The Best Manual Adjustable-Height Standing Desks – Expert Reviews
If you’re in the market for an adjustable-height desk and are willing to put in 20 seconds of elbow grease each time you want to switch from sitting to standing, then a manual desk will save you some coin. Unlike the more common electric-adjustable standing desks, manually-operated desks change height without motors, electronics, or power cords. This makes manual desks slightly more affordable than electric models. The only tradeoff is that manual desks are generally slower to adjust and require more effort from the user to lift and lower.
As with any category, there is a spectrum of quality among the different available products, with a few standouts that rise above the rest. We’ve done the legwork for consumers by looking through the most popular manually-adjustable desks on the market today, evaluating them, and writing an in-depth review for each.
As we explain in our Adjustable Height Desk Review Criteria, we look at a number of attributes and qualities when evaluating products. These include weight capacity, lift speed, stability, noise, ergonomics, customizable options, and assembly. To learn more about our review process in general, visit our Anatomy of a Review primer.
Manual Adjustable Height Desk Product Categories
Each of our manual desk reviews fall under one of three categories.
- Crank-adjustable desks are the most popular adjustable mechanisms, and are generally more affordable than their motorized counterparts.
- One-time adjustable standing desks, which often misleadingly tout themselves as “manually-adjustable,” are always crawling out of the woodwork but rarely a good solution for a sit-stand or treadmill desk.
- Alternative bases use methods such as counterbalance, spring-loaded, and gas-strut mechanisms and offer more adventurous desk seekers something different.
Below, you’ll find abstracts of each product review by category.
Click on the product name to read the full review, or the button “Add to Comparison Table” (then ‘Go’ in the bottom right) to see their features side by side.
Crank-Adjustable Standing Desks
Manual adjustment desks rely on a user-operated crank mechanism, generally located in a corner either under or on top of the desktop, though on some older models, the crank can be found in odd places like on the side of one of the lifting columns or on top of the table. Most crank desks move at a rate of two to six turns per inch, and adjusting from sitting to standing or walking generally takes under a half a minute. Crank-adjustable desks are especially popular in shared treadmill desk workstations, which don’t need to adjust all the way down to sitting height.
There are some older crank desks on the market with a very short height adjustment range (“stroke”) of about 14″. These models can be shared between people of different heights, but not used as a sitting desk. Ironically, they are typically more expensive and have slower cranks than the more updated models we review here.
Expert Rating: 4.5 stars
Pros: Designed by Martin Keen, the Focal Locus Standing Desk boasts an aesthetically minimalist design that’s attractive in both the home and office. The table top also has an adjustable angle, easily switching from a desk to a drafting easel. An architectural design element, not just a desk.
Cons: Dramatically more expensive than other crank-adjustable desks, the Locus Desk costs $1,455 for just the desk. Doesn’t adjust down to a proper sitting height as it was designed specifically for Focal’s Locus Leaning Seat (which brings the total to a substantial $2,099), your standard office chair won’t pair well with the desk. Limited size and color options. Read more…
Expert Rating: 4 stars
Pros: Prior to some new competitors entering the market, e.g. the Ellure, the ModTable was extremely popular among budget-conscious desk seekers. It’s got a speedy height-adjustment rate of two turns per inch (tpi), with a lifting capacity of 180 lbs.
Cons: A bit tricky to assemble. With a helper, at least 45 minutes. Handle pressure can be heavy even with very little weight on the desktop – a consequence of its exceptionally high, 2 tpi transition speed. High-pressure laminated 3/4″ tops are of lesser quality than other desks reviewed here. The entire desk is made in Malaysia. A long-known problem with the set screw on the transmission rod loosening every few months has never been addressed by the manufacturer, and results in uneven lifting and lowering. Read more…
Expert Rating: 2 stars
Pros: Assembly is a breeze, with many of the components already assembled. Its impressive lifetime warranty ensures proper desk performance for the desk’s lifetime.
Cons: The desk’s laminate arrived peeled in certain parts, ruining the desk’s aesthetic and inviting moisture damage. Its height adjustment rate is twice as slow as other crank-adjustable desks. Its maximum height falls well below ANSI/BIFMA standards, and render it unusable for use with a treadmill. Too few customization options.
One-Time Adjustable Standing Desks
Calling these clunkers ‘manually-adjustable’ is a quite a stretch—users set the height of these desks with locking pins in the telescoping legs. After the initial set-up, these fixed-height desks can’t easily be adjusted to different heights. Users would need to clear the desktop of their equipment and remove or loosen the locking pins to change the height, with the help of a friend, if not two. It’s an exceedingly tedious process not recommended for multiple-user workstations.
For all intents and purposes, these desks should be considered fixed-height standing desks. Desks in this category aren’t all that much cheaper than most actual manual desks, either. The fixed-height desk that comes with LifeSpan Fitness’s DT5 treadmill desks cost an additional $500 on top of the treadmill. For a slightly more money, you can get a number of true adjustable-height desks, and they’ll come in a lot more sizes, and nicer colors than “gymnasium gray.”
Expert Rating: 1.5 stars
Pros: Heftier and sturdier than a lot of other desks in this specific category. Gun to our head, we’d pick the DT5 over other one-time adjustable desks.
Cons: Just one component of an integrated treadmill desk, the DT5 is only available with one of Lifespan’s the TR800, TR1200, or TR5000 treadmill bases. In other words, it’s not really an option for standing desk shoppers. Far from the easy height adjustment of true adjustable-height desks, the DT5 requires two people to set the height and secure the locking pins in the legs. Once put together, the desk’s height is pretty much permanent—changing it requires you to clear the desktop before grabbing a helper and setting the legs again. Coupled with the poor ergonomics of the console and wrist bar on the desk’s front edge, the $500 DT5 is too much money for too little quality. Read more…
Expert Rating: 1 star
Pros: It’s got cupholders! Wooh! Also, it’s got a large surface area.
Cons: Where to start? It’s one-time adjustable, making it nearly impossible to use as a sit-to-stand desk; it’s got horrible ergonomics, incapable of supporting a monitor arm or keyboard tray; it’s unstable to the point of being structurally unsound, which makes it a poor choice for a treadmill desk. We see no reason why anyone should buy one of these kluges. Many can be found on Craigslist from unwary consumers who bought the company’s hype. Read more…
Expert Rating: 1 star
Pros: The Go has a markedly lower price tag than either the DT5 or TrekDesk. It’s light and portable, which could be good for certain uses.
Cons: Treadmill desking, however, is not one of those uses: the Go is much too light, with spindly-thin legs we wouldn’t recommend for the rigors of using while walking. There’s too little space for ergonomic accessories, guaranteeing poor ergonomics for any unwary office worker. Read more…
Counterbalance, Spring-Loaded and Gas Strut Standing Desks
Anyone on the hunt for a fast-moving, high-end workstation could find themselves checking out counterbalance options. A select group of high-end manufacturers have begun to make desks that glide up and down, requiring nothing more than the squeeze of a brake and some minimal help from the user. These desks use a non-electric counterbalance system that offsets the weight of the things on your desk. That’s the theory, anyway—some take a little more muscle than advertised. Be forewarned they are more expensive than electrics, and even the most expensive models will have significantly lower lift ratings than comparable crank desks. Additionally, it is not uncommon for these desks to be somewhat finicky in their tension settings.
When they’re well-adjusted, these systems are sleek, impressive, and incredibly quick to adjust: the quickest height adjustment speeds, in fact. They do lack the presets of an electric option, but frankly, who needs them when you can express it to the perfect height in two seconds?
Expert Rating: 4.5 stars
Pros: Quick and quiet, the Float Table can adjust from sitting to standing height in as little as a second, with enough practice. It offers plenty of space both on the table top and between the legs, and it offers Humanscale’s signature modern aesthetic. Very popular in high-decor offices such as legal and financial firms.
Cons: It also comes with a higher cost than other desks, even more than some electrics. Counterbalance system is a little finicky compared to crank-adjustment systems. Read more…