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Keyboard Tray Buying Guide: How to Select a Keyboard Tray

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From an ergonomic standpoint, the two most important pieces of equipment a computer user needs are a good chair and an articulating keyboard tray (See this blog article - What's Important? A Chair and a Keyboard Tray on the subject written by our in-house Certified Professional Ergonomist). We often hear from people seeking a good chair because their arms, shoulders, neck and upper back hurt. Our response is yes, you should have a good chair but based on where you hurt, you may get more pain relief from a keyboard tray. Check out our keyboard tray buying guide below for help choosing the right keyboard tray.

Why Do You Need a Keyboard Tray?

Neutral Zone for healthy keyboarding and mousing - keyboard tray buying guide

In a nutshell, you need a keyboard tray because your keyboard and mouse need to be close to your body and should be low enough to allow your arms to rest comfortably at your side while typing and mousing. For most people the ideal spot is in your lap. In addition to placing your keyboard, mouse and keypad closer, most people should tilt their keyboard platform downward, away from the body. This is called a negative tilt, and this angle should be set somewhere from 11 to 15 degrees. They call this healthy working zone the neutral zone. All of the keyboard trays we offer are on height adjustable arms and offer tilt capabilities.


Mounting Surface on a Desk

Special note for L-shaped desks: If you plan to mount your keyboard tray in the inside corner of the L, you will need a corner sleeve which extends the desk surface and provides a secure mounting for the track. Ask us if you need help selecting the right one.

Most keyboard trays are mounted to a lightweight track that is easily installed on the underside of your desktop using 6 or 8 wood screws and an electric screwdriver. The tray then slides into the track to allow depth adjustment. You will need about a 1" thick surface for the mounting screws (3/4" long), at least 6" of width and a minimum depth of 11" to accommodate a track. If you wish to be able to store your keyboard tray completely underneath your desk when not in use, you will need 22" of depth to mount a 21" or 21 5/8" track. Shorter track lengths are available, or you can opt for a Humanscale short mechanism which will stow a keyboard tray completely under a desk on an 18" track. With less depth, a shorter track will not allow the keyboard tray to retract fully beneath the desk when not in use. Many people find that this is not an issue, however, because this means that the keyboard is always in proper typing position. If you don't have room to mount a track, we recommend a fixed mount or chair mount solution.

All keyboard tracks mount underneath the surface of the desk

Mechanisms - How to Adjust a Keyboard Tray

The height adjustment range of a keyboard tray system is determined by the arm (also known as the mechanism), which is the part that connects the keyboard platform to the track mounted under your desk. All of our keyboard tray systems include height adjustable arms. However, not all arms offer the same height adjustment range, and many of our trays are available with your choice of several arms.

Here are the most common types of mechanisms:

Keyboard Tray Mechanisms/Arms

Standard arm:

A standard arms works with most users who plan to keyboard while sitting only, or who have a height adjustable desk to use when standing. Will usually adjust from about 6" (varies by arm) under the track to level with the track or slightly above.
Above the desk arm: An above the desk mechanism is designed to convert a fixed height desk into a sit-to-stand workstation. Will adjust from 5"-6" below the work surface to a number of inches above the work surface. The height range above the surface varies considerably by brand.
Short arm: A short mechanism is designed to stow the tray away completely when a standard track can't be used. A short mechanism will stow under a desk completely with an 18" track and protrude less than a standard arm on a shorter track, with the tradeoff being that it also has a more limited height adjustment range.
Double pivot arm: A double pivot arm offers a pivot point where the arm meets the track, along with a second pivot point where the arm meets the tray. This is designed for applications where the user may face one direction part of the time, then face another direction such as with an L-shaped desk where there is a monitor placed on each side of the desk.
Lateral slider: A lateral slider is an additional part that lets the user slide the tray from side-to-side without pivoting the arm. Humanscale offers this option. If you want maximum flexibility for tray placement, add this feature.

Various keyboard tray mechanisms

Choosing the Right Platform

keyboard tray shapes

The primary factors that determine which platform is best are the keyboard you plan to use, what type of mouse you plan to use, the shape of your desk and how much space exists where you plan to install it.

Keyboard factors: A standard keyboard platform is rectangular in shape and will fit most keyboards. If you are using a "natural" shaped keyboard, the kind with a wave shape, it may not fit a standard platform since most keyboards are 10 5/8" deep and natural boards often are deeper. For a natural shaped keyboard, you will want a platform shaped to fit it. If you're going to use a separate mousing platform (recommended in most cases - see below), a 19" wide platform usually can only hold a keyboard. If you plan to use a keyboard with a numeric pad, you will need a wider platform, typically 25" to 27" wide, such as the UPLIFT Large Keyboard Tray or a Humanscale 500.

Mousing Surface

Choosing where you want your mouse to go is often a subjective choice. The goal is to get your mouse as close as possible to your body and to minimize reaching. Most users prefer a separate mousing platform, but some prefer a wider board that allows the keyboard and mouse to sit on the sme surface.

Keyboard and mouse all rest on one single platform

The simplest solution is to skip a mousing platform and opt for a single, wider (usually 25"-30" wide) board that will hold your keyboard and mouse on one level. This works especially well with stationary mice including trackballs such as the Kensington Orbit or front-placed mice like the Rollermouse Pro or Trackbar Emotion. Using just one wide surface is economical, but some mice may slide forward when not in use, moving your cursor inadvertently in the process. If you use a mouse that fits in front of your keyboard, such as the RollerMouse Free or Trackbar Emotion, extra platform depth is helpful. We can customize the ESI Keyboard Platform Total Solution 1CC to fit these mice for a small upcharge.

Keyboard platform with swivel mouse

Over or under? Mousing platforms are usually one of three styles - the most common pivot from the front edge of the keyboard platform and swivel at or slightly lower than the height of the keyboard platform. Two examples of this type of keyboard system are the Humanscale Swivel Mouse and the Workrite Advantage Single.

The Workrite Banana Board is an example of a slide out mousing platform

The second type of mousing platform pulls out from the side of the keyboard platform. This type of mousing platform does not offer any height, swivel or tilt options. The Workrite Banana Board is our most popular model with this style of mousing platform.

Mouse over platform is the most adjustable

The third most common type swivels over the keyboard platform and in some cases is height adjustable, so the mousing surface can swivel over the keyboard. This is especially useful for bringing your mouse closer to your body if you don't use your keyboard's numeric keypad. Mouse-over platforms usually offer the ability to tilt the platform independent of the keyboard platform, making this type the most flexible and the easiest to position for personal comfort. The ESI Ergo Solutions Ultra is one example of this type of system. The Humanscale 900 Platform with the Clip Mouse is our most recommended mouse-over system.

Dual mouse platforms work great for right or left handed users or for those who use two mice

All three types of mousing platforms are available for right-handed users or left-handed users, and some models switch easily from one side to the other allowing different users to use the same tray. Some systems offer both a right and left platform. The Humanscale Dual Swivel Mouse Keyboard System is an example of a dual mousing system. The ESI Solutions Ultra Keyboard System differs as it has one mousing platform that can easily switch to either side.

Palm Rests

Use of a palm rest is optional. Some users prefer one, some do not. If your keyboard tray is in your lap and you're keeping your wrists straight, your palms might not even touch the platform. A palm rest is helpful if it keeps your wrists straight and prevents them from pressing against the hard surface of the platform. Your ergonomic professional may have a preference. Palm rests are padded using either foam or gel; gel palm rests are softer. Ideally if your keyboard platform has a palm rest, it should be removable both for cleaning and in case you change products or personal preference and do not want to use it.

keyboard tray selector tool

Still have questions? Give us a call or complete our short keyboard tray questionnaire and one of our experts will suggest models that will suit your needs.