New Year Resolutions

I know you secretly rebel against exercise in all its forms, but it is something we all must do.  Being an Investigator is the world’s most dangerous sit-down job, and computers have made it much more dangerous.  No matter what type of investigations we do, we spend too much time sitting.

I know you have made a resolution to start exercising. You don’t need to go to a gym to become stronger and more fit.

Stand-up Desks

In 2008 I wrote a series of articles on building a stand-up desk and I know first-hand the benefits and draw-backs of this.  Alex Hutchinson wrote about this in the Globe and Mail recently. His article illustrates that a stand-up desk is not a panacea for a sedentary computer-based job.

I have a typing desk for the lap-top computer and a writing desk in my office to prevent overuse type of pain that develops from staying in one position , so I guess I’m on the right path.

Butterflies & Chain Breakers

As a very devoted orthodox digital troglodyte (AKA Expert Searcher) I slave over a hot computer all day. This can quickly turn one into a weak, fat, and unfit troglodyte. This is a bad thing — a very bad thing — if a marauding felonious geek wants to invade and take-over my state-of-the-art cave.

These exercises help prevent me from becoming the weakest digital troglodyte on the block and they deal with the specific problems associated with using a computer all day.

This video is from the guys who wrote a book called Felon Fitness.

Be careful with these if you are really out of shape or you will be very sore and have headaches. It’s best to do only 3 or 4 repetitions of each, three times a day for a week to understand how your upper back and shoulders will react to the unaccustomed exercise.


Assembling and Finishing the Standing Desk

Previous article

Putting it together

Drilling holes

Use a ⅜″ brad-point drill to make the clearance holes for the leg bolts. With only a hand-held power drill the bolt holes will never be straight. This is not a problem with a couple of bolts in place just re-drill  the holes that are crooked – problem solved.

To ensure that the leg does not protrude beyond the foot use a  shim under leg when you drill the holes. Use a square and level to make sure the leg and foot will be perpendicular when they are assembled.

The 1/4″ lag screws will require a 1/4″ clearance hole through the stringer and 3/16″ pilot holes in the legs. Drill the pilot holes first then the clearance hole. I suggest drilling these holes as you assemble the desk in place.

Dado & Rabbet Joint

The dado and rabbet joint may be made on a table saw or radial arm saw, but if you lack them use a simple hand powered mitre saw.  Use a sharp chisel to clean-up the joint surfaces.


I chose polyurethane varnish with an included oak stain. This required 5 coats to get a good finish. To apply this finish buy a 3″ and 1.5″ brushes designed for this type of varnish or the finish will be full of streaks and bubbles. Those cheap foam applicators won’t do the job.

Keyboard tray

I purchased a keyboard tray runners from Lee Valley Tools and a simple 16″ x 36″ pine panel from Home Depot.  Some sanding and varnish and it was ready. Only one thing – the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard was too high to slide under the desktop. I installed 3/4″ plywood spacers to drop the keyboard shelf and all was well again in my world.

Not enough room for the keyboard

3/4″ spacers added

Assemble in place

To assemble the desk,  I took the assembled legs into my office and then added the stringers. Using a square, I aligned the legs carefully and first drilled the pilot holes then the clearance holes in the stringers. With the 1/4″ lag bolts installed the base was ready.

I installed the keyboard tray on the underside of the desktop, then I aligned the desktop on the base. The top was secured using simple angle brackets and screws.

The finished desk

Designing the Standing Desk

Preceding article


I designed the desk around the tools I had at hand. A small table saw, jig saw, drill, and router, along with a few hand tools.


This desk was designed around the fasteners. Screws don’t hold very well in end-grain. The 3½” long ⅜″ bolts hold the feet and desktop supports and  1/4″ lag screws go through a lap joint at the end of the stringer and into the leg through the dado rather than into the end-grain of the stringer. You will need ⅜″ and 1/4″ brad point drills for clearance holes and a 3/16″ for pilot holes for the lag screws.


The Baltic Birch plywood comes in 5′ by 5′ sheets. The lumberyard cut this in half for me, but I later found it would have been better if desktop portion was 2″ wider. This would have left a nicer overhang of the feet and desktop supports.

From the smaller portion, cut eight 7½″ high pieces. These should then be cut to a pattern made from bristol board, like the one seen behind the router in the above picture, with a jigsaw or scroll saw. The best of these will become a template to make them all uniform size by using a template bit in your router. The edges that don’t contact the floor or desktop may then be rounded using a ⅜″radius bit.

These large feet and desktop supports will allow you some tolerance for uneven cuts or floors.

DIY Standing Desk

Preceding article

The Standing Desk

I started using a standing desk because sitting all day was causing back pain, but I have discovered that working at a standing desk makes me more alert and energetic. My early search for a standing desk that would support two screens and a keyboard was a dismal failure. The desks I found were far too expensive, poorly made, or configured improperly. This led me to design and construct my own.

Desk Height

The first task was to measure from the elbow to the floor with the forearm parallel to the floor. This is the minimum height of the desktop. I made mine ½″ higher than this; an inch higher would be too high.

The Wood

Next, I found a good lumberyard. I chose Baltic Birch plywood because it does not have voids within the plys. This does away with the need for veneer banding or a separate hardwood bull-nose. I used a ⅜″ radius router bit to round the edges. This leaves nice alternating dark and light bands on the edge. I chose Brazilian Oak for the legs and stringers because it was only $2.50 per board foot and the lumberyard would mill it to typical 2″x4″ dimensions and cut it to length.

The Stand-Up Desk

The greatest problem with knowledge work, as I see it, is the desk and chair. One does not move enough throughout the day. Sitting motionless in a chair for extended periods is not good for the back or your waistline.

A 1991  Boeing Study found that sitting puts 40% to 80% more stress on the back than standing [Bigos, S. J., Battie, M. C., Spengler, D. M., Fisher, L. D., Fordyce, W. E., Hansson, T. H., et al. (1991). A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16 (1), 1­6].

Another study suggests that adjustable-height tables might provide relief from the discomfort and inflexibility of fixed-height workstations.  Prof. Alan Hedge, the director of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, investigated this possibility in a 2004 study on the electric height-adjustable work surface, or EHAW.

The EHAW is a table with a built-in electronic control pad. By fiddling with the up and down buttons on the pad, users can sit low to the ground, stand up and otherwise fine-tune the table height in accordance with their preferences. Hedge noted that although EHAWs are common outside the United States and even mandatory in Denmark, but they are rare in the United States. These desks are starting to appear in some Canadian government offices. However, they cost as much as $2000.

Hedge conducted studies at two locations, an Intel Corporation site on the West Coast where employees performed extensive computer work and an insurance company in the Midwest where employees did moderate computer work. The results indicated that more than 80 percent of the employees favored the EHAWs to the fixed-height tables.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, standing desks were popular in the homes and offices of the rich.  Most modern desks are 30 inches (76 cm.) but there is no such average for standing desks. It was common in the past to have a standing desk made to measure to the height of the user, since only the rich could afford desks. One way to get around the problem of accommodating many users at a single desk was to angle or slant to the writing surface.

Most standing desks have an open frame with few or little drawers, and a foot-rail (similar to those seen at a bar) to reduce back pain.

If these desks are good enough for Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Ernst Hemmingway, and Donald Rumsfeld, then it’s good enough for me.

Now that you know how a standing desk might help your aching back and why, you might want one. I’ll show you how to make one easily and inexpensively out of 2 x 4’s and 3/4″ plywood.