Rustic Standing Desk Design — Under $100 and Easy to Build

I’ve now built two rustic standing desks for a couple of Annie’s colleagues. There are supposedly health benefits to a standing desk and there are plenty of “hacks” to give yourself a standing desk equivalent. But shouldn’t it look good, too? This simple rustic standing desk design is easy and remarkbly cheap and adapted from things I learned after building the first one. Assuming access to a hardwood sapling and requisite tools, you can build this desk in a day or two for under $100, with relatively basic skills.

Materials List for Your Rustic Standing Desk

  • 2×4 @ 8’ (x4)
  • 4’x8’ plywood sheet (hardwood recommended; we used birch)
  • Spray-on lacquer, fast-drying (or brush on polyurethane or equivalent finish)
  • 2.5” screws (x32) (wood or deck screws)
  • 3/8” dowel @ 4’ (hardwood recommended; we used birch)
  • Tree sapling, dried (approx. 160” depending on height, to be cut into four legs; approx 3” diameter)(Take note of Steps 3 and 3(a), as I would change my approach here for drying.)
  • 3/8” boring drill bit
  • Draw knife (pretty easy to find at antique stores, etc., and a beautiful tool to have)
  • Sandpaper (both rough and finishing, to your liking)
  • Endgrain sealer (I didn’t use this, but will in future builds)

Tools List

  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw (of the 7-1/4″ variety)
  • Sander (orbit sander recommended)
  • Square
  • Level (longer the better, let’s say 48″)
  • Drill (for screws and boring dowel holes)
  • Hand saw (for trimming the dowels down)
  • Pencil (I mean, you should just always have one handy anyway)
  • Mallet (or hunk of scrap wood to hammer in the dowels)
  • Chainsaw (yayayay)

Preparing the Sapling for Your Standing Desk Legs

Step 1. Cut down tree. Full disclosure, this is the most fun part of any building project that involves trees. So fun that I didn’t take a picture (safety first and all). You’ll want the diameter to be roughly 3″ or so — the more uniform the diameter, the better the legs will look. Choose, obviously, a pretty straight tree, from which you can cut the necessary lengths for the legs. Around 160″ (13′ 4″) of usable tree should be plenty, unless you’re a giant.

Step 2. Cut lengths for the standing desk legs. Now you’ve felled a small, innocent tree. But you will use it for something beautiful. Brush the sawdust and guilt off your clothes. Cut the downed sapling into roughly 4′ lengths.

Using a drawknife to peel off the bark of the sapling lengths that will become the standing desk legs.
Using a drawknife to peel off the bark of the sapling lengths that will become the standing desk legs.

Step 3. Use drawknife to peel the bark to the aid drying process. Or don’t (see next step). Now that the chainsaw is put away, you can drink as much Busch beer as you want. Make sure the blade is sharp; otherwise this step can be very frustrating. (I used the beer box to keep the end of the sapling from digging into the dirt as I leaned on it. Depending on your workspace, this may or may not matter.)

Step 3(a). Apply endgrain sealer to prevent checking and splitting of the green wood. I didn’t do this, but will in future builds. Depending on your approach, you may or may not peel the bark off now or wait until later. See this article. There are also many more resources elsewhere online.

Step 4. Let the to-be legs dry for a while. The longer the better, but if you’re in a hurry a few weeks or a month is good enough if you’re drying them inside. Note: They might (probably will) split a bit. That’s fine. It adds character. (See Step 3(a) above.)

Building Your Rustic Standing Desk

Step 5. Determine the worktop space you want. This one is 30″ deep and 72″ long. I recommend at least 30″ of depth, but you could go smaller on length.

rustic standing desk
Cutting the plywood to the dimensions of the standing desk top.

Step 6. Cut the desktop from the plywood. Use the dimensions you decided on, measuring and using the square to draw your cut lines. Use the straight edge of the level to draw the line from squared line to squared line.

Step 7. Cut the 2×4 top supports to 4″ shorter than the desktop. This will leave a 2″ lip on the desktop on the ends. For this plan, then, cut two lengths of 2×4 to 68″. Cut these, obviously, from two different 2x4s. The remaining lengths will be the cross supports (at just about 28″, leaving a 1″ lip on the front and back of the standing desk).

Step 8. Measure lap joints for the supports. You now have two lengths of 68″ and two lengths of roughly 28″ (these will be slightly less than 28″ because of the thickness of the saw blade; we’re maximizing lumber usage here). With the 28″ 2x4s standing tall (i.e., not laid down), mark and square a line 1″ from each end, and another 2-1/2″ from each end. (This 1-1/2″ space will take in the other 2×4.) With the 68″ lengths standing tall, mark and square a line 5″ from each end, and another 6-1/2″ from the end. (This space is where the joint will lap.)

Step 9. Cut lap joints. Set the circular saw to a 1-3/4″ cut depth, so it only cuts halfway through each 2×4. Cut along the lines you’ve drawn, and also place a few cuts between each cut, to make chiseling easier/possible.

Step 10. Chisel out joints. I’m realizing now that I didn’t take enough photos in these early steps. Rest assured, there are more coming. Lay the 2x4s on their sides and chisel out the joints. Then they’ll fit together, as shown below. If they don’t, find what’s hanging them up and adjust with more chisel cleanup or ever-so-slight cutting adjustments.

rustic standing desk
Lap joints for the standing desk supports, with mitered ends.

Step 11. Make fancy miter cuts on the ends. What’s that? See those cool angles? They’ll look great and are totally useless. Make them if you want by using your square to draw 45 degree angles and cutting them on the long pieces.

rustic standing desk
Desk frame and sapling legs.

Step 12. Sand the 2x4s. This is self explanatory. Remove anything you don’t want, like lumberyard stamps and smudges.

rustic standing desk
The sanded components of the standing desk top.

 

rustic standing desk
Desk top frame with diagonal cross supports.

Step 13. Cut diagonal supports for desktop. This is the trickiest part (but not tricky), since each leg will be a slightly different diameter. Just requires some trial and error. Each support will be roughly 10″ long. Cut each end at a 45 degree angle and adjust the lengths as needed so that the legs fit snugly, as pictured below.

rustic standing desk
The diagonal supports for the standing desk top.

Step 14. Screw in the diagonal corner supports. Once you’ve cut them to fit each leg appropriately and individually, screw them into the corners. Be sure you’ve marked each leg to match each support, so you know which leg goes where. Put two screws in each end.

rustic standing desk
Screwing in the diagonal cross supports for the standing desk top.

Step 15. Place and screw in the standing desk legs. With the frame lying upside down on a flat surface (such as a worktable or the cut desk top), match the legs to the corners and set them in. They should fit snugly. Use the square to roughly make sure the legs are straight. Then step back and give them the eyeball test (this is important since the legs have some natural curve). Put two screws through the diagonal supports and into the legs.

rustic standing desk
Fitting the legs into the desk top.

 

rustic standing desk
Fitting and screwing the legs.

Step 16. Cut the legs to the correct length. Turn the desk frame on its side and measure the desired leg length, taking into account the 2x4s and the thickness of the plywood that will be on top. I used the chainsaw, because it had been too long since I’d used it. You could maybe use the circular saw, though keep in mind that a 7-1/4″ saw has a maximum cutting depth of 2-3/8″.

rustic standing desk
Cutting the legs to length with the chainsaw.

 

rustic standing desk
The inserted dowels in the desktop.

Step 17. Attach desk top. Set the plywood desktop on the upright frame and be sure it’s centered and squared. There should be a 1″ lip on the front and back, and a 2″ lip on each end. Use the 3/8″ bit to drill holes around the frame for the dowels to fit through the plywood and into the 2x4s. I did one in each corner, a center one on the short ends, and two equally spaced (approx. 18″ apart) along the long front and back. (That’s 10 total.) Insert the dowel pieces and knock them all the way with your mallet or wood-hunk. Note: if your holes are vertical, you’ll want to use wood glue in the holes. I drilled the six holes (excepting the four corners) at opposing angles (roughly 30 degrees), so the desktop is held on without glue.

rustic standing desk
Cutting the dowel excess.

Step 18. Trim excess off dowels. Use a handsaw to cut the dowels as close to the desktop as possible. You’ll sand them flush later.

rustic standing desk
Shelf supports.

 

rustic standing desk
Lap jointed shelf supports.

Step 19. Cut supports for shelf, using lap joints. Figure how long the lengthwise supports need to be. For this design, with these specific legs, this worked out to 55″ or 55-1/2″. The lap jointed cross supports can really be wherever you want. For this design, they will determine how wide the shelf is.

Step 20. Attach shelf supports. Figure also how tall you want your shelf to be. I wanted 10″, so measured 10-1/2″ down each leg from the bottom of the 2×4 top frame (to account for the 1/2″ thickness of the shelf itself. This line is where the top of the 2x4s will attach; screw them in, two screws on each end, ensuring each support is level!

Step 21. Cut shelf. The dimensions of the shelf are determined by the distance from outside of supports to the other sides.

rustic standing desk
Attaching the shelf.

Step 22. Attach shelf and trim excess on dowels. Using the same method as you did for the desktop, drill four holes for the dowels around the shelf (through the plywood and into the 2x4s; diagonally if you’re not using glue, any ol’ way you like if you are using glue). Insert the dowels and trim off the ends.

rustic standing desk
Sanding down the dowels so they’re flush with the desktop.

Step 23. Sand the surfaces. Ensure the dowel ends are flush with the desktop.

rustic standing desk
Letting the lacquer dry on the finished desk!

Step 24. Apply lacquer. I used Krylon spray-on lacquer, clear gloss. It dries fast. Like, wicked fast. This step is especially up to your preferences of how you want your rustic standing desk to look: apply a stain first if you want; use a polyurethane finish; leave it bare —  whatever you want!

Step 25. Get back to work. You’ve now missed a day of work and everyone is mad at you. But they’ll be jealous when you bring this honker in.

 

Note: Feedback is encouraged to help us better these directions for your rustic standing desk. What’s unclear? Drop us a line: thatyurt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Note: Want one but don’t want to build one? If you live in the vicinity of Vermont and New England, get in touch and let’s see if we can’t work something out :)