When my employer announced that we were all going to work remotely back in March, I had no semblance of a home office and had to scramble to figure out how to set up a space in my small urban apartment that would be suitable for days dominated by videoconferencing. Thinking it'd be just a few weeks, I thought I could ride it out using my guest bedroom's writing desk, but by the time June rolled around and it was clear we were not returning before 2021, it was time to give up the fantasy and set up a real home office. Priority #1 was to get a real desk.
Real desks are expensive, and if I was going to spend a few hundred dollars on one, I wanted it to be at the right ergonomic height. I type at a height of 28 inches from the ground which turns out to be a non-standard desktop height, so my attention quickly turned to adjustable-height desks. It wasn't long before my attention turned to standing desks which cost a bit more than just a couple hundred dollars, and being stingy, I spent weeks doing my homework and agonizing over exactly which model to order to get the most out of the $900+ investment. For the benefit of anyone else facing a similar situation and wanting to agonize over the details of standing desks, I decided to document my adventure.
Note that I have no financial interests in any of the companies mentioned below. I am just writing this in the hopes that someone finds this perspective useful.
Choosing a Desk Supplier
Because these standing desks are quite expensive, I spent a lot of time struggling to decide which company and model were the best. Anyone who Googles around for information about reputable standing desks will probably discover
- Uplift's V2 and Fully's Jarvis desks are the most celebrated
- A website called BTOD.com has a bunch of really interesting teardowns of many standing desk models written by a guy named Greg Knighton
- I did not want a cross member that I would bang my legs against all the time
- I wanted a solid wood desk surface, not a laminate on medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
- I wanted a dark finish on the wood and a dark or industrial finish to the metal, if possible
- I wanted something with a lot of accessories that I could bundle
- I wanted something relatively lightweight since I move quite a bit
- I wanted a 60x30 desk--no longer, no shallower
- I did not want a cheap desk made in China
- Pre-sales support: I contact both Uplift and Fully on the same day with questions about their desktop thickness. Uplift got back to me the same day, while Fully took four days to respond. Not a deal breaker by far, but I took it as an indicator of their level of support.
- Desktop: Fully's hardwood desktops are significantly more expensive than Uplift's. Uplift also offered rubberwood desktops with a nice, eco-friendly story about where they come from. The reality is that rubberwood is cheap and plentiful since it's sourced in Asia, but the rubberwood pitch makes me feel like I know where my desk came from.
- Cable management: Uplift offers a magnetic metal cable channel that matches the finish of the desk frame. This is a really nice way to run thick cables down one leg of the desk without disrupting aesthetics. Fully had nothing comparable.
- Minor costs: Fully charges $20 extra for a frame that goes below 29" and I needed to go down to 28". They also charge $20 extra for the industrial finish for some reason. This would have been more palatable to me if they just charged $40 on top of every desk.
- Assembly: I am a measure once, cut twice kind of guy. I know this about myself, so the thought of having to drill my own desktop was not attractive. Some of Fully's basic accessories (such as the cable management tray) require drilling, whereas Uplift's did not. In addition, Uplift had nice assembly videos that made me feel better about how easy the assembly would be.
- USB power: Fully's clamp-mounted surge protector has USB-C while Uplift's does not. Unfortunately the Uplift USB-C does not supply amperage sufficient to power a MacBook though.
- Desktop: Fully offers a dark bamboo finish which is the best of both worlds--offers the lightest-weight desktop option in the dark finish I wanted. Uplift did stock a dark finish bamboo according to their print catalog, but apparently they sold out of it very fast and couldn't source more.
- Lead time: Due to COVID-19 and supply chain issues, the Uplift rubberwood desktop I wanted (sourced from Vietnam) was back-ordered by two months. Fully could have shipped a comparable desktop within a week or two by comparison.
- Uplift V2 with a two-leg C-frame in the industrial-style metallic finish
- 60x30 solid rubberwood desktop in the dark finish
- two standard wire grommets
- basic wire management kit
- magnetic cable organizing channel in industrial-style metallic finish
- clamp-on power
- 8-outlet mountable surge protector
- the bamboo balance board and writing desk pad (free promo items)
After waiting two months and ten days, my desk finally arrived. The desk came in three boxes under a single FedEx shipment:
- The desktop itself
- The desk frame, legs, and control box
- The desk frame base and any added accessories
|Three-box FedEx shipment of my desk.|
I was most worried about the desktop itself since it was the item with the longest lead time, the most bulk, and the most at risk of being damaged during shipping. It ultimately weighed in at under sixty pounds though, and it arrived with no visible damage.
|Box in which the solid-wood desktop was shipped.|
The packaging around the packaging was quite good. After removing the external straps and some packing tape, the inside of the shipping box had hard cardboard corners, corrugated cardboard sheets to protect the top and bottom faces, hard cardboard framing on all four edges of the desk, fitted foam framing beneath that, and a thin foam sheet covering the entire desktop to avoid scuffing. The packaging was clearly designed to protect against drop damage on all edges and corners; it would take dropping this box on something sharp like steps or railing to do damage.
|Packaging of the desktop box. At this point I had only removed the external cardboard lid of the shipping box and a cardboard sheet that laid over the foam sheet pictured.|
Although I ordered a dark stain on my desktop, I was surprised to see that even the bottom of the desk was stained (albeit to a much lighter degree). I was expecting that the rubberwood would look cheap and uninteresting since it is the cheapest solid wood option, but the wood had quite a bit of grain showing through.
|Underside of the dark-finished rubberwood desk. Note that the underside is stained but to a far lighter degree than the top surface.|
I was also surprised that the underside of the desktop was completely pre-drilled. Since I move a lot, the notion of disassembling and reassembling a desk held together with wood screws every few years was not appealing. However, the abundance of nut inserts and machine screws means this desk can come apart many times without concern for stripping the wood.
|Wood nut inserts on the underside of the desk. These are where the frame attaches.|
Pre-drilled pilot holes were provided for mounting the motor control pad and the cable management tray, but everything else was fitted with nut inserts. The entire frame attaches to the desk with machine screws.
Three-inch diameter grommet holes were also pre-cut into the desktop and roughly finished. There was an uneven and thick coating of stain along the inside edges, but nowhere near enough to cause any concern.
|Three-inch grommet hole for cable pass-through.|
The second box contained most of the frame, the cable management tray, the motor control box, and assembly instructions. Coming packaged straight from the OEM just as the desktop had, this box of frame components was solid and used double-walled corrugated cardboard with all parts encased in form-cut foam.
|Packaging in the box containing the majority of the desk frame itself along with the assembly manual.|
The third box in the shipment was a catchall that contained all of the accessories I ordered and the base of the desk. Unfortunately this box was not packed nearly as well as the others since it was a box of boxes; in the photo below, there was only wadded-up packing paper filling out the gaps when I opened it. The grommets and control pad were banging around loose, and the white accessory boxes contained accessories wrapped with only thin bubble-wrap sleeves. As I detail later, one of my accessories did sustain damage that may have been related to this minimal packaging.
|Inside the accessory box. A length of crumpled packing paper was also included but is not shown.|
Like the desk frame box though, the box within this box that contained the frame base was OEM-packaged and had form-cut foam and double-walled corrugated cardboard.
Below is the box containing the base (top) and the box containing the rest of the frame with the first layer of frame components already removed (bottom). The shiny black piece in the middle of the bottom box is the plastic cable management tray that comes standard with the Uplift V2 desk frames now. The inclusion of this cable management tray obviates the need to buy the Advanced Cable Management Kit over the Basic Cable Management Kit as my Uplift sales rep, Cary, pointed out; this saved me a couple bucks in the end.
|The box containing the desk base (top) and the rest of the desk frame (bottom).|
Another nice touch about the Uplift desk is that all assembly components (screws, nuts, etc) all come in numbered pouches not unlike IKEA furniture. And, like IKEA furniture, the necessary Allen wrenches were also included, allowing you to genuinely assemble this desk with nothing other than a manual Philips screwdriver for the wood screws.
|All screws, cable ties, bolts, Allen wrenches, and other loose items. Plenty of extras were included.|
The desk also ships with excess and nice-to-have parts; for example, it includes both machine screws (if you use an Uplift pre-drilled desktop surface) and heavy wood screws (if you use your own desktop surface), and it comes with enough self-adhesive reusable cable mounts to tie down all of the cords and cables associated with the desk frame’s lifting mechanism.
The entirety of the desk frame components are shown below. Far fewer parts were involved than I thought, and the entire frame is held together using machine screws.
|Entire desk frame prior to assembly.|
The frame components themselves look and feel solid. For example, the base is reinforced steel that is definitely a cut above your typical flat-pack furniture.
|Close-up of one desk foot.|
The welding that connects the legs, frame top, and triangular stability brace looks robust. Also shown below are four of the Uplift’s unique accessory mounting points, which are threaded holes through a reinforced steel plate that’s welded to the structural part of the frame.
|Close-up of the joint between a desk leg and the top frame. The plate with holes are accessory mounting points. Also shown is the triangular stability brace which reduces wobble.|
Just as the frame is assembled entirely with machine screws, the frame itself also attaches to the desktop using machine screws. Every attachment point between the frame and desktop have thick rubber grommets above and below the frame, allowing the frame to firmly attach to wood desktops that may vary in thickness by a few millimeters. Again, all screws and washers came with the desk frame itself, and all of the pre-drilled holes lined up with the frame perfectly without needing to bend or stretch anything as one sometimes has to do with IKEA furniture.
|Attachment point between desk frame and desktop. Rubber grommets are affixed to the frame at all points, and all attachment bolts come with washers.|
It’s also notable that the assembly instructions for the desk are written by a native English speaker, and they contain unexpectedly helpful pointers and details specific to this desk’s assembly. For example, you have a choice of which side to mount the keypad that controls the desk’s elevation, and the manual reminds you that you are looking at the desk upside-down as you're doing this. As a result, you have to install the keypad opposite of where you want it to be when the desk is right-side up; this sort of thing is a mistake I'd make and then get mad about.
|Excerpt from the assembly manual. Very well written.|
In addition, Uplift e-mails you links to assembly videos a few days before your desk arrives, so if you aren’t big on reading all the instructions before you start (like me), you can still quickly scope out what things to be careful of during assembly ahead of time. I found the video particularly helpful for showing some good ways to bundle and tie down excess power/control cables for the frame.
Finally, although the English instructions are fantastic and clear, English is the only set of instructions that ships with the desk. Non-English speakers may be in some trouble, but I have to assume that Uplift knows its customer base and made a decision to ship less paper in favor of saving more trees. I’ll also note that I watched the assembly video with no sound, and it’s quite easy to understand regardless of language.
Speaking of mounting the keypad though, this is done using wood screws instead of machine screws. There are two sets of pre-drilled pilot holes under the desktop, and driving the wood screws into them is completely possible by hand using a Philips head screwdriver. Note below that the unused pair of pilot holes shown below are for different keypad options you can choose when buying the desk.
|Height control keypad attached to the underside of the desk using two wood screws.|
The plastic cable management tray included with the frame also mounts using pre-drilled pilot holes and provided wood screws. However, I found that the pre-drilled holes in the desktop did not line up with the pre-drilled holes in the tray itself; they were misaligned by a few millimeters. Since I know that I am a measure-once/cut-twice kind of person, I chose to drill new holes in the cable tray to match the holes in the desk since plastic is a lot more forgiving than wood. And sure enough, I did need to drill twice since I only measured once.
|Slight misalignment between the pre-drilled pilot holes in the desk and the included cable management tray.|
After screwing everything together, it’s a small matter to install the control box since it just slides into a bracket in the frame. Running cables from it to the motors in each desk leg and connecting the cable from the control keypad are similarly straightforward. As noted earlier, the desk frame comes with a handful of self-adhesive reusable cable ties which adhere to the metal frame very well. The written instructions provide guidance on where to best stick these along the frame to keep the wires out of sight, and the video includes additional recommendations on how to tie down the longer stretches of cable slack. This frame is suitable for desks up to 80 inches wide but I bought a 60-inch desk, so I had a good two feet of excess cable to tie down and tuck away.
|Fully assembled desk, ready to be flipped upright. At this point all the cables had already been tied down with the included self-adhesive reusable zip ties.|
Flipping the desk upright was a two-person job because it’s about a hundred pounds, and the Advanced Comfort Keypad sticks out in a way that makes resting the desk on its long edge inadvisable. However the end result was a lot less labor than I anticipated; I found that removing packing material from my small home office as I assembled probably doubled the time it took me to assemble.
|Fully assembled desk standing upright. Notice how much darker the top finish is compared to the bottom.|
One of the big draws of ordering an Uplift is the degree of customizability in accessories; spending days agonizing about exactly which accessories to include was part of the retail therapy for me. Uplift also includes a couple of free accessories with each desk order which somehow makes it easier to rationalize taking a risk on buying accessories that may prove to be frivolous or unusable.
|Most of the accessories that I ordered with my desk.|
I ordered the following accessories at the same time as my desk:
Two Wire Grommets - I was tempted to get at least one Power Grommet to simplify plugging in transient stuff like my desk fan, but I also needed at least two accessible USB plugs for my phone and headphones in addition to standard 120V outlets. Given the steep cost of Power Grommets ($69 each!), I opted to solve both problems with the $45 Clamp-on Power accessory instead and stick with the cheap plastic pass-through grommets. And make no mistake, these grommets look and feel pretty cheap! But they are a standard 3" diameter, so you could get any third-party grommets you want if you want to dress up your desk.
Clamp-on Power with USB - This accessory provides two standard 120V outlets and two 5V USB-A outlets with enough amperage to charge both my iPad Pro and wireless headphones. I was worried that this would feel cheap, but it does not; the body feels like steel, and the clamp is solid. The only issue I have with it is that the power cord is very thick and comes straight down out of the bottom of the enclosure. There's no way to avoid having the power cord awkwardly bend against your desktop, in plain sight, and be routed off the desktop either off the back or all the way to the nearest grommet hole. It'd have been preferable if the power cord came out the back of the enclosure, or at least behind the clamp, so that it's not visible while seated.
Advanced Comfort Keypad - I wanted a programmable keypad, and a couple of reviews online said it was worth the extra $10. It's easier to view and control since it comes out from under the desk at an angle, but as a result, it also cannot sit flush with the bottom surface of the desk. I worry that this will subject it to damage if someone carelessly tips the desk on its front edge while trying to invert it, but one just has to be careful.
Bamboo Motion-X Board - This was a free promo item that I thought was going to be a cheap gimmick, but I'm genuinely glad I wound up getting it! I spend a lot of time on Zoom calls, and being able to rock around is more fun than tapping my leg to keep my blood flowing. For an extra $20, you can also slap an adhesive foam standing mat on top of it so it doubles as a more comfortable standing surface but I've yet to feel the need to get this. I will say that the bare bamboo board is hard on my feet after ten minutes, but I've found myself able to rock around for 60-90 minutes on it while wearing socks and/or slippers.
Writing Desk Pad - This was the other free promo item I got, and again, I wouldn't have considered it if it wasn't free. I got it in navy blue which turned out to be a beautiful color that complements my dark desk finish, and it does add both contrast and wrist comfort to the desk. Although I don't use a mouse, I would expect that it obviates the need for a mousepad as well. Contrary to its leather-like appearance, it is urethane-based, waterproof, and very pliable. Again, nicer and more useful than I expected.
Basic Wire Management Kit - I ordered this because I wanted the cable coil and zipper, and I figured that the extra zip ties and power strip would come in handy. I also initially requested the Advanced Wire Kit (which is just this basic kit plus the wire tray), but Cary at Uplift pointed out that Uplift v2 desks now include a wire tray and there's literally no sense in spending the extra $10. It also turned out that the desk frame ships with enough adhesive reusable zip ties so that I didn't need those, the magnetic cable organizing channel largely obviated the need for the cable coil, and the 8-outlet mountable surge protector meant I didn't need the power strip. I'm sure the extra ties and hook from this will find a use sometime in the future though, and I was appreciative that my Uplift sales associate actually down-sold me on something that he knew was superfluous--never had that happen before!
Magnetic Cable Organizing Channel - This is a neat metal tube that allows you to run a small bundle of cables down a desk leg discretely. As simple as it is, I quite like it since (1) it is large enough to support both the 14-gauge power cord from my desk's power strip and an Ethernet cable, (2) it matches my desk's finish so it's aesthetically invisible, and (3) it's easy to pop off to add or remove additional cables to the bundle without having to undo zip ties. This was one of the nice touches that Uplift had that Fully lacked, and the aesthetic and convenience is totally worth the $25.
8-Outlet Mountable Surge Protector - This is a really cool power strip that mounts directly to the accessory points unique to the Uplift desk. It has 900 J of surge protection, eight outlets configured so that you can stick wall warts to all of them, and a mounting position that makes it easy to bundle excess cable in the adjacent cable tray. A nice bonus of this surge protector is that it actually fits a standard 19", 1U form factor too. Shown below is the 3-hole ear from the power strip's mounting plate laying on top of a standard 1U server rack ear.
|The 3-hole ear from the power strip's mounting plate lines up perfectly with a standard 19" server's rack ear.|
You can't mount any old 1U PDU to an Uplift V2 desk without this kit because you'd still need the metal adapters that connect 1U ears to the Uplift V2 accessory mounts, but if you ever do need to replace the actual surge suppressor part of this kit, you could probably buy a third-party 1U PDU to replace it.
Unfortunately, I had a lot of problems with this accessory because of its low manufacturing quality. When my initial desk shipment arrived, this surge protector came out of the box with a lot of plastic bits rattling around inside, and some of the outlets did not receive a plug as well as others. I reported the symptoms to Cary at Uplift, and he immediately offered to send a replacement and said I could just toss the broken one. This no-hassle replacement really dulled the initial disappointment of receiving a broken part.
When the replacement kit came, it too came out of the box with the sound of rattling plastic inside. Since I had a broken spare that was destined for the trash, I decided to take it apart to see if I could repair it and avoid having to wait another week for a second replacement to arrive. As soon as I unscrewed one end, indeed, a bunch of black plastic shards came pouring out of the mostly hollow interior. It was also clear that something was detaching from the aluminum case that should've been holding the eight plugs in place:
|Viewing inside of the 8-outlet power strip with an end removed. Something at the far end is clearly out of alignment.|
Unscrewing the other end of the surge protector allowed the aluminum housing to slide right off, and that's when the root problem became very apparent--the entire mechanical interface for each pair of outlets is housed in a clamshell-like plastic enclosure that is held together with three small screws. In both my original shipment and the replacement, something impacted the power strip so hard that it shattered the cheap plastic of this housing, causing the back half to detach from the front-facing half that anchors to the aluminum housing:
|Broken plastic attachment points, still holding little steel screws.|
These plastic housings each support two plugs, and in my originally shipped part, three out of the four housings (six out of eight plugs) were completely destroyed. I can envision a case where trying to plug something into such a damaged strip could pose a fire hazard, so I am surprised that this wasn't identified as an issue during its UL certification.
|Dissected power strip with three of four housings being completely broken.|
Fortunately, the gap between the aluminum housing and the back of these housings is exactly 0.75". I was able to safely repair both damaged power strips by going to my local hobby store and buying pieces of wood that were 0.75" x 0.5", cutting them to the length of the power strip, and then re-assembling the housings such that the backings were wedged into place between their front half and this piece of wood instead of relying on the (broken) plastic attachment points.
This was the only dissatisfying part of the entire process, and the fact that Uplift sent a replacement without giving me a hard time made it much easier to cope with. I'll add that this power strip, despite being $59.00, felt like the cheapest accessory of the lot, and nothing else I ordered was damaged. The fact that I got two broken ones in a row suggests that either these parts are not being packaged appropriately for shipment, or there is a damaged lot of these at the Uplift warehouse. Until Uplift makes a more robust revision of this part though, I can't recommend ordering one unless you can pick it up in-person in Austin. It's a really convenient accessory, but it's not very sturdy for its price tag.
Aside from the inconvenience around the 8-outlet surge protector, I really have no regrets about the time and money I put into buying this desk. The benefits to me were manyfold.
Having an ergonomic desk setup makes work more comfortable. I was fortunate to not have any ergonomic pain with my older IKEA desk, but the fact that it had drawers meant I could not type at the correct height without smashing my knees into the bottom of the desk. By virtue of being a bona fide computer desk, I can now have my keyboard at a good height while my feet are flat on the floor, and with the help of a monitor stand, position my display at the correct eye level. Being a bona fide computer desk, I can also install a clamp-on monitor stand, keyboard tray, or other accessories later on too.
Having a nice desk has improved my mood while working. Some people are content to work in spartan cubicles, but I am not one of them. I'm one of those guys who has plants, photos, tchotchkes, Christmas lights, and even an SGI O2 at my desk.
|My desk at work last December, complete with pizza-shaped lights.|
I also have a bunch of eccentric "nice" stuff from which I derive joy throughout the work day, like my favorite work bag or my wacky ostrich skin boots.
|My therapeutic full-quill ostrich boots can't give me joy so long as I am working from home, but a similarly extravagant and frivolous desk can.|
I quickly realized that losing my commute and moving into my neutral and inoffensive guest room took a lot of those little joys out of my day, resulting in just a higher general baseline level of stress and unease while working. Surrounding myself with junk that I like--whether it be nicely finished wood desktop, a sweet Cray 3 poster, or a big bushy ficus--greatly improved my overall mood.
Having something fun to plan and look forward to is important to break up the monotony during the pandemic. I've realized that all the travel I used to do for work helped to keep me motivated throughout the year; whether it be CUG in New Zealand, ISC in Frankfurt, or even a CORAL-2 review in Tennessee, there was always something new to look forward to. Getting excited about customizing the perfect desk is much like planning the perfect ISC presentation, and waiting for the desk to arrive is like waiting to have your first ultra-jetlagged Flammenkuchen and Apfelwein on the bank of the River Main. Having a goal has proven to be critical to getting me through the bad weeks of working through the pandemic.
Having said all this, I realize that I am very fortunate to be employed throughout this pandemic and able to afford buying such an expensive desk. For those who share similar fortune, though, this desk was well worth the cost given the enjoyment I've gotten out of this process.