12/06/2013 10:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Build a Great Standing Desk for Under $50

Like many of you, I have watched friends and relatives struggle with back pain. It seems no one is immune, and it can hit you at the worst time, always unexpectedly. I had lower back pains too, so I decided to go from being reactive to preventative.

It starts with the basics, of course. Plenty of fluids, good sleep, and regular workouts with stretching. But you can also help yourself in little ways, starting with the way you work.

In fact, there's a new health adage out now: "Sitting is the new smoking." So I increased my workouts one day a week, I swapped my backpack for a pannier that clips to my commuter bicycle, and set to build a standing desk. No more sitting all day for me!

Then it hit me. I'm co-founder of a 20-person company,, so I can't address my own health concerns without extending the offer to everyone else. I started looking online at standing desks, and the least expensive options cost over $500. In addition to cost, they were ugly. I liked the wooden desks we already had -- they just need more height.

It didn't make sense that we should spend all that extra money for a desk that essentially needs only two positions: a standing height, and a sitting height. Since most people over 20 don't grow much, those two heights won't change. We don't need a fancy desk that allows for every height in between and above and below it.

I decided to get creative and take matters into my own hands -- without breaking the bank. We had a few of these $30 IKEA tables that no one was using. I thought they would make perfect risers to sit on top of our current desks, but I couldn't cut the legs because they were metal. After a little poking around on IKEA, I discovered a wooden version of those same legs. That was it: four wooden legs at $10 each with a $6 tabletop. Bingo!

Here is my DIY masterpiece: I present to you the $46 standup desk riser.


The ingredients are simple.

Per desk:
4 x Borgfinn = $40
1 x Linnmon = $6

For building:
1 x wood saw = $9
1 x measuring tape = $6
1 x pencil = priceless

The process is simple too. First, you need to get the right measurements. Stand by a wall with your shoes off and with your back straight, do you best stand up typing pose. Have someone mark the height of the bottom of your elbow on the wall. Measure that height. This is how high your desktop should be.

Choose which table will be your base. Presumably you already have a desk, so your standing desk riser can sit on top of it. When you don't want to stand, take the riser down. Then you have a sitting desk again.

To calculate the necessary height of your wooden Borgfinn legs, do this simple arithmetic:

Measured elbow height - 1.5 (thickness of Linnmon) - 28.75 (height of Ingo desk) = required length of Borgfinn (in inches).

For example, I am 6'1" and my elbow is 46 inches off the ground. I cut my Borgfinn legs to 12.75 inches, and it's perfect. Here's the original sketch I made to make sure I got it right. Remember, measure twice and cut once.

Pro tip: Make sure to include the 0.5 inches at the top of the metal piece. It adds height to your legs, so use the tape measure from the top of the leg with the metal part on. Otherwise, your legs will be too long and your desk will be too high.


Next, you get to sawing. I can't tell you how good it feels to be outside on the sidewalks of San Francisco, in the heart of the tech startup capital of the universe, cutting pine. I had to take a picture. As you can see, I cut eight legs. I decided to work in batches for my coworkers. Cutting these took about 10 minutes, and it felt great.


The end result? Voila! Happy, healthy teammates with custom standing desk risers that are inexpensive and look great too.