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Hacking Hardware for Health - The Walking Desk

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 7:10am
Alfred Poor

alfred PoorAs a knowledge worker, I’ve logged way too many hours in desk chairs than is good for me. As much as I love my work, I’d also like to be off strolling around, getting some exercise. So when I discovered the concept of a “walking desk” on the Web, I knew I had to make one for myself.

The concept is simple; put a work surface on a treadmill, set it to a slow speed of about 1 mph, and then shuffle your way through the workday. You get off your padded parts, and can easily log six or seven miles in the course of an average workday. Depending on your size, you can lose pounds a week (provided that you don’t change your eating habits).

Office furniture makers such a Steelcase make handsome models suitable for an office environment, but as I work at home (and have no budget for new furniture), I decided to go the DIY route. Research on the Web showed solutions that ranged from balancing a laptop computer on the book rest to creating a plywood semicircle for a desktop that you can step into. I set my sights a bit higher, however. I wanted a full time replacement for my trusty old oak pedestal desk that holds my dual monitor stand, scanner, keyboard, phone, and other office essentials.

treadmillMy first step was to scavenge a discarded hollow-core closet door from a neighbor’s trash. (Truth be told, this then sat in my garage for six months until I got around to completing the project.) I then bought a use treadmill that I found on Craigslist. It took me about a week to find one conveniently close and under my target price.

My plan was to support the door on a structure mounted to the treadmill frame. I used two-by-fours as vertical risers that clamp to the arms of the treadmill. I then used on-by-fours as horizontal braces for the riser, tying the left and right pairs together. I then ripped a two-by-four in half to create mounting arms that extended from the front riser past the back riser. The result is I have two cantilevered supports for the door.treadmill frame

I made the desktop angled at about five degrees, rising in front of me. I type with my forearms resting on my desktop, so the keyboard sits about ten inches in from the edge. The front edge of the desktop is about a half-inch lower than my elbows, so I can rest my arms comfortably on the surface as I work.

I also removed the control panel, and cut it free from the rest of the superstructure that included the cup holder and book rest. The result was a wedge-shaped piece with a circuit board on the back. I cut a hole in the door so that the wedge could sit flush on the surface. I needed to extend the control cables, so I used some spare Cat5 scraps and a pair of 12-conductor connectors from Radio Shack to make an extended wiring harness. This also makes it easy to remove the desktop from the treadmill so that it can be moved.
walking desk
I spent less than $100 on the project: $75 for the treadmill, about $10 for lumber, and about $5 for the connectors. It took me less than one day of building and adjusting it in my shop. I find that I’m more focused and can concentrate better now that I’m walking as I work, and the time goes by quickly. And I’ve walked about a half hour in the time it took me to write this.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to write me at apoor@verizon.net if you want more details.

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