How Difficult Is It to Assemble a Standing Desk?

September 12, 2020
How Difficult Is It to Assemble a Standing Desk

There are basically two ways to go about building a standing desk. One way is to go “DIY” style (Do It Yourself), buy your standing desk frame of choice, and then either make your own desktop or buy one you really like from a separate source. The other way to go is to buy a complete standing desk from one of the many makers who sell them online today. The latter is what 90% of buyers do, as it is not just easier it is also usually less expensive and all the components are guaranteed to work well together.

If mixing and matching components is your thing then we have these helpful DIY guides to get you off on the right foot in selecting the best components for your needs. This article is going to explore the spectrum of full standing desk offerings, from how difficult they are to put together to how long one should budget for assembly to take.

What’s needed to successfully assemble a typical standing desk

The first thing we need to define is “typical.” As of 2018 a new generation of quick install standing desks have appeared on the market. There are relatively few models today, though they have become extremely popular for obvious reasons. These desks install in anything from three minutes (iMovR Lander) to eight minutes (e.g. Lander Lite, Lander L-desk and ZipDesk) and don’t require any additional tools. In addition to being 90%+ factory pre-assembled these desks are also factory tested before being boxed up, nearly guaranteeing that they will work perfectly out of the box. We’ll cover those first, below.

As for virtually all other standing desks… no one wants to open a box to find a complex step-by-step instruction sheet that involves inserting dozens of bolts and screws, yet that’s exactly what you can expect with certain standing desks, especially some of the cheapest brands like Autonomous, or those that can be purchased through Amazon. Just keep in mind that the reason these desks are as cheap as they are isn’t just low quality components, the (usually Chinese) factories are also shifting their labor costs to you, the consumer.

Not surprisingly, some of these less expensive desks with complicated assembly steps suffer from a high rate of failure at installation—8% being sort of an industry rule of thumb for desks coming from China. Failure can include wrong or missing parts, faulty parts, misaligned holes, an unstable final product, damage in shipping, or user error in putting it together (often due to lousy instructions). Whatever the cause, having a half-assembled standing desk taking up space in your office—or worse, one that’s malfunctioning after you already removed your good desk—is just a total drag.

The key to keeping such installations minimally frustrating is to have a good cordless screwdriver with interchangeable flathead, Phillips and Allen key bits. If your desktop is not pre-drilled you’ll also want to have a drill bit set specifically design for pilot holes. Ideally a cordless drill that can also pivot to a right angle in order to reach those difficult angles for getting some of the screws and bolts in.

The most important tip our expert reviewers want to pass onto our readers that’ll improve the assembly experience, however, is not to build the desk on the floor if you can avoid it. Building it atop another desk will make it a lot easier and reduce the chances of getting something installed incorrectly or hurting your low back. If you don’t have the luxury of assembling your desk at workbench height then at the very least make sure to lay down a thick blanket or piece of cardboard on the floor first, to protect the desktop’s laminate from scratching. Always clear the area for loose screws, stray staples, small pebbles or other objects that can scratch the paint or laminate on your new desk while those parts are on the floor.

The Quick-Install standing desks

By the strict definition of desks that assemble in under 10 minutes and without requiring any tools that weren’t provided in the box, at the moment there are only two one the market, with a third arriving shortly. All three are from the engineers at iMovR, which pushed the envelope for everyone else in the industry by introducing the Lander Desk in early 2018. We know that several other manufacturers are considering developing quick-install desks in response, though none has yet started shipping.

The Lander was the first, and is still the only standing desk that assembles in just minutes with absolutely no tools. See the assembly video to see how they pulled this feat off. Added to the offering in 2019 was the Lander Lite, a lower-cost version of the premium Lander, which adds only the simple step of attaching the feet to the lifting columns using the supplied Allen key (see video), bringing total assembly time to 8 minutes. The third offering is coming shortly and we’ll have a full review of it when it does, from iMovR’s new ZipDesk spinout. The ZipDesk’s assembly process and time budget will be identical to that of the Lander Lite.

VariDesk’s ProDesk 48 and ProDesk 60 would fall into this category (and their marketing campaigns hyperbolically claim 5 minute installation) but in fact they do require more like 15 to 20 minutes to assemble, assuming you have the right power tools to speed up the process. With the cheap throwaway tools provided in the box it’s just a lot harder. The iMovR Energize standing desk is another contender in this tier, with a typical 20 minute assembly time assuming you have the power tool. Within the iMovR product line the energize is not marketed as a quick-install desk relative to the Lander and Lander Lite, but takes about the same effort as the VariDesk ProDesk, which is marketed that way.

Another runner-up for the Quick-Install category is iMovR’s Lander L-desk line. While the entire L-desk assembles in only 8 minutes, a screw driver (not included) is required for one step. This is still an incredible design achievement, however, in that a typical L-desk assembly requires two professional installers working for 90 minutes.

All other standing desks

The progenitor of most of dozens of Chinese-import standing desk base frame designs is Jiecang, likely still the largest manufacturer of electric sit-stand desk frames in the industry today. Over the years Jiecang has been selected as the OEM base supplier for many popular standing desks including GeekDesk, Fully’s Jarvis, Humansolution’s UpLift and EvoDesk. This is a commodity product purchased by the container load, and as you can read in any of these desk reviews, the name of their game is cost reduction—lesser-quality components and shifting labor costs to the buyer.

From the IKEA Bekant to the SmartDesk 2 to the ubiquitously-named StandDesk, and certainly all the Jiecang-based standing desk brands, assembly expectations should run 45 to 60 minutes if you have all the right tools, have prepared the space well, watched the assembly videos in advance and have some aptitude with mechanical assembly. Without these things expect more like a 90-minute operation. We encourage you to read our detailed reviews on each of these standing desks to get a better idea of what will be expected, and where assembly videos are available to watch them in advance.

What distinguishes the desks that assemble in 45-90 minutes from the ones that install in 20 minutes or less is the degree to which their bases are pre-assembled. Most desks under $700 (excepting the iMovR Energize) require the user to put together the crossbars, attach them to the motor housings of the lifting columns, mount and connect all the electronics to the bottom of the desktop, then attach the feet to the lifting columns before flipping the desk over.

The first part (attaching the lifting columns to the crossbar) usually entails a lot of Allen-head bolts and having to get all the pieces perfectly aligned. This is the most complex part of the assembly, especially if the top support arms have to also line up together with the motor housing and crossbar holes, as on many designs. In some cases as with the ProDesk, GeekDesk and UpLift V2 Commercial the user must also install a stabilizing crossbar down at shin height in addition to the one that runs under the desktop.

Post-Assembly

In terms of what to expect as part of your “installation” (versus just the assembly)…

All electric standing desks generally require a reset of the electronics when first assembled, or for that matter, after being unplugged a long time. This resets the controller’s index for where the top and bottom of the lifting columns are, and usually only takes a minute or two.

It is vital, crucial, absolutely necessary to level the desk’s feet using the screw-in leveling pads at each of the four corners. This step is often left out of the instruction manuals on cheaper brands, but is even more important with mechanisms built to lower manufacturing tolerances. Take a level out of your toolbox and make sure both feet are level front to back, and the entire desk is level left-to-right. To skip this step is to very likely introduce side loads that will increase the wear on the glides that separate the tubes of the lifting columns, shortening the life of the desk and eventually leading to squeaking and squealing from the legs.

Lastly you want to learn how to use the hand controller to save your height favorites (or in the case of the Lander desks you can do this through an app on your smartphone, even more easily). You’ll want to desk the anti-collision feature if your desk has it and perhaps adjust its sensitivity, if it is adjustable.

After a month or so of use, and once a year thereafter it’s a good idea to tighten down all the screws and bolts in your desk as they can loosen up from subtle vibrations of each up-down cycle of the desk. This will make sure your desk is as stable as can be. This is also a good time to wipe down any white grease that may have exuded from the lifting columns (especially if they’ve been sitting in the direct sun) and add some grease if the desk starts getting squeaky in its old age. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the latter as not all linear actuators use the same type of lubrication grease.

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