigorous after work, and other days not so much. If I've been out salsa dancing the night before, sitting is kind of awesome. If not, not.

  12. Brian B says:

    I tried a standing desk a few years ago, and I liked it fine, but I was way out of shape at the time and my feet got sore from all the standing. I should have gotten a stool or something for occasional relief. I'm doing better now, so at the next opportunity I'll give it another go.

  13. plord says:

    The random and unannounced changes to VESA mounting for iMacs almost bit me bigtime when I bought one in March. But I found the hidden VESA mount order page with help from an Apple staffer of my acquaintance, and then CotyTech were more than willing to ship me a free-as-in-beer-not-even-shipping-cost replacement for the uh, elbow/forearm+VESA-mounting-panel-bits of their desk-mount arm. Because naturally the version I bought was for the older iMac with the removeable foot, which in our case we have not got.

    Should anyone have such a need: I had to crank the spring tension up quite far, but this one holds a fully loaded 27" iMac without any wobble or droop. BUT: call them. The necessary part for the current model VESA iMac is still not up on the website. Tell them which iMac or monitor you have, they will send the right part, VESA, removeable foot, what have you.

  14. Phil Nelson says:

    Very close to pulling the trigger on a standing desk for myself. My neck and back are just over all this shit.

  15. I went with a self made standing desk once I worked out the right height etc. 3/4" plywood, some 2x4 legs, whiteboard work surface, and a monitor riser. If I want a break I either use a good drafting chair or grab my laptop and go to a local coffeeshop. I've been on the standing desk for about 18 months now I think and it's definitely been good for me.

  16. jml says:

    How much time a day do you spend in front of a desk now that you have moved into the noble profession of selling beer?

  17. Ben says:

    For future standing-desk searchers:

    If someone really wants height-adjustable, the Airtouch desks are nice (, albeit spendy (~ $1,500). Pneumatic, so no wonky motors. There's a tension spring to adjust for the load.

    The Humanscale M8 arm goes up to 42 lbs; I think mine's the M2 w/ a 24" Dell monitor.

    Again, all spendy, but nice if either someone else is paying or it can be written off.

    Fortunately, I'm in the former situation: (arm was added later, Aeron is a dot-bomb door prize).

  18. Michael V. says:

    In my office, several people have gotten Varidesks:

    I've been resistant - I've got ridiculously flat feet, too much standing leads to painful walking later, but the idea is intriguing.

  19. Jonathan says:

    Did you ever check out the Ergodox split keyboard? You get to choose which type of cherry switch to use, which might address your mushy keys problem. (You also have to build it or pay someone else to do it.) Massdrop run a mass purchase for it quite often.

    Personally I haven't, but one day I might. I have a Kinesis Advantage, which works for me most of the time, but I actually find changing posture and devices fairly often helps as much as any particular combination.

  20. Great post and thanks for the warnings on Ergotech Freedom Arm. I've designed a prototype minimalist adjustable height wall mounted desk which I'll be kickstarting soon and since you and your followers have real world experience I'd love your input!

  21. Eric TF Bat says:

    I built myself a standing desk and used it for ages. My mistake wasn't over-engineering; it was shoes. My shoes weren't very comfortable, so my feet hurt, so eventually I stopped using it and went back to sitting. It's the little details that get you.

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