The Ultimate Guide to a Standing Desk Tabletop
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The Ultimate Guide to a Standing Desk Tabletop

|Mar 12, 2024

There are many reasons to choose a stand-up desk for your modern office - from health benefits to increased productivity in the workplace. Many quality furniture brands now focus on this style of desk - and the options get better each year.

Something growing in popularity is the idea of a DIY standing desk - and buying the frame and table top separately. Picking a sturdy adjustable frame and then customizing the surface to perfectly meet your requirements is the best way to get the most out of your desk design.

This guide to DIY computer desk surface selection for standing desks covers all the need-to-knows about buying a standing desk top only. That includes materials, dimensions, aesthetics, and care considerations.

What Are the Best Materials for a Stand-up Desk Tabletop?

One of the key considerations when choosing a tabletop for a standing desk is the material. There are many different aesthetics and colors, but what the top is actually made of is more important.

Some of the things to think about include:

  • Weight: How heavy is the tabletop - and how easily can the desk frame support it during the lifting motion?
  • Durability: How easily will the surface scratch or dent, and how long is it expected to last?
  • Care: Is it easy to clean and care for? Are there any special treatments required?
  • Price: Budget plays a big role in desk surface selection. Some materials are much more expensive than others.

Natural Wood

Most people assume that natural wood is the best choice of material for a desk surface. It is certainly one of the most desirable options - and can look absolutely fantastic if the wood is treated and finished well. You can pick many colors and styles to achieve a range of classic, modern, or edge aesthetics.

That said, there are also some potential downsides - predominantly the care requirements. Although many wooden desktops are reliable, they need to be properly looked after to avoid scratches and marks. Another downside to consider is the expense of some natural wood.

Oak is generally considered the best wood for desktop surfaces - alongside maple and walnut.

Natural Wood - standing desk tabletop


Bamboo is an excellent alternative to wooden desk tabletops. It is cheaper, more resistant to scratches, and has some waterproof qualities. Overall, it offers much better value for money and more durability for busy, well-used desks.

Manufacturers can treat bamboo to have a very similar appearance to some natural wood if you like that aesthetic.

Bamboo - standing desk tabletop

High-Pressure Laminate

High-pressure laminate is a long-lasting plastic coating that seals materials and protects them from damage. This is one of the most popular methods used to create desk surfaces because of how durable it is.

Powder-Coated MDF

Powder-coated MDF is probably the most common stand-up desk tabletop material. MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard. It is made using finely ground scrap wood and resin or glue to create a solid board.

The powder-coating is a form of lamination that helps protect the MDF. Overall, this is an affordable and versatile option. That said, you should avoid the cheapest varieties as they can be quite flimsy.

Powder-Coated MDF

Understanding Tabletop Dimensions

Desk dimensions are not one-size-fits-all, but there are a few universal standards used by most manufacturers. Part of the beauty of creating your own desk top for a standing desk is the freedom to pick dimensions that work best for you. 

Here is a quick overview of standard desk dimensions.

  • Height should usually be between 28 and 30 inches for a sitting desk, while adjustable standing desks generally go up to around 48 inches (some more, some less). 
  • A classic desk is 25 inches deep, but many standing desks are a little deeper to allow plenty of space.
  • Standard desk length is between 60 and 72 inches, but most standing desks are shorter. It is more common to find lengths between 52 and 60 inches. Some manufacturers offer smaller or larger desk options to accommodate every need.

The dimensions you need depend on two things:

  • How much floor space you have 
  • How much working space you need

You want a desk that fits comfortably into your office or work zone without feeling cramped, but you also need ample surface space for your equipment, tools, and desk accessories. Those who need extra table space may consider an L-shaped standing desk instead.

Understanding Tabletop Dimensions

Standing Desk Tabletop Aesthetics

Style is by no means everything, but we would be remiss not to admit that it matters a lot! People spend a lot of time in their offices at their desks, and it is understandable to want an aesthetic you enjoy.

The appearance of your desk surface relies a lot on the material you choose, but there are many options within each category. To begin narrowing down options, it helps to start by thinking about popular themes and design trends you like.

Here are a few possibilities and desk table top inspirations.

  • Minimalism: Pick a white HPL or MDF desk with a smooth finish. Combine it with a white frame.
  • Scandi Chic: This is all about the wood, but sustainability matters too. Bamboo desk surfaces are increasingly popular in this trend because they are eco-friendly, and the pale wood color fits perfectly in almost any room. 
  • Executive vibes: Dark wood - such as walnut - has an expensive and luxurious feel. Adding a standing desk glass top helps protect it and finishes the look well. 
  • Industrial: Your frame choice is arguably more important here, but you can complement it with the right top. A metal frame looks great with a dark MDF top or even reclaimed wood for something edgy.

Standing Desk Tabletop Aesthetics

Adjustable vs. Fixed Tabletops

Let’s talk a little about the differences between adjustable and fixed standing desk tops - and where the benefits lie with each one.

Put simply, an adjustable standing desk top moves up and down to different height settings using the frame. A fixed standing desk surface does not move and is always at the same height. 

The actual surfaces themselves don’t need to be all that different - it depends more on the frame. That said, you do need to consider a few extra points if you plan on attaching the tabletop to an adjustable desk frame. 

These extra considerations include the weight of the desk and how reliably it can connect to the moving frame.

What Are the Benefits of an Adjustable Standing Desk tabletop?

Generally speaking, the desk ergonomics are better with an adjustable desk. Most frames have multiple height settings and pre-programmed settings to ensure the ideal height every time.

This is especially beneficial when more than one person may need to use the desk. Rather than being forced into a set height that is very unlikely to suit everyone, you can change the setting to adapt to the person using the desk at that time.

Some of the other benefits of an adjustable standing desk tabletop include:

  • Better posture support
  • Flexibility to sit or stand to work
  • Conducive to more productive workflow
  • On trend in modern offices
  • Adapts better to individual working styles

What Are the Benefits of an Adjustable Standing Desk tabletop?

When are Fixed Tabletops the Better Choice?

Overall, adjustable sit/stand desks are the preferred option, but there are times when a fixed desk might be better.

To start, the frames usually cost a lot less - so they are better for people shopping on a budget. It is much easier to make a DIY standing desk that is fixed, and you don’t need to worry about the moving component.

Situations where a fixed tabletop might be better include:

  • Around the edges of a classroom for additional casual workspace
  • In areas with limited space
  • When the desk needs to support a heavy weight (that shouldn’t be moved up and down)

Top Tips for Making the Right Decision for Your Desk

  • Think about what you want to get out of your standing desk setup.
  • Decide whether or not you want the option to sit or stand at this particular desk - or if you want a standing desk only.
  • Picture the tasks you will be performing at this desk and the surface style that would best support them.
  • Consider your budget.

Top Tips for Making the Right Decision for Your Desk

How to Look After Your Desk Surface

Specific care instructions vary depending on the material you choose - but there are some general housekeeping tips that can help protect your desk surface and keep it looking its best for as long as possible.

Use Protective Accessories

Phones, laptops, keys, watches, and other everyday items can cause damage to some desk surfaces. The more exposure your desk has to these types of objects, the more chance there is of something happening.

Having a work pad or similar accessory you can sit your laptop or keyboard on top of protects the actual surface. Other helpful items include desk organizers, an under-desk drawer, or a cable tray.

Mount Your Monitor

If you have a fixed standing desk, it may be worth mounting your computer monitor on the wall to remove one major component from the desk itself.

Mount Your Monitor

Only Use Recommended Cleaning Products

One of the leading causes of damage - especially to wooden desk surfaces - is improper cleaning chemicals. Many products include harsh ingredients that discolor natural wood or can erode certain types of laminate.

Research the recommended cleaning products for your chosen desk material. In many cases, hot, soapy water is enough - as long as there are no major marks or stains.

Keep Hot Drinks and Food Away

Speaking of marks and stains, reduce the likelihood of something happening by limiting the food and drink you take to the desk. Don’t get us wrong - we are not trying to stop you from having a much-needed cup of coffee at your desk every morning. What we are saying is that it pays to be careful about the things you eat and drink and how you store them.

Perhaps stick with covered coffee mugs - and don’t eat messy foods over your desk. This is especially important for light-colored surfaces such as bamboo and white oak.

Keep Hot Drinks and Food Away

Test Products on a Discreet Area First

If you do need to use a cleaning product other than soap and water, test it on a small area first. Underneath the desk is best, just in case there are any problems.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Standing Desk Surface Separately

Is it better to buy a separate desk surface than to purchase the full desk already assembled? The answer really depends on your circumstances and preferences. There are benefits and downsides to both options, and it is worth considering each approach before making a decision.

Pros of Buying a Standing Desk Top Only

  • More customization
  • Pick the exact dimensions you want
  • Could be more cost-effective in some cases
  • Mix and match different styles
  • More control over the material choices

Cons of Buying a Standing Desk Top Only

  • More work involved in the shopping process
  • Too much choice can be overwhelming
  • You need to ensure the top fits the frame
  • Could end up costing more

Pros and Cons of Buying a Standing Desk Surface Separately

Pros of Buying a Complete Standing Desk

  • Easy and fast
  • No concerns regarding fit or function
  • Warranty coverage for both parts
  • Many great designs with various color options

Cons of Buying a Complete Standing Desk

  • Less versatility and design control
  • Need to follow standard dimensions

The Autonomous SmartDesk Collection offers a range of frames and surfaces sold separately or together to make the decision even easier. You can browse the best-selling standing desk sets - or switch things up with a custom tabletop in a range of colors and sizes.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a standing desk tabletop is easier than you may think- once you ask yourself a few questions about your priorities and preferences.

Think about the style you like, the materials you want, and the size, shape, and function that will benefit you most in the workplace.

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