How Do Adjustable Desks Work?

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This article talks about how adjustable desks work. Different types of adjustable desks use different mechanisms. Our editorial team has studied these different mechanisms extensively, and we are willing to share our knowledge with you.

How do adjustable desks work? All adjustable desks have a mechanism that allows the user to adjust the desk’s height. Some adjustable desks use electric motors, while some rely on manual adjustments to raise or lower their height. Manual adjustable desks work with the help of knobs, levers, hand cranks, or gas cylinders to help lift their surface.

There is so much to learn about how adjustable desks work. In the sections that follow, we will explain the mechanism behind each type of adjustable desk.

How Do Electric Standing Desks Work?

How Do Adjustable Desks Work?
Photo by ergonofis on Unsplash

Electric standing desks, also known as electric height-adjustable desks, work with electric motors. They have a control pad with two or more buttons to control the electric motor. There is usually one button to raise the desk’s height and another to lower it. Smart standing desks, a type of electric standing desk, also have buttons that can adjust the desk’s height to preset levels.

Electric standing desks use motor operation. The motor does the work of lifting and lowering the desk, so you do not have to do any hard work. All you need to do is press a button to adjust your desk’s height.

How Different Types of Electric height-adjustable Desks Work

There are three types of electric standing desks. These three types use motors, but they work in slightly different ways. They are:

  • Electric desks with single motor configuration 
  • Electric desks with dual motor configuration 
  • Smart height-adjustable standing desks

Read on to learn more about these three types of electric height-adjustable desks and how they work.

Electric Desks With Single Motor Configuration

One motor is usually enough to raise or lower both legs of a simple desk. However, the motor must be powerful enough to raise the desk’s height with the weight of the items on its surface. Some powerful single motor desks can handle as much as 80kg.

What’s more, a perfect single motor configuration is such that the motor adjusts both legs of the desk evenly. Make sure to confirm this if you are buying a single motor height-adjustable desk.

Electric Desks With Dual Motor Configuration

Dual-motor configuration means that the electric desk has two motors. There is a separate motor for each leg. Large desks need this type of configuration to handle the heavy lifting.

Generally, these desks work more smoothly and quietly than single motor desks. However, the two motors must work in synchrony for a perfect desk adjustment. Make sure to check for accurate height increments while adjusting a dual-motor desk before buying it.

Smart Height-Adjustable Standing Desks

Smart standing desks allow you to preset two or more desk heights. They have a memory function that stores your preset height and a button to activate that memory. When you press the button, the electric motor will adjust the desk to your preset height.

Smart desks make it easier to change your desk to the heights you find comfortable. They are also helpful for offices where several people share the same desk. Smart height-adjustable desks can have either a singular or dual-motor configuration. 

In What Other Ways Do Electric Height-Adjustable Desks Work?

In addition to the motor that carries out height adjustments, some of these desks have an anti-collision system and a whisper-quiet feature. Read on to find out how these features work.

Anti-collision System

The anti-collision system is a feature that ensures the user’s safety. This system works by detecting any object in the moving desk’s path. When the system detects an object or obstacle, it automatically halts movement to prevent accidents.

Whisper Quiet Feature

This feature reduces the motor’s sound while adjusting the desk’s height. It ensures that adjustments will not be noisy. You need this feature if you work in a quiet environment.

How Do Manual Height-Adjustable Desks Work?

Manual height-adjustable desks rely on analog mechanisms for desk height adjustments. They work by adjusting the crank, knob, or gas cylinder with your hand. The exact process depends on whether it is a hand crank or counterbalance height-adjustable desk.

As you read on, we will explain each of the three types of manual adjustable desks and how they work

What Are The Different Manual Height-adjustable Desk Mechanisms?

The following are types of manual height-adjustable desk mechanisms available on the market:

  1. Hand crank standing desks
  2. Pneumatic counterbalance adjustable desks
  3. Spring counterbalance adjustable desks

We will explain how each of these manual adjustable desks works as you read on.

How Do Hand Crank Standing Desks Work?

Hand crank standing desks work manually by engaging the crank to lift the desk. When the user turns the hand crank, it adjusts the desk’s legs which, in turn, adjusts the desk’s height.

Some desk models feature a knob instead of a hand crank, but it works with the same mechanism. The knob adjusts the desk’s legs and helps alter its overall height.

✅ Video – Adjustable Table Design Animation

This video contains an animation of how manual adjustable desks work. You will see the hand crank and how it controls the desk’s height adjustment. Note, however, that there are several modern designs of manual adjustable desks now, where the crank is not so visible. 

Hand Crank Standing Desk Mechanism DIY Operation

Hand crank standing desks require no special tool to lift or lower the desk. Follow the steps below to operate a hand crank standing desk:

Locate the hand crank

The location of the hand-crank or knob depends on the desk’s type. Some desks have it under the desktop, while some love the knob on one of the legs. You can check the user’s manual to confirm the crank’s location.

Turn the crank in the correct direction

Most desks adopt the clockwise direction for raising and the counterclockwise direction for lowering the desk. A few desks, however, have it the other way round. You may refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to confirm the correct direction to turn the crank.

Continue turning the crank until you achieve your desired height

Some hand-crank standing desks require only a few turns, while others require many turns to adjust fully from sitting to standing position. Most desks, however, need not more than 40 cranks for a complete height adjustment.

How Do Counterbalance Standing Desks Work?

Counterbalance standing desks use either the pneumatic or spring mechanism to alter the desk’s height. Pneumatic desks feature a gas cylinder. Spring desks, on the other hand, feature a spring instead.

Both pneumatic and spring desk types use a similar mechanism. We will explain how each of them works as you read on.

How Do Pneumatic Counterbalance Desks Work?

Pneumatic counterbalance standing desks work with the help of gas cylinders. The gas cylinder assists in lifting and lowering your desk. 

When you engage the cylinder, its pneumatic fluid or gas flows around or through the piston. This equalizes the pressure and produces force to lift the desk.

There are two types of pneumatic counterbalance height-adjustable desks, namely:

  • Single leg pneumatic counterbalance desks
  • Two-leg pneumatic counterbalance desks

How Do Single-leg Pneumatic Counterbalance Desks Work?

Single leg pneumatic height-adjustable desks have one gas cylinder per leg. Both gas cylinders work in concert to produce adequate height adjustments.

How Do Two-leg Pneumatic Counterbalance Desks Work?

In a two-leg pneumatic height-adjustable desk, the same cylinder adjusts the two legs of the desk. The mechanics here are similar to that of single-leg pneumatic desks. However, there is usually a connecting rod or cable between the two legs.

When the gas cylinder is adjusting the leg it is attached with, the hexagonal rod or cable connecting the legs rotate automatically with it. It then forces the second leg to start moving as well. That way, both legs move in concert to produce an adequate height adjustment.

How Do Spring Counterbalance Desks Work?

Spring counterbalance desks use the same concept as pneumatic desks. However, instead of pneumatic fluid, they use spring tension to raise the desk.

The drawback with this mechanism is that it tends to make more noise than other desk height adjustment mechanisms.

How Do Adjustable Desks Work For Better Ergonomics?

Adjustable desks promote better ergonomics by offering each person the opportunity to use their ergonomic desk height while working. This eliminates back and neck pain, as well as discomfort from prolonged sitting. Adjustable desks also facilitate more calorie loss and physical fitness by promoting more movements. What’s more, research shows that adjustable desks boost mood and increase workplace productivity.

Experts say we get the best from adjustable desks when we alternate between standing, sitting, and working. When you stand throughout the workday, you will not get the full ergonomic benefits of height-adjustable desks. 

Related Questions

Is It Worth Getting An Adjustable Desk?

Yes, it is worth getting a height-adjustable desk. Adjustable desks have verified health benefits and are proven to increase workplace productivity. A study reported that 65 percent of workers who use adjustable desks recorded better productivity and higher concentration at work. 

Is Standing Better Than Sitting For Circulation?

Yes, standing is better than sitting for circulation. Six hours of straight sitting impairs vascular function. What is more, each extra hour of sitting beyond 6 hours comes with a 0.2% higher risk of CVD. 

Conversely, standing increases blood flow and circulation. It even works better when you combine it with walking around. What’s more, it reduces the risks of blood clot formation.

Are Standing Desks Good For Posture?

Standing desks are reputable for helping with posture issues. However, whether you use a standing desk or sitting desk, you have to master and maintain proper posture. If you are using a standing desk, make sure to set your monitor and work surface at the appropriate height for correct posture


There are different types of adjustable desks, and they all work in different ways. In general, electric height-adjustable desks have one or two motors that facilitate height adjustments. Manual adjustable desks, on the other hand, rely on hand-operated mechanisms to work.

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