In my continuous search for the ultimate computer workstation, I decided to give a reclining desk a try. While I love my treadmill standing desk, I have found that too much standing can be just as rough as too much sitting. Even with frequent breaks, my legs got tired and my low back would hurt after a day's work. Inspired by this way-too-expensive reclining desk by Altwork, I sought out to design and build my own version for a fraction of the cost. I built two versions, starting with a prototype model (V1) and later an improved model (V2) with more structure and better aesthetics. Here's how I did it.
Reclining Chair & Keyboard Tray
1/4" Thick 2'x4' Fiberboard:
1/4" Thick 2'x2' Fiberboard:
Black Spray Paint:
The whole design is built around the simple, inexpensive "Zero Gravity" reclining chair. I had to find a way to mount a keyboard tray to the chair that can 1) be easily mounted and unmounted to get in and out of the chair, and 2) stay secure at any recline angle. To make the keyboard tray, I cut a chunk out of the 2'x4' Fiberboard and cut and sanded the corners. To make armrest mounts for the keyboard tray to rest on, I cut the 2'x2' Fiberboard in half . I drilled holes into the plastic chair armrests and used long zip ties to fix the armrest mounts to the chair armrests. I added some velcro pads to the tops of the armrest mounts and the bottom of the keyboard tray to keep it roughly in place after sitting down. After realizing the velcro wasn't quite strong enough, I bought 2 $1.00 clamps to hold the tray firmly in place after mounting it. I used zip ties to keep the cables for my keyboard and mouse in place. Finally, I spray painted everything black and sealed it in polycrylic to make the surface smooth.
The Prototype Desk (V1)
Rather than make the chair adjust to the desk, I decided to keep the chair fixed and adjust the desk. The basic idea is just to make a frame on wheels to hold an adjustable monitor over the chair. For the prototype design, I just made a square frame out of 2x6 pieces of wood and attached four IKEA Adils legs to the base. I screwed some cheap caster wheels into the bottom of the Adils legs, and I attached my Mac Mini computer to the side of the frame with a cheap magazine holder from Staples. A power strip mounted on the back corner of the frame keeps all the cables off the ground. The critical piece that makes the design work is the single arm Fleximount Monitor Mount that enables the monitor to swivel and easily height adjust using a gas spring arm. By mounting the monitor arm directly in the center, it cantilevers over the reclining chair and can be adjusted to match the angle of the chair. While this version of the desk worked perfectly fine, it did not feel very stable, and it looked pretty junky. Nonetheless, it's a very inexpensive way to do the job.
The Final Desk (V2)
10' Long 3/4" Black Iron Pipe:
5' Long 3/4" Black Iron Pipe:
3/4" Black Iron Floor Flange (4):
3/4" Black Iron Tee (6):
3/4" x 10" Black Iron Nipple (4):
3/4" x 3.5" Black Iron Nipple (4):
12' Long 2 x 6 Wood:
8' Long 2 x 6 Wood:
8' Long 2 x 4 Wood:
Fleximounts Monitor Mount Arm:
Flat Black Spray Paint:
50 Pack of #10 2-1/2" Wood Screws:
25 Pack 1/4" Washers:
10' Long 1.25" PVC pipe:
1.25" PVC Tee:
The first improvement over the prototype desk was to give the whole desk a solid frame. The prototype legs had no cross supports, being fully held in place by just five screws. For the V2 desk, I built the frame out of 3/4" black steel pipe from Lowes, which you can buy cheap as a 10' pipe and have cut to desired lengths for free in the store. After wiping off any grease and connecting the pipe together with some pipe fittings, I spray painted the whole frame flat black. I used the same basic geometry for the desk top as in the prototype desk, but this time I stained and sealed the wood in polycrylic, taking the time to do 3 layers with sanding in between to get a smooth coat (and using a really nice brush). It's not as clear in the photos, but I measured everything and pre-drilled all the holes into the wood before staining and sealing it. After the wood was finished, I assembled the desk top with wood screws and then mounted the frame to the bottom with flange fittings. Pro tip: rotate the flanges so that the screw holes do NOT line up with the pipe cross bar, that way when you're mounting it to the table top the cross bar isn't in the way of your drill (I learned this the hard way after already drilling the holes in the wrong place, which you can see in the photos). I mounted the same Fleximount monitor arm, this time adding an extra piece of wood on the bottom of the desk top for support. Finally, you can see in the very last photo that I threw in some PVC pipe that I painted black on the steel frame. I made that addition so that I can rest the keyboard tray on it when I get up from the chair. Using the PVC around the frame allows the PVC to roll, making sliding the tray in and out smoother.
Desk Wheel Options
Putting caster wheels on the desk was critical for allowing easy access to the chair as well as adjustment for viewing the monitor. I originally tried to save money by using inexpensive wheels from Home Depot. I drilled holes into four 3" lengths of a wooden dowel to make mounts for the wheels, and then glued them to the inside of the pipe legs with Gorilla glue. This worked well for a while, but over time the weight of the desk slowly broke down the wood until the wheels fell out of the dowel mounts. So for the V2 desk I just invested in some very strong 4" rubber caster wheels that are specifically designed for mounting inside pipes. They were more expensive ($56.17 for all 4 with shipping) but worth it for the stability as well as ease of motion they provide when rolling the desk around.
I built a small shelf out of wood to hold my Mac Mini. Even though the plastic magazine holder for the prototype desk worked fine, it looked bad and felt flimsy. I stained and sealed the shelf just like I did with the table top wood. I mounted the power strip to the back of the shelf so that it's out of sight yet still off the floor. I also added a simple floating cup holder on the right desk leg to hold a cup of coffee while I work. The desk top itself is just too high to comfortably place a mug (the mug in the cup holder picture is by the very talented Ryan Coppage).
Standing Desk Option
Somewhat by accident, I made the desk to be a comfortable height for standing. As a result, I often put my laptop on the rear-right side of the desk top and take breaks from sitting by standing and working on my laptop. I can also plug the mounted monitor into my laptop as a second screen. The easy part about this design is that to build a desk with a different height all you need to do is cut the pipe legs to a different length. Since the legs are made from one 10' long piece of pipe, new legs can be made for just $10.
In the end, with all the extras (including the more expensive caster wheels and accessories) the total cost of the desk came to $325. It's a little higher than I wanted, but it's also built like a tank and looks much, much better than the prototype desk. That being said, the prototype only cost $160, including the chair and monitor mount. The biggest place to save money is the pipe fittings, which alone totaled $72. A similar desk could be built with a wood frame at far less cost, or if you could somehow source cheaper pipe fittings.