How to Build a Quasi-Adjustable Height — Sitting to Standing Desk — from a Solid Core Interior Door and Two Rockwell JawStands™ — Quick, Workable and Comparatively Cheap

© 2013 Peter Free


16 October 2013


Photograph of quasi adjustable sitting to standing desk from Peter Free how to build it article.


Photograph of quasi adjustable sitting to standing desk from Peter Free how to build it article.



Who this “how to” is for


Anyone who wants:


(a) a workable


(b) adjustable desk


(c) that spans the height range from sitting to standing,


(d) comes partially apart for easier moving,


(e) whose components can be reused for other purposes




(e) costs “only” about $220 USD maximum (and considerably less, if you already have some of its components).



Who this is not for


Someone who:


wants an elegant and finely crafted furniture piece,


needs to adjust desk height every day,




requires an absolutely vibration-free desk surface.


The guiding philosophy for this build


Quick, comparatively cheap, solid enough to live with, and no woodworking skill required.


Ordinarily, I’m a perfectionist.  But there are time we want something workable right away and don’t really care how finely crafted it looks.


This build took less than 24 hours, from buying the materials that I didn’t already have to putting the finished product to work.


The project also has the advantage of incorporating components that I can use for other projects, if I decide the desk build was not such a great idea.



Why I did not buy a readymade desk


Being a military family, we move a lot.  Movers usually take a nasty toll on anything nice and often destroy what’s flimsy.


Additionally, if I cannot carry a piece of furniture up and down stairs and load it into a pickup truck by myself — even in my late sixties — I don’t want to own it.


Quality desks cost thousands of dollars.  Usually they are obscenely heavy, inordinately bulky, and not adjustable.  Almost everything else on the market is overpriced, unergonomic crap.



Materials list


Look at the below “caveat” section, before buying any of these items:


two Rockwell Jawstands™ (model RK 9033)

one solid core interior door (either 80” x 30” or 80” x 32”) 

two eight foot 2 x 4s — or one eight foot 2 x 6 (if you are going to rip the width)

wood glue

measuring tape

carpenter’s square


saw (hand or circular)

eye protection


screwdriver (to open the stain can)

paint brush or foam rubber applicator

mineral spirits and an empty can (to clean the brush, if you use one)




Caveat 1 — heft one of these doors, before you commit to this build


Solid core doors are heavy and awkward to handle.  They come in two thicknesses.  Interior doors are usually 1 3/8 (1.375) inches thick.  Exterior doors are usually start at 1 3/4 (1.750) inches thick.


Although the difference in weight (due to the difference in the thickness) seems trivial, it is not — when it comes time to solo it up stairs or through narrow openings.


I chose the 30-inch interior width to make the desk surface more manageable in bulk and weight.  The extra two inches of width in the 32-inch size added just enough mass to make me question its practicality for people who move a lot.


People who want an even broader desk surface should keep in mind that a solid core exterior door, at 36 inches wide and 1.750 inches thick, is probably going to be prohibitively heavy — unless you plan to leave it in one place for years at a time.  After handling one of these in the store, I decided that I would forgo its increased desk surface area for the comparatively much better portability of a 30-inch interior solid core door.


Even the 30-inch wide solid core interior door may not be for you, if you have to negotiate the desktop through multiple doorways and/or up more than few flights of stairs by yourself:


By the end of this project, I had carried the door desktop back and forth through several doorways, a few hallways, tight corners, and up two flights of stairs.


I also had to wrestle it on and off the JawStands™ multiple times, while simultaneously trying to miss a low-hanging ceiling fan and computer equipment.


By the end of the project, I was beginning to wonder whether I would have been better off making the desktop out of a single piece of 3/4 inch plywood with warp-preventing braces glued to the bottom.



Regarding hollow core doors — avoid them for desk purposes?


Hollow core doors are filled with cardboard and air.  They are attractively light, but I question their ability to suitably function as a desk top.


If you knock on one of them, you will notice how much the surface veneer panel bends inward with each impact.



Caveat 2 — are Rockwell Jawstands™ really for you?


The Rockwells look industrial.


Worse, their tripod stance takes up floor space:


If you position the stands’ jaws at the outer edges of the desk surface, one of the legs on each side of it is going to project outward into passersby’s space.


The two other legs take up noticeable area underneath the desk.  If you position the stands too close to the desk user’s seated position, his or her feet or legs are going to hit one or more of the Jawstands’ legs.


These space considerations encouraged me to use an 80-inch door as the desk surface, after I had experimented with a 48-inch desk top made from a plastic folding table:


By putting the stands ten inches inboard on the 80-inch panel, I could minimize the legs’ projection outboard.


By spacing the stands 60 inches apart underneath the door, I could leave just enough unobstructed floor under the desk for the user’s legs.



An aside — regarding my previous 48-inch plastic table desktop experiment


Plastic tables (with folding steel legs) have hidden flaws, insofar as desk use goes.  They are not adjustable, and they wiggle enough to be annoying.  Mine was a couple of inches too tall, so I had to hacksaw a bit off each leg.


Eventually, I wanted to experiment with different desk heights for ergonomic purposes, so I put the plastic table on top of two JawStands™ that I bought for the purpose.


As time went by, both of the plastic table’s plastic leg-retaining clips broke.  The legs would occasionally slam into mine, when they had been folded up, or get in the way, when left hanging down.


I then made the mistake of removing the metal leg assembly and using just the plastic table top.  The plastic began sagging to a noticeable level within a week.  Pens rolled toward the desk’s center and my computer display was always angled away from horizontal.


Photograph of sagging plastic table used as a desk top for Peter Free article showing how to replace it with a solid core door.


Hence this door desktop project.



Measurements and cutting


One of the key measurements in this project is the approximately 2 1/2 inch depth of JawStands’ clamp space.  Notice that the clamp portion of the JawStands is located at the bottom of the clamp space.


Photograph of 2 x 6 held by a Rockwell JawStand for Peter Free article showing how to use the stands to make an adjustable height desk.


My design depends on two glued-on “flanges” that are going to sit inside the JawStands’ clamps and keep the door desk top from moving around on the stands.


The 2 x 4s or 2 x 6s that you cut are going to function in two capacities:


(a) two 20-inch pieces are going to become the end “flanges” that each of the JawStands™ clamp onto, to keep the desk surface in place




(b) a longer 54.5 inch section is going to serve as a “stringer” (brace) that runs lengthwise down the center vertical axis of the door — it serves to counter the door’s tendency to sag downward under the weight of whatever is going to sit on top of the desk.


If you are of short or average height, you will almost certainly want to “rip” the flange pieces to 2.5 to 3.0 inches in width.  See below.





The gap between the flanges and the stringer is necessary, so that the JawStand™ tops have room to clamp onto the flanges.


Peter Free diagram for his quasi adjustable home built sitting to standing desk.



A non-obvious consideration — regarding the vertical height of the “flanges” and how they seat into the JawStands’ clamps


If you make each flange too high — meaning that you don’t rip the 2 x 4 or 2 x6 flanges down to a lesser width — the desk may wind up being too tall for some chairs.


This is due to the fact that the JawStand’s adjustable column hits the floor at the stand’s lowest position.


Before cutting, you should assess whether you want (a) the lowest sitting position possible or (b) the highest standing desk:


If you want the lowest sitting position — without shortening the JawStands’ steel center columns — you should rip your 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 flanges to 2.5 to 3.0 inches wide.


On the other hand, if you are tall and are planning to use the desktop occasionally as a standing desk, you may want to use the full width of the 2-bys, so as to give you a bit more height at the JawStands’ highest column position.


I found this out the hard way.  I didn’t rip my 2 x 6s, so my initial desktop attempt was two inches too high for the chair and exercise ball that I sit on.


I then had to figure out how to rip the already glued on flanges down to 2 1/2 inches.  That story is below.



Gluing the flanges and stringer to the bottom of the door — delightfully sloppy craftsmanship


Select the side of the door that you want to be the top side.  The veneer on each side probably look different.


Put the top side down on the floor and measure out where the stringer and the two flanges are going to go.


It is easiest just to measure where the ends of each board will be.  The marks will look like this:


Peter Free diagram showing how to mark door for support structure for quasi adjustable sitting to standing desk.


If you want to put the glue on the door surface, rather than the flanges and stringer, it may be helpful to pencil in the long axis of each board on the door.  That will let you know where the glue should go.


I was too lazy to do that.


Select the flattest, squarest side of each board.  You can test these edges with a square, a level, or a reasonably flat hard floor.  In most cases, one edge of 2 x 6 or 2 x 4 is going to be look better than the other.  This is the side that you will glue to the underside of you door desk.


Here’s the slop factor — these are going to be glued butt joints.  No dowels, dados, brackets, nails or screws:


The reasoning for this egregious corner-cutting  is that these are not genuinely significant load-supporting joints.


The flanges serve only to keep the door in place on the JawStands™.  All the glue has to do is keep the flange from popping off the underside of the door.


The stringer’s glue just has to keep the unsupported weight of the stringer from detaching from the veneer of the door.


Recall that the whole point to this desk build is to do it fast, cheap, and with minimal hassle.


Keep in mind, too, that the wood product(s) inside a solid core door are “trash” — which means that I do not trust them to hold a fastening device or a conventional woodworking joint.


There are two ways to run the glue:


freehand on the underside of the door, between the marks you have made for the ends of each of the three boards,




along the chosen edge of each of the boards.


Both choices will likely make a mess:


If you try to free hand between the end marks that locate the stringer — without first having penciled in a line for the long axis — you will probably wander off the imaginary line and go beyond the lateral edges of where the stringer is actually going to be.


And, if you run a stripe along the edge of any of the boards to avoid the first problem, you will probably have some trouble getting the glued edge perfectly lined up with the end marks on the door on your first try.


Does excess glue on the veneer matter?  Sure.  It will keep any stain that you apply later from penetrating.  Even if the glue is water soluble, it will be challenging to “mop” it up, without displacing the now drying butt joint.


I used the glue-the-edge method and got spillover by repositioning the boards in a couple of places. Most of the misplaced glue wiped off.  The result did not look bad, even after staining.



Clamping — also half-assed, but effective


I weighted the gluing joints with cans of pineapple and wood stain.


Photograph showing how Peter Free weight clamped the suppor structure for his home built quasi adjustable sitting to standing desk.


Notice (in the picture) that I had not yet discovered that I was going to have to rip the flanges down to a narrower width.


Allow the project to dry overnight.



Staining — demonstrating the merit of using whatever materials that you have on hand


I used an old rubber bed mat from a pickup truck that I no longer own to protect the garage floor.  The shortbed mat was not quite long enough for the 80 inch door, so I put newspaper at one end.


Instead of using a brush to apply the stain — because I did not have mineral spirits on hand to clean it afterward — I used a throw-away foam rubber applicator.  The applicator was too wide to fit into the stain can (which is why I still had it).  I used it anyway, by dipping the bit of one edge that I could get into the can.  The foam applicator part soon ripped, as they always do.


The stain itself was leftover from two other jobs.  (Whatever I had on hand was going to be the door desk’s color.)


Start staining with the door’s chosen top side down.  I began on the flanges and stringer. These are more time-consuming.  Wipe the excess stain off, before doing the rest of the door surface around them.


Do not stain the edges yet.  If you do, excess is likely to run down and onto the chosen top side, without you knowing.  That could make drip or pool marks on the top side that will be difficult to cover.


Wipe off the excess with a rag.


Flip the door over:


If you are working solo, it is easiest to tip the door onto one end, carry it to other end of the floor-protecting mat, and then lay it down again.


The door will now be sitting (raised up from the floor) on its flanges and the stringer.  The elevated position makes doing the edges easier.


Stain the edges.  Wipe the underside of each to catch drips that ran down to the bottom side.  Then do the top of the door.


You don’t need to be especially careful.  My experience has been that wood takes up only so much stain, in relatively short time.  I did all my wiping at the end of the application process:


Regarding the non-effect of sloppy procedure, my foam brush had ripped and was leaving streaks in the topside application because the brush’s plastic handle was protruding through the ripped foam rubber.


I got around this by dumping stain directly onto the door from the can, rather than by picking up via the brush.  Using the foam applicator in a nearly flat position, parallel to its handle, avoided leaving marks.


Wipe off the excess stain and run the rag along the underside of all the edges.



Check for missed spots — by propping the door


You can check for missed spots on both top and bottom surfaces by standing the door up against a wall.  Protect the floor with newspaper.  I flopped a double sheet of newspaper over the top flange and leaned it against the wall.


Photograph of homemade door desktop for Peter Free article showing how to make it.


The resulting position allows you to check every surface except the bottom edge of the door.


At this point, I was about 17 hours into the project on a day that was too cold and gray to dry the stained door in the sun.



Check for more drips — during the drying period


Chances are excellent that propping the door nearly vertical against a wall is going to cause excess stain to run out from under the flanges and the stringer.


If you leave the door standing too long, without checking, the long run marks (on the bottom side of the desktop) will be difficult to remove.  That’s what happened to me, while I was busy doing something else.  It took some determination to get rid of the streaks.



Moving the door before the stain is completely dry — white carpets and walls


My goal was to get this job done within a day.  That meant ignoring the wood glue and stain manufacturers’ recommended 24-hour drying periods.  Living in relatively dry Colorado makes this kind of shortcut occasionally workable.


The oil-based, cherry colored stain was not completely dry, when I decided to move the door desktop out of the garage and upstairs, along white walls and on top of off-white carpet.


I planned a route to the upstairs office, putting newspaper down in three “rest” spots along the way.  In between these, I would carry the door, resting it on one of my feet, while I maneuvered it under doorways and around corners.


The first hitch arrived, when I noticed a pool of wet stain under the floor edge of the standing door.  A bunch of excess had run out from a pocket under both the stringer and one flange.  That meant that the runs and the edge were wetter than the rest of door.  But, if I were going to meet my self-imposed 24-hour deadline, I needed to get the desktop on top of the JawStands™ in spite of that glitch.


That meant that I had to wrestle the door hither and yon, checking for and wiping other leaks.


After that, my plan went as intended.  Somewhat of a surprise.  Generally, when I’m doing something stupid behind my wife’s back, I get caught.



A not so minor disaster — and how to recover from being a bonehead


Hoisting and positioning the door onto the Rockwell stands, without touching the small room’s walls, carpet, or ceiling fan proved to be challenging.  After getting the desktop in place, I noticed that the unripped 2 x 6 flanges made it too high.  The obvious solution was to rip them down to 2.5 to 3.0 inches.


Sounds easy, doesn’t it?


The sawing task quickly demonstrated itself not to be innocuous. First, I did not want to carry the still not-dry door back down the stairs and outside into the frigid day.  That meant I had to cope with the geometry difficulties posed by the cramped office where I was.  How was I going to get the saw onto the flange, without bumping into something else?


Then there was the weight of my professional quality circular saw.  If I put the desktop flat on its top side, each flange would be vertical.  That meant that I would have to saw a horizontal line, with nothing to support the saw as it traveled, blade parallel to the floor, along the board.


If I ameliorated some the saw weight problem by propping the door against a wall, I would be teetering about six plus feet up on a stepstool — while trying to navigate the same line — with gravity still tending to pull the saw off track, due to the slight angle formed by the door (and flange) and supporting wall.


Furthermore, without being able to slide my feet forward as the cut progressed, I would be pushing the saw with increasingly less strength to support it.


Both approaches seemed like an efficient way to cut something attached to me off.


Looking around, I noticed that my 3-foot level was just wide enough to serve as a supporting jig underneath the saw’s guide plate. So, I returned the door to a flat position on the floor.


The jig approach worked, although it took some care to keep the 3-foot level firmly pushed against the flange, while I simultaneously kept the saw’s guide plate flat and moving forward.


Life’s perversity got its digs in by presenting me with the unusually dense wood of these particular 2 x 6s.  The saw blade had to work so hard that the room’s fire detector went off.


More wrestling and remedial staining finally finished the project, one hour ahead of schedule.



Height adjustability of the completed desk — more hassle than I had hoped for


The weight of the door desktop makes adjusting the full height of the JawStands™ challenging.  This is especially true if one (or both) ends of the desk are adjacent to a wall.


If you leave the top in place, you have to crawl under the desk and lift each side in increments.  It takes some strength to do this because the center columns quickly lose parallel alignment and add binding friction to the mass that you are trying to move.


I found myself having to lie on my back and use a leg or two, while I struggled to push on the column and simultaneously screw the locking hand nut in or out.


In the future, I will probably remove the desktop from the stands to adjust their height.  Of course, that will require taking everything off the desk.



Fine tuning desk levelness


This is where the JawStand™ clamp’s ability to tilt in one direction is helpful.  Notice that the tilt works in only one direction (to 90 degrees).


If your completed table tips slightly backward (away from the user) — and you have the stands set up so that the clamp mechanism can tilt forward (toward you) — then all you need to do to correct the table slant is rotate the door surface slightly downward at the front.


On the other hand, if the table slants downward toward the user — and you have the stands set up so that they can tilt forward (toward you) — you will either have to:


turn the JawStands around so that the clamp mechanisms tilt backward


use a shim at the front end of the clamp, so as to avoid having to flip the stands’ orientation.


Keep in mind that moving the stands is likely to slightly change whatever slant you originally objected to, simply because their tripod feet will now be in different places.


Tuning the desk’s side-to-side levelness is easier.  Just raise or drop one JawStand’s center column relative to the other.



Vibration — not too bad, but noticeable


Despite the door’s weight, the desk surface vibrates a bit while typing.


This can be reduced by allowing the JawStands’ center column to make solid contact with the floor.  Just be sure that the column is not so low that it raises one or more of the stands’ tripod feet.




The moral? — Not an ideal desk, but good enough for most purposes, and reusable components


The main drawback to using a solid core door as a desktop on JawStands™ is the door’s weight and bulk.  That makes moving it around, as well as adjusting the desk’s height, somewhat of a hassle.


Were I to do this again, I might experiment with a single piece of ¾ inch plywood with two stringers glued to the bottom to prevent sagging.  That assembly would be very much lighter, but it would probably vibrate more.


The only advantage to the door desktop project is the adjustability contributed by the JawStands™.  If you don’t need that ability, this build may not be worthwhile.


On the other hand, if I tire of my door desk, I can use its Rockwell stand “legs” for what they were intended.  And the door might be handy for another job.