What studying in medschool looks like…
Here are several images that the interviewees were kind enough to share for public consumption.
Bonus content → how to DIY a standing desk ± treadmill
Below are five images of my desk and treadmill setup. When I started medical school I knew I’d spend much of my life studying, so it was easy for me to justify building my “dream desk.” I have since changed the design a few times. Some details on how it has evolved can be found below the pics.
The desk frame is made from T6-6061 aluminum tubing (technically the metal supplier calls this pipe, so use the word ‘pipe’ if you go to a metal supplier). You can buy this at a local metal supplier for $2.25/ft if you go with the “one inch schedule 40 aluminum pipe” type. I seem to recall that one inch is the inner diameter, with the outside being something like 1.315 inches. The hardware that affixes the aluminum pipes together is also made from aluminum. These fittings come from a company called Hollaender (the product line is “Speed Rail”). You can buy these on ebay for a few bucks a piece. There are dozens of different styles, and they are often used for railings, shelving in midrange-to-upscale stores, and other industrial fixtures. Mostly I have elbows and 90 degree passthroughs, with a few fittings that allow three pipes to intersect at right angles. One could construct the desk with angled bracing on just one side. Or no bracing but with a sheet of plywood on the back of the desk which would act as bracing. One key here is to decide the height of the desk. My impression is that your hands are most naturally angled when slightly below your elbows. Here is a photo from testing different heights during my first iteration, which was pre-treadmill. So anyway, the treadmill is a key aspect, because it will have some height. So if you want to do a treadmill desk, either you’ll need an adjustable height desk, or you’ll want to get the treadmill first, since they can vary up to a few inches in height. My “TreadDesk” brand treadmill was 4″ tall and my Sole is 7″. Or, worst case, you do what I did: re-buy 4 pieces of vertical aluminum tubing that are now 7″ taller (or whatever) once you buy your treadmill. For my desk that added about $50 in expense to re-buy those pieces when I converted to the treadmill. Entirely disassembling the desk (to swap the tubes) and then reassembling it was a much bigger annoyance than the loss of the $50.
The super low budget way to build something like this is with ‘schedule 40 black iron pipe’ from your local big box hardware store, and using the threaded iron pipe fittings they also sell there. One particular big box store even has a how-to post on their blog. The pipe and fittings are greasy when you buy them, so you’ll need to also get xylene or some industrial solvent and some rags to wipe them 100% clean before you start using them for anything. The other downside to threaded iron pipe is that when you buy aluminum pipe from a metal supplier, they will (for free) cut the pipe to exactly whatever length you want. So you can plan the entire desk ahead of time, walk in, and just give them a list of the 20 pieces of pipe you need in various lengths. You can therefore build an entire desk with basically just your imagination and an allen key. With threaded iron pipe you will be constrained to whatever lengths you can find pre-cut and pre-threaded. Online there are folks who claim that big box stores have a pipe threader and will cut and thread pipe for you … my experience in multiple stores is that the threader is always broken. If you use iron pipe and adjustable fittings (eg Speedrail) instead of threaded fittings this may save a bit of money over aluminum, but then you’ll have to cut the pipe to length yourself, which is a lot of work and difficult to get each piece exactly the same as the others unless you have a proper workshop (ie repeatable precision is difficult with a portable chopsaw and near impossible with a handheld reciprocating saw).
For a low budget wood solution, you might consider using IKEA finnvard trestles. I cannot personally comment on whether they would be tall enough at max extension and if so how wobbly they might be. So I’d definitely go to an IKEA store first and evaluate them with that in mind. At low height they do seem reasonably solid (I know someone who has them for a sitting desk). So it’s possible they might be solid at standing height, in which case your desk could be both a standing and sitting desk, albeit with a medium amount of annoyance to adjust it from one height to the other.
A final low budget (and less DIY) solution to consider: one can also sometimes find butcher block adjustable height “workbenches” on amazon a for surprisingly decent price ($200-300 w/ Prime). They are not pretty at all, but they do appear pretty solid (given their intended use), so if you just want something solid and easy and are willing to sacrifice on some aesthetics, that might be a thought. Here are a couple of examples that were $231 and $215 and $303 at the time of writing this post. They aren’t as long as my desk, nor quite as deep, but they’re fraction of the cost and are less ‘DIY.’ My guess is that for someone around 6′ tall you are going to want a desktop height of ~42-45″ … so keep in mind that any workbench you buy might need you to put casters or different feet on the bottom or come up with some other solution that adds a few inches to the height (note the $303 one has casters and a height of 44″). If you’re 5’6″ though, a workbench with a 34-40″ adjustable height would be perfectly suitable
The top of my desk is butcher block I purchased from a local lumber supplier. Local big box stores also carry this, usually meant for countertops. It’s 25″ deep, which seems to be a standard depth for countertops. I have found 25″ deep to be totally sufficient. I was worried I’d want 30+ like normal desk, but it turned out to be fine. I lightly sanded using a 3M scotchbrite and then oiled with mineral oil a couple of times. As long as you don’t get water on the wood you don’t actually need to ‘seal’ it with a commercial sealing product.
The treadmill I bought on Craigslist. This was my second treadmill. I started with a purpose built “desk treadmill” but it was limited to 4mph and I eventually decided I wanted to also be able to run. I watched CL until a decent running treadmill came up for cheap. Supposedly regular/cheaper treadmills wear out pretty easily if you actually use them for running. Many CL treadmills are barely used, and I have found that they all seem to approach a pricing asymptote. So a low end treadmill on CL might cost within $100 of what a very high end running treadmill could cost. Regardless of the brand you buy, virtually all of the normal treadmills have the “starship Enterprise command console” sort of thing with handrails that are bridged at the front end of the treadmill by the giant console. But you can disassemble all of that. After all, it gets shipped to buyers’ houses (or the treadmill store) in a flat box. Just scrap the handrails, the giant console casing, and just keep the couple of the switches from the handrails as well as the circuitboards from the console. I have the speed switch from the handrail mounted (with velcro and gaff tape) on a crossmember of the desk near my keyboard. I have the circuitboards with indicators mounted to the back of the desk, raised just high enough that I can see the top row of LCDs that show my speed and distance. At present the circuitboards are living in a cardboard casing that I mocked up (be careful not to short them, obviously). Building a proper wood encasement is on my list of random household projects to undertake eventually.
I decided to try stools at the desk for when I am not walking/running or when someone else wants to work at my desk. I bought some stools online from Target (I think they were $70 for 2, delivered to my house). I then found two 36″ wooden dowels (from my local big box hardware store) that were juuuuust slightly larger diameter than the rubber plugs that went into the bottom of the 31″ stools. I took the plugs out, cut the dowels into four pieces each, and started sanding each piece at one end (checking frequently!) such that eventually each would just barely start to slide into the stool leg and the sanded portion was ~2″ long with a very slight taper. I chose to make one stool several inches taller than the other, so people of different heights could use my desk. Someday I might build a swing-out aluminum seat that is adjustable in height and affixed to the vertical riser at the end of the desk (like this), but for now I’m okay using a stool when I choose to sit.