I'd like to make a simple, outdoor standing desk using minimal materials. My intended use case is to carry my laptop, monitor, and keyboard (and their cords) outside once or twice a day and work for 1-2 hours at a time, then bring those 3 things back inside. I'd like to keep my budget to $100 if possible.

I want the desk simple because I don't have much free time and the only tools I have are a hammer, level, and a decent impact drill with a small bit set. I want it outdoor because I spend almost no time outdoors and I need to change that. I want it standing because it requires no chair and it's supposed to be slightly better for you than sitting.

Not having much woodworking experience, my first thought was to mount two shelves onto a tree, the top shelf for my monitor and the bottom shelf for the keyboard. It won't quite be that simple however because I would need to stand about 3 feet away from the computer monitor, so making a 3-foot deep shelf for the keyboard does not seem very simple.

So what are your best ideas for a simple, outdoor standing desk?

I feel like I'm omitting some information so of course let me know if you need any more info from me.

  • Welcome to WSE. Your question may be a bit too broad to get good answers. Answers could range from a board on a couple concrete blocks all the way to some complex suitcase/cabinet type carrier that unfolds into a portable desk. No one can know what all the criteria you desire will be so it would be better to search the internet for ideas that might be candidates....
    – Ashlar
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 3:34
  • ...In addition questions asking for the 'best' are avoided because the answers are all opinion based. You are more likely to get good answers if you do some research, and show us the types solution you have in mind. Questions about how to build something are much more successful gaining good answers.
    – Ashlar
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 3:34
  • Hi and welcome. The no-chair requirement is fine, simplifies things for you and if that's your preference then that's your preference, but I want to mention that the benefits of standing desks are consistently overblown by aficionados, enthusiasts and people pushing the product or plans for one (either directly through paid plans or via YouTube views). In actual fact there is significant data to suggest that it's not a good long-term plan and actually worse for the user in numerous ways. Not that sitting for extended periods is without downsides of course! [contd]
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 8:38
  • But for the fact that you said you're planning to use this for only 1-2 hours per day I would have included this in a formal Answer, but I do caution against adopting the idea more widely in your life should you find it beneficial and think that you'd like to do it more, maybe get one/build one for the home or office too — that couple of hours may well be around the limit of what is beneficial.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 8:41

1 Answer 1


I think this is really too broad to get a proper Answer here but I'll try to give you some guidance to help you proceed.

I'm a big proponent of not reinventing the wheel and when it comes to standing desks, having been flavour of the month in certain circles in recent years, there is a lot available to draw from.

You can start with a plan or build-a-long online or in a woodworking book. An alternative is to approximately copy an existing standing desk of simple design and build that you see for sale, by measuring key dimensions and taking lots of photos from every angle, and going from there.

...the only tools I have are a hammer, level, and a decent impact drill with a small bit set.

I'm afraid this is not enough to do basic woodwork1.

You really have to have some facility to cut wood and even if you could buy all your wood cut to size (which often means said materials come at a premium2) you'd have no ability to make any adjustments that might be needed, alter something to suit an emergent situation or just to change your mind about an aspect of the design that comes to you during the building process..... or later after you've used the desk for the while and you have 'some notes' on the design ^_^

In general for basic woodworking you need some of the following:

  • At least one saw. I can't be more specific as the type of saw, whether it's manual or powered is very much up to individual preference and budget and what you're intending to cut.

  • Some measuring/layout tools. The most critical is a square of some type, as almost every piece of anything needs to be checked for square or marked for square, often multiple times.

  • Some marking tools. This is the simplest requirement as you don't need anything more sophisticated than a ballpoint and/or sharp pencil and a sharp knife for adequate marking out. Any sharp knife will do really, but if you need to buy something a basic utility knife or box cutter is fine and will have the most onwards utility3.

  • A few sanding supplies. At the most basic a pack of sandpaper and a sanding block. Good abrasive paper is generally worth it but you'll find it's more expensive than you're expecting. You can make a sanding block from just a cutoff of softwood, but various styles of sanding block (some of them plastic with metal clips to hold strips of paper torn from full sheets) are available to buy if that takes your fancy.

Further for this project specifically you may need some finish for the wood/wood products you end up using. Even if rated for exterior use the materials may benefit from having a little finish applied, e.g. to improve the way the surface ages with exposure to weather4.

I can't really give a good estimate of what these would cost because of all the variables, but even buying as cheaply as possible this is going to blow your budget, and you having even bought any wood or board materials yet. So some adjustment will be needed there unless you can source materials for cheap, or for free — from furniture left on the curb on trash day, at yard sales, castoffs or damaged pieces from building sites. And of course from the ubiquitous source of free wood, pallets. See Recycling "pre-loved" lumber -- techniques? and What do I need to know when looking at pallets for wood? for a bit more on this.

1 Old training manuals and beginner woodworking guides give an idea of what you might need to build the simplest starter projects and this will often include two saws, at least one hand plane and some or all of the measuring, layout and marking tools I've gone on to list, as well as a drill or drills and a range of bits.

I'd forgotten about these previous Questions until now, some more on what's needed to get started in the following:
Beginner's Toolset
What is a good starter traditional hand-tool set
What is the best way to get started with limited funds and space?

2 Not because of a cutting charge (a few cuts are often free) but because the type of place that will offer this service is often more expensive to begin with. And this is for board materials only, few (if any) places will cut 1x or 2x material for buyers.

3 Rather than a dedicated woodworking marking knife, which work great but are really only for that.

4 Assuming the desk is left permanently outdoors. I would suggest making something that can be taken indoors, if necessary by being a knockdown (often shortened to KD) design so that it can quickly be taken apart and moved as major subassemblies, at least to take the working surface(s) inside.

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