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Standing desks were designed to combat sedentary habits (sitting time)—helping keep your physical and mental health in check.

Since the invention of the first-ever stand-up desk, these desks have evolved. They are now available in different shapes, sizes, designs, and operation mechanisms.

The desks come as freestanding models, while others are simply intended for placing on top of an existing office desk.

Most of the standing desks available today are manually height adjustable and will let you seamlessly switch between sitting and standing. And if you’re willing to spend more, you can get an electric-powered by raises or lower with the press of a button.

Below, we have discussed how these different models of sit/stand desks operate.

How do standing desks work?

As their name implies, standing desks are designed for use while standing. As mentioned above, these units are now available in various designs.

We can classify them into fixed height and height-adjustable desk models.

The fixed-height desks simply stay at your standup desk height and have no adjustable mechanism.

But the height-adjustable desks let you adjust their height for sitting and standing positions (hence the name sit-stand desks).

standing desk converter

We can go further and classify the manual and electric desks. The manual models are designed to be adjustable by hand. The exact mechanism can vary from model. The most popular mechanisms are lever, crank, and pneumatic.

The adjustment becomes effortless when it comes to electric models as you just need to push a button. These units are usually powered by an electric motor that allows easy raising or lowering to your desired height.

manual standing desk

The most basic models feature an up and down button clearly labeled to make it easy for you to operate.

Some models also have a memory function to help you preset the height.

This is a nice feature as it lets you easily switch between consistent heights that you’re comfortable working with.

It also makes it easy for different users to preset their favorite standing heights.

The electric models are convenient, but they cost you more. On the contrary, manual desks are cheaper and easy to use since the manual adjustment doesn’t involve any tools or reassembling.

How does an electric sit-stand desk work?

Now that we have taken you through the basics of various standing desks, let’s focus on how the specific models work.

We’ll start with the electric desk, which is the most convenient model ever made.

how a standing desk works featured image

A typical electric sit-to-stand desk is powered by a motor. The motor is responsible for raising or lowering the desk height, saving you from doing any manual work.

You simply press the buttons on the control panels to control the desktop height to your desired level.

That said, these desks come with varying configurations, as discussed below.

Single motor electric standing desks

This type of desk is equipped with only one motor responsible for raising/lowering both the legs of the desk.

standing desk single motor

For this reason, these desks feature a powerful motor capable of raising the entire unit with the weight of your computer monitor, laptop, books, and other items on the work surface. Some motors are quite powerful and can comfortably raise up to 80kgs!

Because the single motor is responsible for simultaneously adjusting the two desk height, it’s sure to do this evenly, keeping all the legs level and your workstation stable.

Dual motor electric stand-up desks

This type of standing desk comes with two motors. And each motor separately controls a leg. Larger desks that require more motor power to lift them usually have this configuration.

You’ll find that dual-motor desks are quieter and smoother in operation than single motor desks. The two motors ought to work in perfect synchronicity to allow for perfect and even height adjustments.

NOTE: Both the single and dual motor desks can also feature the smart memory function that allows you to preset two or more heights. The control panel presents you with a button for activating this memory function. This means you don’t have to spend time lowering and raising your desk to a comfortable height every time you want to use it. The feature comes in handy in offices where more than one people use the standing desk.

Also read: What happens if your desk is too high?

How does a manual height-adjustable sit-stand desk work?

Manual sit or stand desks are a step below their electric model counterparts in that you must use your hands to raise or lower them to a comfortable height.

They feature different manual adjustment mechanisms, including knob, crank, or pneumatic/gas cylinder.

This section will look at the two main manual adjustment mechanisms, namely hand crank, and counterbalance.

How a hand crank standing desk works

This type of desk involves using a hand crank to take the desk height up or down. When you turn the hand crank, it will adjust the legs, which will, in turn, alter the desktop height.

manual crank for standing desk

As you can see in most standing desk reviews, the top models may come with a knob instead of a hand crank, but they follow the same lifting mechanism.

This type of desk is ideal if you reside in areas with no electric access.

Luckily, you don’t need special tools to operate a hand crank model. Here are the steps to follow to work your hand crank standing desk:

Step 1. Get the crank location

The position of the crank may vary from one model to another. Most models have it positioned under the desk, while some put a knob on one of the desk’s legs. If you can’t seem to find your desk’s hand crank, check your user manual to confirm its location.

Step 2. Crank it!

Now that you have the crank in hand, it’s time to turn it to adjust your desk height. The direction in which you spin the crank will depend on whether you want to lift or lower it. If you want to raise the desk, turn the crank clockwise. And if you want to lower the desk, turn it counterclockwise.

Step 3. Set your desired height

To ensure you get the most comfortable height, you’ll need to continue turning your hand crank as many times as possible. Some desks will take only a few turns to reach your desired height, while others may take you through many turns to move from sitting to standing.

You can check the product description for more info on how many cranks it takes to achieve an inch height adjustment to your desk. In most cases, it might take you around 38-40 turns to move from sitting time to standing posture.

How a counterbalance standing desk works:

A counterbalance standing desk utilizes either a pneumatic (gas cylinder) or a spring mechanism to control the desk height. Though they employ different mechanisms, using these counterbalance desks isn’t much different, as you’ll discover below.

How a pneumatic sit-stand desks work

The pneumatic sit stand uses a gas cylinder for lifting power. When you activate the lifting mechanism, the pneumatic gas or fluid is forced to go through the piston, equalizing the pressure and producing the force needed to lift the desk [1].

flexispot mb2 desk riser with female

When shopping for a pneumatic standing desk, you’ll most likely be presented with the following models:

  • Single leg pneumatic desk: This type of desk features a gas cylinder for every leg. The two cylinders simply join forces to help produce enough lifting power for the weight of the standing desk plus all the items on its surface.
  • Two-leg pneumatic desk: Here, one gas cylinder is used to adjust both legs of the desk. The mechanism applied for this desk is pretty much the same for the above desk. But there exists a rod or cable between the legs. When you activate the gas cylinder and start adjusting one of the legs it is attached to, the rod/cable connecting the legs automatically rotates with it. This forces the second one to move, ensuring both legs move simultaneously for even height adjustment.

How a spring stand-up desk works

The concept used in a counterbalance spring standing desk is the same as a pneumatic desk. When you lower your desk, the springs become compressed. And when the desk is raised, the spring expands and exerts pressure on the desk for easy lifting.

The only difference is that springs are used in the place of gas cylinders. The downside of spring-based models is that they tend to produce more noise than the other standing desk height mechanisms.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Are standing desks worth it?

Standing desks are worth it for office workers who spend many hours sitting. They enable you to while standing, helping reduce your sedentary habits.

And this helps you avoid the dangers that come with it such as heart disease, weight gain, bad posture, and even premature death.

Standing desks will help you burn more calories, reduce back pain, promote better blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of heart disease, and boost your mood and productivity.

How are standing desks powered?

Most of the standing desks require you to plug them into an electric outlet for you to lift or lower to your desired height.

However, some models are battery-powered and come fitted with a rechargeable battery. These are ideal units if you want mobility or stay in areas with no electrical power.

The battery-powered units usually have a lower weight limit and require regular battery charging to keep them functional.

Do standing desks use a lot of electricity?

Standing desks don’t use a lot of electricity. The most popular electric standing desks consume around 200 Watts. And that’s only when you’re engaging the motor to raise or lower the desktop.

Your standing desk consumes approximately 0.2 watts on standby, which is nothing significant to skyrocketing your utility bills.

How does a standing desk go up and down?

A standing desk goes up and down by using a height adjustment mechanism attached to it. Some desks have electric motors for easy adjustment by pressing a button.

Others are designed to be adjusted manually and come with a hand crank, knob, pneumatic, or spring.

Final Thoughts – How a Standing Desk Works

Standing desks are one of the go-to solutions for office workers who want to avoid prolonged sitting and avoid the health risk of sedentary habits.

They’re also a good piece of office furniture to get more calories burned, increase your productivity, and alleviate back pain.

These desks are usually divided into two major categories: the electric and manually adjustable models. The electric models use an electric motor for lifting/lowering power. In contrast, manual models require you to use your elbow grease to lift/lower them to a comfortable working height.

These are also fixed height models that don’t require any adjusting. But these desks don’t allow you to easily switch between sitting and standing.

After reading this guide, you should now have an idea of how the different standing desks work and which one sounds more convenient for you.

Also read: How to convince your employer to get you a standing desk.

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