DIY Standing Desk: Choosing The Right Base
Planning to build a sit-to-stand desk or treadmill desk with your own desktop lumber? There are some great options available. We’ll take you through the pluses and minuses of each model.
The Cost of a Quality Stand Up Desk
Understandably, DIY’ers are always looking to find the lowest cost option for any components they need to buy versus make. In the case of electric height-adjustable bases, spending a little more, as a rule of thumb, is going to buy you a quieter, faster, heavier-lifting, more reliable desk base, a longer warranty period, and a longer “stroke” (total distance between top end and bottom end).
Bottom-end models will run you around $250 to $450, all made in China. Warranties among these units will run anywhere from one year to two years, though some resellers in the US will tack on their own longer coverage periods, up to seven years, to be more competitive. More advanced models—typically made in the USA or Taiwan—feature higher transit speeds, tighter manufacturing tolerances, quieter motors, nicer hand sets, collision detection, and a greater range of adjustability, will run you around $480 to $800. Warranties on American-made bases tend to be ten years, a reflection of how long they’re likely to work trouble-free compared to the cheaper Chinese frames.
These desk bases generally come in black or silver. Some are also available in white, although this color is much less popular in the US (though interestingly dominant in Scandanavia). They all use telescoping crossbars to accommodate different desktop widths with ease, in addition to being height adjustable.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to note your tabletop weight and remember to subtract it from the lifting capacity of the base to determine how much weight it’ll really be able to lift. If you’re planning to make a very thick tabletop, or make one out of stone or a heavy hardwood, this is a step you do not want to skip. Understanding side loading issues is also crucial, so definitely do not miss our article on How Much Lifting Capacity Ratings Really Matter. Also note: If you’re planning to go beyond a 72″ desktop width on the tabletop, make sure it is at least 1″ thick in order to avoid warping of the tabletop and increased side loading on the actuator motors (lifting legs).
Budget Standing Desk Bases
The bottom-dollar electric base out there is the Autonomous SmartDesk, which started out as a Kickstarter campaign. As we delved deeply into in our review, “you get what you pay for” with this product. While its low price is very attractive, its design cuts every cost corner possible, and we question the long term viability of the company given the very low margins they claim to live on (actually, it’s hard to believe they don’t lose money on every unit sold).
When building a desk that’s going to be at the very core of your daily work routine, why chance it? We recommend sticking with companies that have been around long enough for their warranties to actually mean something. But if you’re still keen on the Autonomous SmartDesk, definitely buy it through Amazon, where it is marketed under the ActiveDesk or Vifah brand, but is the exact same product, from the same company, and at least enjoy real buyer protection. Another reason to avoid the Autonomous desk base is that users frequently reported waiting literally four to six months for delivery. Note: Like many of their competitors, Autonomous curates user reviews on their website to reveal only 5-star reviews and suppress all complaints—but complaints are easy to find on independent websites with a simple Google search.
The adjustable-height base frame most commonly used by low-cost standing desk desk manufacturers – including Ergoprise’s S2S, Fully Jarvis, Uplift 900 and the GeekDesk, to name but a few – is the Chinese-made Jiecang base. Unless you’re buying container loads, you can forget about contacting the manufacturer, but several of their OEM customers in the US sell the base standalone.
Fully sells a customized version of the Jarvis Standing Desk Frame—with minor adaptations for claimed greater stability as compared to the stock product—for $445 on Amazon. HumanSolution also sells their customized version of the UpLift Standing Desk Frame for a similar price on Amazon. See our detailed lab review of the standalone Jiecang standing desk frame. Following is just a brief synopsis, and mind you that there will be slight variations between the different Jiecang resellers, mostly in the feet and in the hand controller design, as we discuss in the lab review.
Like the other bases we review here, the Jiecang can be set to varying widths, to accommodate tabletops from 48″ wide to 72″ or more. However, these bases become laterally unstable beyond 72″ width unless kept in the low to mid range of height adjustment, under 40″. Height adjustment range is from 23.75″ to 49.5″.
To be sure, the Jiecang bases are a commodity Chinese-made product, with some infamous shortcomings. If you’re thinking of adding a treadmill to your desk, you’ll probably want to avoid this base as it is highly unstable at greater height settings, and adding a treadmill base underfoot will raise your height by 5″ – 6″. As the desk rises, the telescoping leg segments reach a point where there is little overlap. At this point, the base’s lateral shakiness increases to the point of annoyance. You don’t want to be anywhere near the top of the height range on this base, if you care about stability. To make matters worse, typing speed and accuracy tend to go down as the desk gets shakier. If you add a monitor on a monitor arm, and/or an under-desk keyboard tray (which you should for best ergonomic posture), the shakiness will be amplified further.
The Jiecang is rated to lift up to 330 or 350 lbs, depending on which reseller’s description you want to believe. Some of the resellers claim a travel speed of 1.5″ per second, however, in our lab testing it only traveled at a more lethargic 1.25″ per second speed, putting it near the bottom end of the spectrum compared to its competition. As mentioned above it is important to distinguish lift rating specifications from what these bases can do in the real world once attached to a frame and desktop. For more on that we highly recommend reading How Much Lifting Capacity Ratings Really Matter? before buying a DIY base.
The Jiecang typically ships with a digital controller featuring four memory presets, but sometimes with just a simple two-button up/down controller, so look for this specification when shopping online. From a sound signature standpoint some of the Jiecang bases are older models that remain among the noisuest on the market, at 65 dB. Higher quality models listed below will run 41 to 46 decibels, and remember it’s an exponential scale. To put it in context, 65 dB is almost in the range of a coffee grinder (70 dB). Shopping for a Jiecang base is a little bit like trying to hit a moving target because not all resellers disclose all their specs or are completely honest about them, so be sure to ask for the dB rating when comparing. Based on our last survey of Jiecang bases the one used on the GeekDesk models, requiring a “knee-crusher” crossbar for stability, is the oldest design.
As for reliability, the Jiecang bases have earned a reputation among OEM desk manufacturers we’ve spoken with for being less reliable in the field than the would like. New models do perform better but as you can read in our lab testing of the UpLift 900 standing desk frame, not by much. Warranty coverage varies by reseller. Jarvis’s and UpLift’s are the longest at 7 years, while others offer as little as 2 years. Since the Chinese factory only warrants the product to its OEM resellers for two years, you’re taking a bit of a gamble on the reseller being around much longer. Our advice? The Jiecang base is not recommended for treadmill desking, but if you’re a person who is not too tall and don’t want to spend more than about $450, buy it where you can get the longest warranty coverage and the maximum buyer protection. Then again, for $30, you could go American-made with the iMovR Freedom, and enjoy Bosch precision motors and a ten year, US-supported warranty.
This is the least expensive of the four bases made by iMovR, which also makes more models of height-adjustable desks and tables than any other company (the others being the Freedom, Vigor and Reliant). If you’re looking to find a quality-made product that’s going to cost less than a decent electric base, and are willing to go with a manual crank for height adjustment, the iMovR Relevate ($379) is the best, and also the least expensive DIY base of this type on the market. It’s a simple, single-stage (two leg segment) base with a 29″ to 48″ height range, and an optimized transit speed of three-turns-per-inch. While light on the crank pressure, it can easily lift an impressive 200 lbs. The Relevate is the same base that iMovR uses in their Ellure and Denali desk lines, and has the best mechanical reliability of any of the crank desks we’ve ever tested.
Value Sit-Stand Desk Bases Offer More Choice
TheFreedom base is iMovR’s answer to low-cost Asian imports, leveraging design ingenuity and a great deal of investment in robotic manufacturing to combat the labor cost advantages China has. Now for only very slightly more than an Asian import you can get an American-made product with similar performance but built to last much longer, and backed by a 10-year warranty and domestic customer support.
There are actually two Freedom bases. The standard model is a single-stage (two-leg segment, 460 mm stroke) base with a height range of 27″ to 45″, and the “XT” model is a dual-stage (three-leg segment, 660 mm stroke) base that has a 22.5″ to 48″ height range. For the latter there is also a 6″ leg extension option coming for the exceedingly tall or for average height users planning to employ an under desk treadmill. The price of the standard base is $479, and the XT is priced at $579. Like iMovR’s top-of-the-line American-made base, the Reliant (see below), the Freedom’s dual motors are precision Bosch motors from Germany, as good as it gets.
Rather than cut corners on metal gauge, motor quality or electronic features, the Freedom’s ingenious design removes the plastic end caps that keep the tube segments from coming apart – parts that can wear down over time and leave you with a wobblier desk (and keep in mind these parts are not serviceable). Instead, the legs on the Freedom base have distinctive crimped corners on their down tubes. Like cars and all other things mechanical, no base will last forever. But the Freedom’s PerfectPaint™ coating on its legs are not only more resistant to scratches than other powder coat paint jobs but reduce friction as well, again lengthening the useful life of key components.
The digital controller has only two buttons—Up and Down—but these also store your preferred sitting and standing height. Another clever cost reduction (and size reduction of the svelte hand controller) by eliminating the extra buttons necessary for programming height presets on other models.
The Freedom comes in black, white, and silver color options. Transit speed is 1.3 ips, and the weight lift capacity is 220 lbs. The Freedom bases can support either 24″ or 30″ deep desktops, and can accommodate desktop widths of 48″ to 72″. iMovR uses the Freedom base in their Energize and Cascade desks systems, offering over 3,400 permutations of base size and color, and desktop shape, size and color, all off a single versatile base platform. Like all iMovR electric standing desks, the Freedom has optional leg extenders (adding 5″ of height) and caster wheels (adding another 2.5″ of height) for the vertically-endowed and for treadmill desk users.
As the name implies, the Vigor is a powerhouse—the strongest, and also one of the quietest and fastest bases made. While made in Asia, its Taiwanese heritage shows. This is no commodity Chinese base. It’s one of the only bases for DIY that offers both two-leg ($599) and three-leg versions ($899), the latter ideal for making L desks. And it’s one of the few that’s available with either 24″ or 30″ feet.
The Vigor is rated to 180 lbs per leg at 1.7 inches per second travel speed (the demon in the pack on lifting speed) but will actually lift up to 490 lbs—that’s just with two legs. At higher weights, it will slow down a bit, and get ever so slightly noisier, though it’ll still be quieter than a Jiecang–even hefting up a granite countertop. While these bases are cantilevered, with the “C-leg” structure that you’d want for a standing desk, the T-leg version of the Vigor is what iMovR uses in its line of Synapse sit-stand conference tables, accommodating up to 14 people.
The Vigor is a 5-star-rated, heavy-duty electric base that comes with a 5-year warranty on all components, and is supported by iMovR in the US. This is the go-to base for heavy lifting applications, and with its long lifting stroke, 50″ top-end height range, and an adjustable width up to 75″, it also makes a superb choice for any treadmill desk application. Available in silver or black.
Premium Stand Up Desk Bases
The Reliant base is the one that iMovR uses in their made-in-America Elite and Everest desk lines, and it is the best of the best. 100% made in the Michigan with the exception of its dual precision BOSCH motors (Germany), the Reliant features the tightest manufacturing tolerances and highest overall quality among all the electric bases on the market. As a result it also comes with the most impressive warranty in the industry, with lifetime on the frame and 10 years on the motors and electronics (same as on the Freedom bases). You will not find that on any Asian import.
No one relishes the idea of changing out a failed lifting leg on an established desk, but the comfort of knowing the factory will replace it for free under warranty for 10 years is a very good thing. This manufacturer has a reputation for extreme reliability, and on the rare occasion a part fails in the field, they retrieve it from the customer quickly and send it off to the manufacturer’s engineering group for lab analysis. Let’s just say they’re hellbent on maintaining QA, which is sort of the opposite of China-based manufacturers’ general tendency to accept higher field failure rates as a cost of doing business, and just ship a replacement.
The standard Reliant base has a rated lifting capacity of 265 lbs. at a travel speed of 1.5″ per second, and the second lowest noise signature (44 dB), only imperceptibly louder than iMovR’s (now discontinued) UpStage base. Despite having a lower weight lift rating than other made-in-China bases, the machining tolerances are so much better on the Reliant that it can outperform bases with 330+ lb. weight ratings, especially on wider desk setups, because it handles side loading so much better. Be sure to read our article Do Weight Capacity Ratings on Standing Desks Really Matter?
The digital controller supplied with the Reliant features four memory presets. To prevent accidental burnout the controller features a current sensor that will kill power to the motors if they overheat (the display will read “hot,” notifying you that a cool down period of a few minutes is required before using the motors again). The controller can also be programmed with a container stop and/or shelf stop to prevent accidental collision with anything that might obstruct its downward or upward travel (e.g. chair, trash bin, or filing cabinet).
While assembly of the base will take about as long as building a Jiecang or Autonomous, this is no Chinese-made product; the documentation is very clear and printed in full color. US-based support is available through iMovR’s toll-free line.
If you’re a taller individual, or you’re planning to build a treadmill desk, you can take solace in the fact that the Reliant base reaches higher, and therefore remains more stable at top heights, compared to any of the other bases. Its height adjustment range is 24″ to 50″. But, the Reliant is the only electric base on the market that offers 4″ height extenders as an option ($79, or $59 if purchased together with the base). This is the perfect add-on if you plan to use a treadmill at your workstation, too.
The Reliant’s width range is 43″ to 75″, measuring between the outer edge of each foot. Subtract six inches from both those numbers to get the distance between the inner edge of each foot. That means it can easily handle even a seven-foot wide tabletop (and in fact iMovR’s only desks that’ll give that big are the Elite and Everest, sitting atop a Reliant base). As such it is equally ideal for sit-stand-walk workstations, accommodating a walking treadmill base aside a full-width office chair with plenty of room to spare.
Without reservation iMovR’s Reliant base is the ultimate choice for the DIY’er who is building something especially nice. The product ships out of Grand Rapids, Michigan by FedEx Ground.
Add-on Options to Consider
Same as with a full desk, you might want to adding caster wheels or cable management kits to your order. iMovR offers these caster wheel sets in two different threading size versions, to match with all of their desk bases and well as most of the others on the market. iMovR also offers a basic and advanced cable management kit that’ll work with any height-adjustable desk (read our review including an instructional video on how to tidy up all your spaghetti cords).
How to Make a DIY Standing Desk
Now that you’ve chosen your base and top, you can start building your own DIY standing desk. While each base is assembled a bit differently, these general directions will give you an idea of how it’s done.
- Step 1: Pick the location for your desk. Instead of having to move your desk once it’s been built, pick a spot that is suitable for your needs in terms of space and lighting to start building your future workstation.
- Step 2: Prepare your tools. Usually, you’ll need only a set of Allen wrenches (or “hex keys” included with your base) and a Phillips-head screwdriver. If you are using a custom top, you’ll also need a drill and wood or machine screws (depending on the top).
- Step 3: Read the installation manual for your base carefully. Remove all the parts from the packaging and arrange them for assembly.
- Step 4: Place your desktop face down on a soft surface to make sure it doesn’t scratch.
- Step 5: Start assembling the legs by attaching the crossbars and the feet to the legs.
- Step 6: Once the legs are assembled, place them on top of your desktop and align the crossbars with the pre-drilled holes on the underside of the top. If your top doesn’t have pre-drilled holes, you will need to drill them yourself before attaching the base.
- Step 7: Attach any other supporting crossbars or cord trays to the desktop. Then attach the power control unit.
- Step 8: Install the handset by aligning it with the two holes at the edge of the desktop. Again, if you have a custom top, you will need to measure and drill them yourself.
- Step 9: You may not want to put the drill away yet, as you may need it for installing a keyboard tray. If you’ve purchased a keyboard tray, make sure to read its own installation manual.
- Step 10: Plug the handset, leg motor cables, and power supply into the control unit. You can use cable guides to organize the cords.
Now that you’re done, just flip the desk over, plug your new workstation into the power outlet, and start working away!