When standing desks first came into popularity, the kinds of materials used for desktops and the selection of shapes, sizes and colors were very limited. Fast forward to today and an online shopper can now find an absolutely overwhelming array of choices, from ultra-cheap to ultra-premium, depending on how much your pocket book can handle. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you sort through all the options.
You can learn about all the different materials used in desktops—from simple and cheap powder coated MDF to commodity, high pressure laminates (HPL) and “engineered woods” like bamboo, all the way up to the premium categories of Surf(x) 3D lamination, handcrafted solid wood and reclaimed wood desktops—by reading our Ultimate Guide to Standing Desk Tops.
To start out, let’s take a moment to define exactly what “real wood tops” (a.k.a. “solid wood tops”) are—because pretty much all desktops (with the rare exception of some metal and glass tops) are made of wood in one form or another.
The Definition of a True “Real Wood” Desktop
What Counts as “Real Wood”
No standing desk manufacturer has yet to offer a true “single slab” desktop made from one very large piece of wood cut from the center of a very large tree. Such slabs are extraordinarily expensive and very hard to find. Whenever you do see them in a furniture showroom, they were typically locally-sourced after storms brought down a very large old growth tree. We’re going to limit this review to tops you can buy online that are more commonly available and more affordable.
So, what should you expect when you’re buying a “real wood” desktop online? In terms of construction these tops are made by taking planks of real wood, typically 0.75” to 1.75” thick and 4” – 6” wide, and edge-gluing them together to make a solid slab of wood. That means you will see a half-dozen or more separation lines in the grain of a typical real wood desktop. But it will be made of 100% real wood. This is far more cost effective than a true solid slab.
As a general rule, more expensive tops will be comprised of a smaller number of wider planks; less expensive tops will be made using a greater number of narrower planks. Walk into any fine furniture store, and this is what you’re going to see 99% of the time, whether it’s real-wood or veneer furniture.
But if the real McCoy is what you’re pining for, there’s no reason to settle. Having seen all these products side-by-side, we can tell you there isn’t any comparison in the beauty and character of real wood versus conventional laminated MDF. They look the part of their lofty price tags. How lofty? A real wood desktop will likely cost 2x to 5x more than the same manufacturer will sell a conventional laminated-MDF desktop for—even more if you want something truly exotic like mesquite with a faux barkline, or a quarter-sawn white oak.
Country of Origin and Sustainability Issues
These days, customers tend to care a lot more about buying American over foreign imports, for a multitude of reasons. When it comes to wood products, many countries, like China, will absolutely devastate an ecosystem in the name of profits, whereas American producers have to comply with more environmental and labor regulations. Even the simple act of shipping heavy lumber around the world (versus efficient transportation lanes between two cities in the USA) has environmental ramifications.
As we’ve seen in the case of bamboo desktop marketing and cheap reclaimed wood desktops “green washing” tends to happen a lot more with foreign-sourced wood products than with American-made. Bamboo is indeed a highly renewable crop that grows very fast, but the rate of growth of the grass is the least impactful aspect of converting it into a wood panel product from which a tabletop, floor board, or chair can be made.
While marketers may claim their imported woods come from certified sustainable forests, it’s not as easy to check those claims versus an honest, American-grown lumber source; there is simply no reliable international standard. In most cases these sellers don’t bother to mention their woods are imported, so be sure to ask about the country of origin of any real wood top you’re considering. The domestic real wood desktops we’ve found online are easy to verify as sustainable species, meaning more new trees are planted each year than are being harvested.
Since most low-cost standing desks sold online are made in China, the tariffs have also changed the value equation a bit lately. In many cases American-made desktops are now similarly priced to lower-quality, less environmentally-sensible Chinese products.
Taking a Different “Cut” on Real Wood Options
If haven’t toured a sawmill, you may not appreciate the differences in how wood planks can be cut out of a tree. A real tree has many imperfections throughout that present a range of figures, including strips, burls, mottles, crotches, curls, and butts. These imperfections give real wood its character. A “rustic cut” of cherry or walnut will include many of these features. On the other hand, a “select cut” of the same tree will be free from these small faults.
Naturally, it costs more to buy a select cut of lumber because there is less ‘select’ material in a tree compared to rustic. Some people really love the rustic look (and lucky for them, rustic cuts are cheaper). Others prefer the perfection of select cuts, and are willing to spend for it.
The important thing when buying a rustic cut desktop is to know that any natural defects in the wood have been properly treated with clear or naturally-colored filler before being sanded down and sealed, so they don’t affect the integrity of the surface. This is painstaking work, but done right the result can be striking.
Lastly, there’s the direction of the cut in relation to the growth rings of the tree. For example, a coveted premium selection is a quarter-sawn cut that shows a natural “flake” pattern in certain species, like white oak. Quarter-sawn wood is famously used in mission or arts & crafts style furniture and Craftsman style homes. As compared to rift-sawn and flat-sawn cuts that are less spectacular, quarter-sawn has growth rings at angles of 45 to 90 degrees to the wide surface. You can’t get as many quarter-sawn cuts out of a tree, so it is naturally more expensive.
What Goes into Making a Desktop, Besides the Wood
This is where we see significant differentiation between the purveyors of real wood desktops. Wood is wood, but how it is shaped, sanded, stained, and sealed is an entirely different matter, and we see a wide spectrum in today’s market. The adage “you get what you pay for, and you pay for what you get” applies as much to natural wood desktops as it does to the electric standing base frames holding them up.
Fact: real wood desktops are more susceptible to temperature and humidity variations, scratches and dings than conventionally mass-produced desktops. Desktops made with MDF cores are more isotropically stable than real wood, meaning they have the same strength and thermal expansion properties in all directions, and are thus the least susceptible to dimensional changes with temperature and humidity, much less cracking or warping.
Durability and Real Wood “Character”
Real wood has greater strength in the direction of the grain and is weaker cross-grain. Its susceptibility to temperature and humidity variations varies greatly by species, with woods like maple and cherry being relatively soft and hardwoods like oak or hickory stiffer and denser. See the Janka Scale to compare the hardness of different wood species you may be considering.
There are two important things to note here. The first is that owning real wood furnitures means it is going to “build character” over time, with dings and scratches being more pronounced than on laminated desktops, and, frankly, that’s what makes them “real” and more coveted by consumers who can afford them.
Edging and Grommet Holes
The more basic real wood desktops will be simple rectangles, with hard, 90-degree edges all around. The more premium-priced tops will have an ergo-contoured edging that is more comfortable to lean against, and will be more resistant to dings along the edges from chair arms, etc. Putting contoured edges on a slab of real wood is much trickier than shaping an MDF board on a precision CNC machine in preparation for 3D lamination, and generally requires a lot more hand-sanding to perfect, so expect to pay a little more for such niceties.
Most real wood tops are offered with the option of grommet holes for cable pass-throughs or for installation of optional devices, such as power nodes for bringing power sockets, USB sockets, or wireless charging surfaces to the top of the desk. On cheaper tops, these grommet holes will be rough cut and covered with plastic grommet caps, leaving a lot of surface area exposed to moisture in the air and from accidental spills.
As mentioned above, you really want these inside surfaces to be sealed and aesthetically pleasing enough to leave the cheap-looking plastic grommet caps off altogether. After all, being able to see the wood grain inside the grommet holes is one way you’ll be showing off the fact that your desktop is made of real wood, not laminated MDF.
The sanding of real-wood furniture may sound mundane, but it’s where a lot of the labor cost goes. Some tops are sanded by machine in a single pass, leaving a perfectly flat surface just like a laminated MDF board. And that’s fine, so long as you realize that your real wood top isn’t going to stay that way forever. The thing is you’re dealing with real wood here, which has real variations in texture throughout. Hand-sanding, while more labor-intensive, results in a higher quality end product that has a consistent “hand.”
Staining and Sealing
Machine-processed versus Hand-crafted
When it comes to craftsmanship versus automated production processes, you might have guessed by now, our expert reviewers have a strong bias to the handcrafted process. It is definitely slower to produce but like mama’s famous spaghetti sauce, it’s the loving attention that goes into every detail that you just can’t find in a recipe book.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not against machining in certain parts of the process. For example, a good desktop will be pre-drilled for the hole pattern of the base it will sit on, and this should definitely be done on precision CNC equipment with resolution of at least one-thousandths of an inch. It’s important that the top not only sit correctly on the base frame to avoid tweaking it and damaging the lifting actuators over time, but also that the top itself is well-protected from warping by virtue of humidity and temperature changes. A good, all-around seal is imperative, and will add a gorgeous shimmer to the surface.
What About Reclaimed Wood?
Reclaimed wood is such a huge topic on its own that we’ve had to break it out into a separate primer on Reclaimed Wood Standing Desks. As with solid wood desktops made from fresh-cut stock, when it comes to reclaimed wood you get what you pay for, and with more money you get a more beautiful and durable product, with nicer finishing touches—i.e. species and stains to match the tone of your decor, smoother surfaces, softened edges, plentiful size choices, grommet hole options, etc.
A key point you’ll read about in our primer is that discerning consumers perceive “reclaimed hardwood” to mean something that was originally hewn by early American settlers from original old growth timber, to fashion structures that they lived and worked in, like houses, churches, lodges and barns. If this is what you’re really after make sure to note whether the tops are marketed as “Antique,” meaning at least a century old. Antique reclaimed wood will cost a lot more but be authentically “reclaimed.”
There’s just so much information to dive into when it comes to shopping the very wide range of reclaimed wood standing desk products on the market that we urge you to read the full Reclaimed Wood Standup Desk Review to be completely informed before buying.
Understanding the Offerings in Real Wood
There are three prominent vendors of real wood tops for standing desks today—Fully, UpLift, and iMovR. As our faithful readers know, WorkWhileWalking and iMovR have a unified origin story, and we were excited to announce their entrance into the solid wood top standing desk game. Both Fully and UpLift pair their real wood tops with a commodity Jiecang base, made in China. To our minds that’s a little like installing a Ferrari alcantara interior in a Ford Fiesta, but both companies have had great success with real wood tops. iMovR, in contrast to the other two, pairs its real wood tops with their state-of-the-art American-made Lander base, which arrives 99% pre-assembled, is packed with high-tech features like a built-in health coach and Bluetooth-sync’d smartphone app, and features an industry-leading ten-year warranty.
To learn about about the bases, see our comprehensive reviews of the Jiecang base, the Jarvis desk, the UpLift desk, and our reviews of the iMovR Lander desk and Lander Lite desk.
In terms of real wood tabletops, Fully and UpLift offer four standard sizes and iMovR offers eight, in 6” increments that include 41”, 47”, 53”, 59”, 65”, 71”, 77” and 83”. UpLift does offer custom-sized tops cut to the inch to meet your exact needs, if 6” won’t get you close enough. Fully and UpLift do not warranty their tops for anything other than shipping damage, and iMovR puts the same five year warranty on their real wood tops as they do on their 3D laminated desktops.
Fully – Maple Option
On their Jarvis desk line, Fully offers three real wood options. The most popular is their maple desktop, which comes in either a natural or walnut-colored stain. It comes in four sizes: 48”, 60”, 72” and 78”; all sizes 30″ deep. The tops are plain-Jane rectangular in shape with optional dual grommet holes, but no ergo-contouring. Fully uses water-based, all-natural stains, which are then sealed with a polyurethane clear coat. Fully sources these maple tops from sustainable forests in the US midwest.
While these are relatively inexpensive compared to the domestic real-wood tops from UpLift and iMovR, they do cut cut quite a few corners on the quality. Most importantly the tops are only sealed on the visible surfaces. While staining the bottom side of a desktop is not something you should expect, sealing is. This protects the wood from variations in humidity that can eventually cause it to warp.
Since Fully doesn’t provide a warranty on its desktops, this lack of comprehensive sealing is a yellow caution flag for our expert review staff. When you’re in the price range of real wood desktops, you’d expect more of an heirloom quality in craftsmanship. But as we said above, you get what you pay for. This is the low end in domestic, made-to-order, real wood tops. The maple tops ship in 2-3 weeks.
For some reason Fully narrowed its offering of solid wood color stain options from five to just these two since their acquisition by Knoll, as part of a thinning out of selections available to the online buyer. We suspect this may be due to their wanting to create some distinction between what they offer to the retail online customer versus what Knoll’s commercial contract dealers, who typically work through interior designers and architects on large projects, can offer corporate clientele.
Fully – Premium Oregon White Oak Option
The Jarvis is also offered with a super-premium Oregon White Oak top, in the same four sizes but no stain options, that costs about twice as much as the maple tops. Fully is based in Portland, Oregon, so this top has a nice backstory to it in terms of how it is grown and harvested. The tops are also plain-Jane rectangles with no ergo-contouring or the option of grommet holes. The Oregon White Oak desks ship in 4-6 weeks.
UpLift started offering only premium-priced domestic real wood tops, still on the same Jiecang base as Fully uses in their Jarvis desk line, but has recently also added less expensive foreign-sourced options. Like Fully, they only offer these tops in four sizes: 48”, 60”, 72” and 80”.
UpLift – Stocked Wood Tops (Imported)
The new “solid wood” offerings are designed to hit a price point nearly identical to what Fully charges for their minimally-crafted, albeit domestically-sourced maple tops. These include pheasantwood, ash, African mahogany and acacia, plus a premium walnut.
UpLift – Special Order Wood Tops – Upscale Options
On the upscale end UpLift has what they call their “Special Order” wood tops, which are made using domestic real wood. These are priced in a similar range to iMovR’s real wood tops but lack the nicer touches like ergo-contouring and don’t come in as many sizes and colors. Grommet holes are offered as an option, unlike Fully’s maple tops. The real kicker, though, is that UpLift now quotes 10-12 weeks lead time for all of these domestic real wood tops. That used to be the exception, not the rule.
UpLift also no longer seems to offer their “Custom Solid Wood” tops that could be ordered to the exact inch. The new Special Order offering generally comes in just three or four standard size options, including 48×30, 60×30 and 72×30.
This seller does more real wood species than the other two makers, in a wide range of prices, ten of them in all: cedar, mesquite, ash, cherry, maple, walnut, pecan, white oak and sipo mahogany. But these all come in only one finish; there are no stain options. In contrast, iMovR offers only 8 species but these translate to a total of 36 options because of the additional staining options they offer on each species. And Fully offers only maple, and only in five stain colors.
UpLift – Faux “Barkline” Option
On the cedar and mesquite species UpLift offers the unique option of having a faux “barkline” on either the front edge of the top, back edge or both, intended to make it look like a super-expensive solid slab with a “live edge”. Except that it’s still made of planks edge-glued together, so that kind of dulls the whole live edge impression. We’re not sure who would like to have an uneven user edge on their standing desk, but this is definitely a unique look that only UpLift offers. This might be a better match for a conference table than a desk.
Our review staff is throwing down a yellow caution flag on these tops, however, given the disclaimer language on UpLiftDesk.com’s website: “If the air in your area is especially dry, your wood desktop could be at increased risk of cracking and splitting. Wood naturally expands and contracts depending on the amount of moisture in the environment, and without enough humidity, the moisture in your desk can evaporate, leaving it vulnerable to warping… If your desktop does crack or split, we’re happy to send you a repair kit to fill the affected areas. If potentially repairing your wood desktop isn’t something you’re comfortable with, we recommend that you take a look at our Bamboo, Eco, or Laminate desktops instead.”
Warranty & Shipping
Like the lower-cost imported solid wood tops, these premium domestic tops come with no warranty coverage, and there’s no disclosure as to the chemicals and processes used. For this kind of price, a consumer should expect a completely sealed piece of wood that avoids a premature end due to warping or cracking.
While the company does not offer color samples that you can keep, they do offer a “rentable” box of solid wood color samples for $45 (if you hold onto it, they’ll bill you $300).
Depending on how you look at it, one big differentiator for these UpLift solid wood tops is that they are 1.75” thick. Most desktops used in standing desks are 0.75” to 1.25” thick, so these will weigh substantially more than you might expect. The good news is that the extra thickness makes them less susceptible to dimensional instability or warping from exposure to humidity. The bad news is that the larger sizes of some of these species will put a serious strain on the Jiecang base, or at least significantly limit the weight of other items you can add to your desktop. It also means you’re paying for a lot more embedded shipping cost in the price. And you’ll want to make sure you’ve got some help getting the top off the pallet, unboxed, and assembled to the desk base.
As our faithful readers know, WorkWhileWalking and iMovR have a unified origin story. iMovR has a robust line of solid wood options with all the usual trimmings they are known for. iMovR was slow to jump into the real wood category, but they have set themselves apart in several ways, including the recent addition of beautiful Baltic birch on the Baltic Line of desks (we’ve reviewed the first of the line, the Captain’s Desk).
iMovR – 36 American-grown Species and Stain Combinations
The iMovR tops are handcrafted in Michigan through a detailed seven-step process using honest waterborne stains and sealants. The result is a stunning “shimmer” and luxurious “hand” when you compare these tops to others in the same price range.
iMovR offers two different desk lines with solid wood. The Lander Desk and Lander L-Shaped Desk ship with 1.25″-thick slabs, while the Lander Lite ships with more economical 3/4″-thick slabs.
Stained and Sealed
Unlike the Fully and UpLift tops, iMovR completely seals their desktops, even through the insides of the fully-finished grommet holes. In fact you wouldn’t want to cover these grommet holes with cheap, ugly plastic caps, you’d want to show them off. But most importantly, the multi-step sealant process is designed to protect the wood from humidity changes that can cause partially-sealed tops to crack or warp. This is indeed a true heirloom-quality finish, and for only a very slight price premium over UpLift’s domestic solid wood offerings.
99% Pre-assembled Lander Desk Frame
The ultra robust packaging these tops come in will take significantly longer to pry open than the desk will take to assemble the entire desk. While we want to whine about the packaging the fact is we’ve seen so many tops damaged in shipping over the years that we have to appreciate the attention to detail and expense iMovR has gone through to ensure a great customer experience.
The Lander desk is loaded with other high-end features that make a lot more sense when packaged together with a real-wood desktop, like a smartphone app that connects to your desk via bluetooth, a built-in “health coach,” ultra-quiet motors with a blazing 1.6 inches-per-second transit speed, and a lab-verified 360 lb weight lifting capacity. The Lander’s stability and 55” top-end height range is unparalleled; there’s just more American steel in this base than any other we’ve ever tested.
iMovR offers 4”x6” real wood samples for $5 apiece plus $3 shipping and handling fee, which they’ll deduct off the cost of your desk if you buy one.
A New Lower-Cost Alternative to Solid Wood: Baltic Birch
Baltic birch looks almost identical to maple, but at a far lower cost and greater stability as compared to solid planks of natural hardwood.
The birch panels are made up of a dozen 1.5 mm-thick sheets of veneer that are bonded together in alternating grain direction. This makes for a void-free core that is exceptionally strong and stable, much more so than a plank of natural hardwood. While technically a “plywood” this is not the same animal as you’ll find in the bins at Home Depot.
Things to Know About Real Wood Desktops
The first thing to note is that your desktop will not look exactly like the one in the picture. Every tree is unique, as nature intended. Even if you do order a sample piece for color matching, you should be fully aware that grain patterns and color tone can vary widely. This is all fine and good; it’s a testament to real wood’s unique character.
Depending on the kind of sealant, lacquer, or polyurethane used to give your desktop a nice protective sheen, these can take a month or more to cure to their full hardness. You’ll want to avoid tightly clamping monitor arms to the desktop, for example, or at least insert a piece of felt in between the metal and the wood and leave loosely tightened to avoid damaging your still-curing top. After a few weeks, you can tighten things down, but just be aware that real wood is softer than laminated desktops, so don’t get too aggressive on the clamping.
Stained tops will usually not be stained on the bottom surface, which no one ever sees. But they should be sealed to protect from humidity damage on the top, bottom, edges and inside the grommet holes, to maximize the lasting value of your investment. Some are, some are not, as we’ve noted above respective to each manufacturer. iMovR uniquely offers two upgrade levels of staining on the bottom side of their solid wood desktops, an inexpensive spray coat as well as a full heirloom staining to the same level of perfection as the top side.
If you’re looking at adding a particularly heavy desktop to your standing desk base, you’ll want to make sure it can really handle the total weight and weight distribution you plan to lift. Read our complete guide to Why Weight Ratings on Standing Desks Really Matter, and then check the weight of your prospective desktop using the table below. Note that the ruggedized cardboard boxes these tops are typically shipped in will add a lot to their weight and dimensions for shipping purposes.
Solid Wood Top Weight Comparisons
Fully’s Solid Wood Tops (1.25” thick)
Maple: 3.75 lb/sq ftOregon White Oak: undisclosed
UpLift’s Solid Wood Tops (1.75” thick)
Cedar: 4.4 lb/sq ftMesquite: 8 lb/sq ftAsh: 7 lb/sq ftCherry: 5.3 lb/sq ftNatural Maple: 8.1 lb/sq ftWalnut: 5.6 lb/sq ftPremium Bamboo: 6.1 lb/sq ftPecan: 9.3 lb/sq ftWhite Oak: 7 lb/sq ftSipo Mahogany: 6 lb/sq ft
UpLift’s Solid Wood Tops (1.25” thick)
Maple: 3 lb/sq ftCherry: 3.65 lb/sq ftWalnut: 4 lb/sq ftHickory (Pecan): 5.25 lb/sq ftRed Oak: 4.4 lb/sq ftWhite Oak: 4.75 lb/sq ft
iMovR’s Solid Wood Tops (1.25″ thick, Lander)
Cherry: 3.6 lbs/sq ftMaple: 4 lbs/sq ftWalnut: 4 lbs/sq ftRed Oak: 4.6 lbs/sq ftWhite Oak: 5.0 lbs/sq ftHickory: 7.5 lbs/sq ft
iMovR’s Solid Wood Tops (0.75″ thick, Lander Lite)
Cherry: 2.2 lbs/sq ftMaple: 2.4 lbs/sq ftWalnut: 2.4 lbs/sq ftRed Oak: 2.75 lbs/sq ftWhite Oak: 3.0 lbs/sq ftHickory: 4.5 lbs/sq ft
Completing Your Ergonomic Workstation
Acquiring the best standing desk for your decor, budget and performance requirements is Step One. But making it a true ergonomic workstation involves adding the appropriate accessories you’ll need to keep your body in a correct posture, and have a neat and tidy setup. Check out our comprehensive guides to monitor arms, keyboard trays, anti-fatigue mats, ergonomic seats, cable management kits, power management modules, foot rests and under-desk treadmills for both expert advice and lab-tested product reviews of options in each of these categories.