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Chris Pollock

Chris Pollock - web developer & ecommerce entrepreneur
undivided… my thoughts on world, family, church, business, technology and Jesus Christ (all in all)

How To: Build a 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:

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Cutting the Top

After I had my design, I marked the outline onto a  4×8 sheet of MDF.  I used the top of a coffee can as a stencil for my rounded corners.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

2. I am partner in a company that distributes them so I get a pretty good discount on them (if you're a DIYer, mention this post and I'll cut you a small discount on the parts).  They can be expensive, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here is the paint and Polycrylic that I used.

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Finished Painting:

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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.

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

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

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

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

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The cord management cut also worked very well.

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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.

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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).

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

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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. – 3/4” thick 4×8 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.

  • http://www.andysnotebook.com Andy Davies

    Nice desk but I couldn't cope with the keyboard tray – when I'm at a desk I like to have my forearms and elbows resting on the desk if possible.

  • Julie

    Could you also build something higher like for standing so you could have like a bar stool situation, sit or stand? Just curious.

    Nice job by the way, looks great.

  • Larry

    Nice Work!

    You just motivated me to take shot at it.

    Really nice work!

  • http://www.azelectricaldesign.com Miro

    I had this simialar idea in mind for our office remodel. Mdf with fencepost. So i googled it. Low and behold i find this page with all the parts named and layed out. Thanks for the help and awesome job. Your desk although slightly diffrent was definately a inspiration to me. Live long and prosper.

  • Hung Nguyen

    Wow. That is a piece of work.

    Thanks for posting.

  • http://www.ergoware.com Ergoware

    Hey buddy, you wrote a great post on how to build ergonomic desk, I like the finished product, I may feature this on my blog. I really enjoyed it. Check out my blog when you have a chance its http://www.ergoware.com/blog. Let me know if you're interested in exchanging links to each other sites.

  • noel watson

    hi there the desk looks reaally great i am looking at stating a similar project and wondered what was the thickness of the mdf you used

    cheers noel

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    @noel the MDF used was 3/4″ Thanks for noticing.. I'll try to get a correction into the post.

  • WiseOne

    Thanks for the information. I tried to copy it.

    However, I used a plywood instead of an mdf. The mdf in our home depo store looked fragile. When the corners landed, the corners somewhat fell apart. I don't think it will be able to hold the legs or screws together long enough so I used a plywood.

    The store employee actually suggested wood for the legs since I couldn't find those nice metalic pipes. But I didn't like the looks of wooden legs. Anyway, I bought PVC pipes instead.

    I was short on cash too. The flanges were expensive. They were $15 a piece and I needed another $2 to connect them to the pvc. Luckily, the pool store sell flanges in 1 1/2 sizes. The flanges in the pool store are used to screw the ladder to the deck of an outground pool. They were less than $5 each.

    I had the same tools but I didn't have the router so my edges weren't as great as yours. I spent around $90 on mine and they don't look as great as yours. Thanks for the information.Great site.

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  • John

    I loved your write up. I am planning to build this desk for my 4 computers and laptop workspace. I read somewhere that Ikea had legs for 5 dollars a piece. I went there last night and upgraded to the adjustable height legs for 15 a piece. This gives me a bit more flexibility. The non adjustable are here: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10105290
    The adjustable ones are here: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60105301

    Hope this might help others working on building this desk.

    Enjoy,
    Doc

  • http://none Dianna Solmes

    Thank you for your excellent instructions. I hope that I can adapt some of your methods and materials to a version for my laptop to sit on while I sit in my couch recliner that will swing away and pull back in front of me when I sit down again. I like your construction methods very much.

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    I'm interested in your project. Let us know how we can help. If you need some project assistance, trying to determine what fittings to use, send us a sketch and we'll get you some recommendations. Contact us at: http://www.simplifiedbuilding.com Also, after you finish the project we'd love to see some pictures to post on our blog.

  • cdcheno

    Hey, I like your idea for the legs and braces. What size fence pipe did you use with the 1 1/4 fittings? The 1 1/4 fittings say they are made for 1.66 OD pipe, but I believe fence pipe is 1 5/8.. I know not too much difference, but just wanted to check what size you were using.

    Thanks!

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    @CDCHENO Yes, 1 5/8 fence post is what I used. It works great with the size 7 (1 1/4″) fittings.

  • tom

    quality work fair play to ya

  • David

    I'm wanting to do something similar. How do I go about getting this discount of yours for the Kee Klamps?

  • Martin

    An Office desk in this site: http://ebanisteria4all.galeon.com/productos2313231.html

    Photos :
    Building a comercial desk model: "kuorum" replica

  • alex

    I would like to get the dimensions of the desktop and the spacing and placement for the legs. ALong withthat current prices for the fittings, flanges, plugs. Please email me asap.

  • alex

    I would like to get the dimensions of the desktop and the spacing and placement for the legs. ALong withthat current prices for the fittings, flanges, plugs. Please email me asap at alex.stockyj@gmail.com.

  • Mohan

    Great Job Mate
    I am probebly one of the worst handyman ever but i am going to try it based on what you showed & will post it. Thanks a million.

  • David Davidson

    Nice design! altho, for $350 you think you could have designed in some spots to put your computer and printer, besides the floor… kind of defeats the purpose of having a desk.

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    @David,

    Yeah, I did actually build a shelf, but I did not have it attached when I documented the project. The shelf is attached using 70-7 Rail Support, attaching the shelf to the bracket and feeding the slip-on section onto the pipe.

  • http://www.nitsan.info Nitsan

    Wow, great post! i've just realized after seeing this that it would be easier for me to make my won desk rather than try to find one that fits my needs. looks fun to build too. what was the total cost?

    N

  • Ryan Sharp

    I'm sorry to be the one to inform you but this desk isn't ergonomic at all. It couldn't be less ergonomic if you tried.

  • keith

    Nice.
    thanks for showing this.

  • http://zeusville.wordpress.com jesus rodriguez

    Great post, love the idea. Where did you get the keyboard arm?

  • Chris Pollock

    Hi Jesus, it's listed on this version of my post: http://www.simplifiedbuilding.com/blog/how-to-build-a-custom-ergonomic-computer-desk/ Check it out there.

  • Brian

    Curious how this is holding up over time? how is the paint holding up and the wood? any chipping in the paint or wood and any shagging? Thanks and great looking design.

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    Hi Brian, All is well. I sit at the desk while I write this any everything is great. No chipping or paint coming off. I think the key was adding the clear coat to the top. I'm convinced that is what has made a long lasting surface without any issues.

  • Ana

    Hi!

    I was wondering if you could build a desk for me?. I can give the mesurements and specifications so that you can send me a quote for your work.

    Look forward to hear from you!

    Thanks!

  • http://web.simplifiedbuilding.com cwpollock

    @Ana,

    I don't think I can build a desk and ship it to you, but I can probably help get you connected with someone who can help you design the desk. If you contact the projects team at Simplified Building, they will help you design the desk and get the necessary Kee Lite components. From there, if you can't DIY, you could hire a local contractor or carpenter to cut out the desktop, finish it, and attach the legs.

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Oops. Someone made a boo boo!Tooth-less. Makes him look younger ;). #lifewithboys"Can you please peel the sweet potatoes?" I asked. I did not specify that the resulting peels should be contained in some sort of trash receptacle ;) #lifewithboysThis is a stick-up. Early morning bed buddy.Parents and children in the pool. A dangerous combination. #waterfightIn the pool with GrandmaHuge crowd at wings gameFeeling the love from my brother Gary! #pertussis #cantstoploveBug congrats to #JRW in winning the #llws2014 us championship. Huge accomplishment beating the West!Simon has been making these incredibly accessorized Lego creations. And he's really a stickler about them being symmetrical. #lego #lifewithboysFrom the SouthLearning #bookbinding from Jay at the Central Library #homeschoolingDowntown with the gang #rochesterThey did a great job. One more coat!Working hard at painting the porch. Making some $$. I learned that baby wipes will remove porch paint from couch :/

Chris Pollock

Web Developer - proficient in both PHP and ASP.NET.
Rochester, New York

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Oops. Someone made a boo boo!Tooth-less. Makes him look younger ;). #lifewithboys"Can you please peel the sweet potatoes?" I asked. I did not specify that the resulting peels should be contained in some sort of trash receptacle ;) #lifewithboysThis is a stick-up. Early morning bed buddy.Parents and children in the pool. A dangerous combination. #waterfightIn the pool with GrandmaHuge crowd at wings gameFeeling the love from my brother Gary! #pertussis #cantstoploveBug congrats to #JRW in winning the #llws2014 us championship. Huge accomplishment beating the West!Simon has been making these incredibly accessorized Lego creations. And he's really a stickler about them being symmetrical. #lego #lifewithboysFrom the SouthLearning #bookbinding from Jay at the Central Library #homeschoolingDowntown with the gang #rochesterThey did a great job. One more coat!Working hard at painting the porch. Making some $$. I learned that baby wipes will remove porch paint from couch :/