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Home Blog How To: Build a Custom Ergonomic Computer Desk

 

How To: Build a Custom Ergonomic Computer Desk

DIY Custom Ergonomic Computer Desk

As a web developer, I spend LOTS of time at the keyboard.   For me, having an ergonomic computer desk is an absolute essential.  Recently, making the transition to working full time for myself, I decided that I needed a quality computer desk that would be adjustable and ergonomic.  I quickly found myself frustrated with the high cost of ergonomic desks on the market.

Researching desks started to give me an idea of what I did and did not want in a computer desk.  After a discussion with a friend I decided to make the plunge into building a desk to fit my needs.

Basic Strategy

I'm not a woodworker at heart, so I knew I needed to keep the construction of the desk simple.  I decided to build the desk legs and foundation using Kee Klamp fittings and fence post.  The aesthetic look isn't for everyone, but it makes construction MUCH EASIER. Building the foundation of the desk is as simple as cutting some pipe and using an Allen wrench.

For the desk top I used a custom cut piece of MDF that I primed, painted and sealed (a must if you are using MDF).

To make the desk ergonomic I custom cut some of the remaining MDF into a keyboard tray and bought an articulating keyboard adjustable unit.

Getting Started

The first thing I did was make a plan.  I drew out several sketches on some graph paper to see how I wanted the desktop surface to look.  Having a particular space in mind, I made one side of the desk longer than the other.

Here's my drawing:

Ergonomic Desk Plan

Cutting the Top

After I had my design, I marked the outline onto a  4x8 sheet of MDF.  I used the top of a coffee can as a stencil for my rounded corners.

Tracing the Corners

I supported it on saw horses and made the first couple of straight cuts with a circular saw.  I used a straight edge to guide the circular saw so that the edges were perfectly straight.

MDF - Ready to Cut

MDF - Ready to Cut

Then I used a HIGH QUALITY jig saw with a SHARP BLADE to cut out the curves and corners.

TIP: You need to be careful with how you support MDF -- it is not as study as plywood and could crack if mishandled.

TIP: I borrowed a high quality jig saw. The performance of a high quality jig saw with a sharp blade is astounding compared to a cheaper unit.

An idea I got while cutting the desk was to include a section in the back for cord management.  I cut out an inch deep section in the back of the desk to accommodate power cords and various cables running off the desk.

Cut out cord control notch

With that, the initial cut of the top was finished.

Cut out desktop

At this point the desk had a rough edge.  I wanted a nice rounded edge.  Thankfully, a friend of mine had a high quality router.  With a simple pass around the edge, the desk top went from a rough cut piece of material to a smooth edged desktop.

Using a Router on the Edges

Routered Edge

Attaching the Base

At this point we were ready to start attaching the fittings that would connect the legs to the desk top.  I spaced out the Kee Klamp L61-7 fittings on the bottom of the desktop and screwed them in with 3/4" #10 wood screws.

The fence post was cut (you can use a pipe cutter or a sawz-all -- or just have the home center do it for you) to just under the desktop height (measure a height that works for you) and then attached to the fittings.

Attaching the Bases

A Word About Kee Klamp Fittings and Fence Post

I chose to use Kee Klamp fittings on this project for several reasons.

1. They are easy to use.  I'm not a carpenter, so it was a quick and easy way to build a study foundation for a desk that would look good.  Kee Klamp fittings slip onto pipe and then "bite down" into the pipe with a set screw.  Normally they are used as an alternative to welding in the handrail world, but they work great for all sorts of DIY projects as well.

The parts can be pricy, but when you consider the time and resources saved in other areas I think they are "worth" the investment.  Literally, it took me minutes to get the desk upright once the desktop was cut out.

3. The Aluminum fittings (Kee Lite) have some aesthetic value for a modern looking office.

4. The size 7 (1 1/4") fittings work well with fence post.  I used about 3 1/2 - 8 foot lengths of galvanized fence posts that can be obtained at any home store.  Fence post is a lot cheaper than the using galvanized schedule 40 pipe (not to mention it's easier to work with too).

Building the Base

The base consisted of six uprights with a pipe running between each of the uprights. The cross supports made the entire unit very stable.  They are necessary so that the horizontal forces on the desk (like when moving it) are not placed upon the MDF.  I think without the cross supports it would be easy for the MDF top to crack and break.

The pipe is held in the fittings with a set screw that is tightened down with a standard allen wrench.

Legs Attached

Here the cross supports are added with Kee Klamp L10-7 Fittings.  They were staggered in height for even greater stability.   Once the desk is in its final location the fittings can be adjusted and retightened.

Leg Supports

Desk with Legs On

Painting the Desk

Painting the MDF desktop is a must. Without paint, the first time you set a glass of water on your desk you'll really wish you hadn't!  The MDF grain swells very easily and also continues to put off dust.

I painted the desk top in a thee part process.

1) Primed with a NON WATER BASED - BIN Primer
2) Painted with an Indoor Latex Paint
3) Finished with a Polycrylic to provide a protective finish.

I put one coat of primer on the surface and two on the edges, sanding lightly in between each coat.  I also wiped the surfaces down with a tack cloth.  Using a mini roller made the paint go on quickly and smoothly.

Roll on Primer

When I was painting both sides (for the keyboard tray and shelves), I supported them with nails driven into the saw horses.  This allowed minimal damage to the underside of the painted surface.

Support with Nails

Primed Desk

Here is the paint and Polycrylic that I used.

Polycrylic and Paint

Finished Painting:

Shelf an Keyboard Trays

Finished Painted Top

Finishing Touches

At this point the basic desk was done.  Now the only thing that needed to be added was the keyboard tray.  I ordered an articulating unit from www.ergoindemand.com.  I found their customer service people very helpful.

Here is the unit I ordered.

Here is the desk in place, ready for keyboard tray.

Ergo Desk in Office

Once the desk is in place, I adjusted the cross pieces to make sure that they were spaced properly and evenly.

Spacing the Supports

First I screwed the unit into the bottom of the keyboard tray.

Attaching Keyboard Tray

Then I screwed the track onto the bottom of the desk.

Attaching Keyboard Tray

The keyboard tray slid right into the track and worked perfectly.

Keyboard Tray Attached

The cord management cut also worked very well.

Wires in Cord Control Notch

In order to keep the pipe from ruining the floor, I also added some plastic pipe end caps to make the desk easier to move around.

End Caps in Pipe Legs

Admiring the Finished Product

To finish it off I laid down some laminate floor so that my chair would roll.   I made the extra shelves out of MDF in hopes of using them down the road (that'll be another post).

Finished Desk

Desk setup with 22" wide screen monitors and ergonomic mouse and keyboard.

Finished Ergonomic Desk

At the time of writing I have been using the setup for about two weeks and am very happy with how everything turned out.

Counting the Cost

I mentioned that this was cheaper than buying your own ergonomic desk.  The cheapest ergonomic desk that I could find was around $600 (not including shipping), so what did this desk cost:

  1. 1pc. - 4x8 MDF - $25
  2. 10pc. - L10-7 Tee Fitting - $80
  3. 6pc. -  L61-7 Flange - $65
  4. 6pc - 77-7 Plastic Plug - $9
  5. 4pc - 8ft Fence Post - $35
  6. Various Paint Supplies - $30
  7. Articulating Keyboard Unit - $100

Total Cost: ~ $350

$350 is NOT Cheap, but it is less expensive than the ergonomic desks that I could find on the market.  Of course that also doesn't include the fact that you get the satisfaction of building it yourself and customizing the desk to fit your space.

Doing it Yourself - Sketchup File

Ergonomic Desk Sketchup File

If you want to mess around with the desk in Sketchup I've created a sketchup model that you can use to help you with the design. You can download the sketchup file right here: Ergonomic Desk Sketchup File

Update: The Evolution of the Ergonomic Computer Desk

Things that are good keep getting better! It's been over four years since I built the desk posted above. My ergnomic desk was actually recently converted to a standing desk by a friend of mine. In addition to that I've built a completely new ergnomic desk for my newly renovated office. Check out both of these projects:

 

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Comments

Hey, your desk looks great. Good job!

Posted by Lukasz  on  03/19  at  10:04 PM

[...] it can be to use Kee Klamp fittings in DIY type projects.  A couple months ago I built this ergonomic desk.  Well, Adam from Louisiana got inspired and built himself his own multi-station desk based on [...]

Posted by Multi-Station Desk Made With Kee Klamp Fittings -  on  04/03  at  02:40 PM

Did you use the foam roller or a brush to apply the polycrylic? Do have any tips on applying it? Your instructions have been a big help in building my own desk - thanks!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/04  at  11:12 AM

Wany nicer than any other instructional I’ve come across (And I’ve done much of research).  Reminds me of biomorph desks. Just order 20 legs on ebay. This looks like the perfect project to use them on!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/07  at  09:29 PM

Where did the Articulating Keyboard Unit come from?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  11:25 AM

I got it from Ergo in Demand.  Check here: http://is.gd/zdlR

Posted by Chris  on  05/12  at  11:29 AM

Dude - nice job. Were you a firedog tech? I was. Fun times.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  11:54 AM

I am interested in how you did the chair mat, did you just use normal laminate and just slip them together? or did you glue/nail them together?

Posted by Donovan  on  05/12  at  12:37 PM

I’ve been struggling with what type of desk to use for an existing area in my house that is oddly shaped.  I toyed with the idea of fabricating something myself but the logistics of it all seemed too daunting….until I walked through your post.  Nice job!  I’m inspired!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  12:38 PM

Great job!! Thanks for sharing this.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  12:42 PM

I wonder how sturdy that MDF will be when the desk gets piled with stuff or when someone leans or sits on that front edge? 

For a little more money I would have bought a sheet of Baltic Birch plywood and glued on a laminate surface, then do the cutouts.  The plywood has multiple thin laminations and no voids so routing it would make a finished edge and the laminate would be much smoother, more durable and more paperwork friendly.  Plus there are laminate finishes that would complement the industrial pipe legs nicely.

But good work, I like the finished product.  Someday I’m going to build a U shaped desk so I’m surrounded by work area where I can pile up stuff.  I think I’ll use your pipe assembly for the legs, I like the look.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  01:27 PM

awesome ergonomic computer desk mr! the satisfaction of completing your own desk is so great. I’ve put up a long corner desk with 3 poles on the bottom left end. it looks great and is much higher than the average desk because i’m tall :D

Posted by mr x  on  05/12  at  01:31 PM

I’m designing my desk right now too and my last desk I made, I used those standard drawer style rails for my keyboard. It didn’t last that long. I want to try the keyboard setup that you have. Do you recommend that one or anything better? How much weight can it handle? I usually rest my arms on my keyboard area a lot.

Posted by Michael Bui  on  05/12  at  01:32 PM

The King is also a very good keyboard tray.  http://www.kingtray.com/
They are a little pricey but my office purchased one for me and I love it.  I really appreciate being able to tilt the back part of the tray down; very comfortable.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  02:20 PM

For not being a woodworker at heart you did a REALLY nice job! Wow.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  03:15 PM

Wear a mask when cutting MDF.  There are some nasty chemicals in it:  urea-formaldehyde according to wikipedia.

BYOAC http://arcadecontrols.com/arcade.htm is arcade specific but has some helpful info painting and cutting MDF.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  03:31 PM

Beautiful work! I am going to build my own desktop soon, so I’ve bookmarked this article for future reference. Again, great work! smile

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  03:59 PM

just a suggestion… you could have saved a lot of money actually buying table top legs as opposed to building your own. (and personally, i think it may have looked a little nicer). for example, a few of these from ikea would have been all you needed:
http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20056915

would have saved around $100, and several hours.

nicely done though.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  05:18 PM

I love this idea!!

Do you have the DIY of your chair mat? would love to see that

I have a layout of my desk and i really like the ikea legs so i think I’m going to go with them,  Thanks microdot

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  06:50 PM

Great looking desk! I think $350 is a great price for a desk like this. MDF is a great material for desks. I’ve got 3 in my office that I built 7 years ago, and they’re still going strong.

A manufactured desk like this would easily go for more than $1,000.

Your paint + poly looks like a very nice finish and will easily be renewed after a couple of years of use.

GREAT WORK, and very nice how-to.

Posted by Marc  on  05/12  at  07:55 PM

Oh, one more thing….

I used two pieces of MDF for my desk tops…. glued and screwed together.
Heavy and rigid as hell.

Posted by Marc  on  05/12  at  07:57 PM

Very nice. I made one from plywood and IKEA legs. You can see it here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/78712082@N00/sets/72157616398918905/

Posted by Roman  on  05/12  at  09:02 PM

Lots of great comments here are my responses to a few:

@nwgray
No.. never worked for them, but my buddy Dan (in the photo) worked at Circuit City.

@Donovan
Yeah.. normal laminate from home depot.  I duck taped them together on the back.  Works great!

@KLC
The MDF can be a bit flimsy, but given my configuration I haven’t had any issues with it.  The outside edge is solid, and because of the keyboard tray I never really lean on the middle of the desk except to write on.. and it’s totally fine for that.

@mr x
The great part about using the fence post on the legs is that you can make the actual desk height any height you want.

@Michael Bui
I got my keyboard tray from http://ergoindemand.com.  I was hesitant to spend $100 on a tray, but it has been worth it!  It’s VERY solid and can support my arms resting on it.  How much weight?  Hard to say exactly, but the tray manf. might be able to tell you more.

Posted by Chris  on  05/12  at  09:51 PM

I think it is worth mentioning that Ikea does have a fairly configurable system called Galant that is actually rather similar in construction…but most importantly in price. Obviously if you can’t make an Ikea configuration that works, you’ve got to go the custom route, but is always worth looking at the trade-offs. While this desk cost $350 to make, there was a fair bit of time involved!

Ikea’s approach to solving the “ripping the MDF apart while moving” issue is to attach the legs to a whole steel frame and the MDF (laminated with your choice of Ikea laminate flavor) just rests on top. Obviously this is not an option when doing DIY unless you want to get into a bunch of metal fab/welding.

As others have pointed out - Ikea’s legs can work as part of your own custom system, or you could integrage some Ikea components and others of your own.

When considering this problem I ended up finding an Ikea configuration that worked, and then just keeping an eye on Craigslist for a good deal on a “mostly right” setup, which I can tweak with a few retail parts.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  10:58 PM

two monitors will hurt your neck check.. my website for more useful DIY ergonimcs..
http://www.izobrazba.naspletu.com/learn.html

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  11:14 PM
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