Sunday, March 11, 2012

Standing up desk

So, after working at a standing up desk at Weta for about 5 years now, I decided it was time to give it a go at home too. Both Anna and I were fed up with sitting at the kitchen table for our sessions of nerding/reading/photography etc and finding it gave us both a sore neck and arms. Besides, the benefits of not sitting down all day are now becoming more widely known.

After investigating the local pre-built options I decided to buy the frame from a New Zealand supplier and order the Blake Electric height-adjustable frame kit. This arrived in short order and my only remaining choices were what to put on the top and the backing plate/"modesty panel". I decided to save money and bought a door from Bunnings for $50! Sweet as.

Some bits! Oooo I love bits.
Upon unpacking my boy Jamie wanted to know where the motor was and how it was going to lift the desk. We found the motor and I explained the way a worm gear worked, how strong it was and how he could find the same thing at work in his Lego Technic dump truck.

Mate, I think it's like this... ooo look, you've got one too!
The first thing to do was to cut the modesty panel wood to the right length and mount it onto the leg frames. This is the piece that prevents people from seeing up your skirt at work. I never wear skirts at work for precisely this reason! I chose untreated 18mm pine from Bunnings for this and got down to drilling some holes for the mounting hardware. The leg frames have a peg system with internal fasteners... this needed some precise drilling, and without a drill press or routing kit I was just going to have to use the force and keep my hands steady.

Good job I did some practice holes, it was only on hole #4 I figured out how to do it right.
I didn't help that the hole cutter wouldn't fit in the chuck of my cordless drill and I had to use the corded drill with the wobble in the shaft - this offset in the rotation produced a hole about 2mm larger than I required. However, given that the mounting force of the fastener wouldn't put letting the locking bolt out of the frame, it didn't really matter that much. With all the holes drilled, it was time to put the modesty panel on the legs and get them standing up. This also involved connecting an extendable drive rod from the motor [which is situated on one of the legs] across to the lifting mechanism inside the other leg. The lifting mechanisms are almost entirely contained, so there's nothing to get your skirt caught in. [phew! I mean, yeah... safety]

Ain't no-one gonna be lookin' up my skirt here man.
With that in place it was time to hook up the power supply and test the lifting capability. It was very smooth and reassuringly strong. This lifting unit is rated to lift 70kg. I'm not sure if that is including the desktop surface, but I guess it must. Still, I'm sure while I'm at work the kids will try using this as their personal elevator to... to... the spiders around the window frame of course!

Now it was time to turn my $50 door into a desktop.

Who'da thought that the hollow core doors are actually baffled internally!? FOR THE WIN.
So, I thought that my cheap desktop surface may sooner or later become the victim of a cave-in ie: the very thin customwood/MDF panelling that bonds the outer surface of the door might be damaged by excessive weight or dumping of stuff on top of the desk. We've all been to parties with a damaged hollow core door somewhere right? Right? Of course you have, you just don't remember cause you were too drunk or something.

I'd anticipated chopping the end off the door and inserting a bracing piece of pine to reinforce the surface, but when I cut into the panel to reduce it from 1800mm down to 1600mm in length I discovered internal cardboard baffling. Hooray! No need to reinforce and I could get on with trimming and plugging the end of the cut with some more untreated pine. With this done it was time to screw the desktop on and tidy up the wiring etc.

Cool stretchy spiral cables weren't just for the 60's you know. And you thought your laptop had a big power supply.
With the desktop surface [door] screwed down, it was time to fit the power supply to the underside of the desk and tidy up the wires. The power supply and cabling was very user-friendly with really simple plugs to connect everything up, and a nice stretchy spiral cord to accommodate the varying distance from the power supply to the motor unit. Now to attach the control unit.

Dual-switching gang sign required. I don't know what this means on the streets.
The up or down activation is achieved through simultaneous pressing of two rocking switches on the control panel. Push them both in the same direction to activate the motor [which thankfully cuts out automatically at the full height or bottom of the range - sorry kids!]. The lifting is smooth and though not silent, it is a confident whirring sound. The height range reaches from 660mm [approx 2 feet 1 inch] to 1180mm [approx 3 feet 10 inches], which I think is going to be enough even for pretty tall people. I'm a short-ass however at 172cm.

And with that, it was done.
Here it is in it's tall state. Or 'angry', however you prefer to think of it reared up to full height. Incidentally this is the best appearance the desk will ever have as it is not covered in crap, which it soon will be.
So, I'm writing this on the computer standing at the desk now and it's so full of win I must share with you a couple of thoughts:

  • The frame is expandable, so you can create a wider desk than what I've done to fit in the space we have. It's up to you, to a maximum of 1800mm [nearly 6 feet]. And that's just the frame - you can put an even wider top on it. I made ours 1500mm.
  • I think ours needs to be painted with something durable like maybe even enamel. If you're going to use your own top, what surface do you want? 
  • You may want a tall chair. I use one at work because the desks there NOT adjustable. We don't have the freedom to sit at the normal height. However, this is good cause you end up standing a fair bit, and you can still slump for a break if you like.

It already feels better. If you do any desk-based work at home I suggest you consider doing the same for your own good!