Today we are going to be taking a closer look at one of the most popular ergonomic accessories, a computer keyboard tray. A computer keyboard tray provides two major benefits. The first is linked to better posture while typing/mousing and the second is for freeing up valuable real estate on your desk’s surface. There are a few more benefits I recently talked about in our top 6 reasons to buy a keyboard tray post.
Just because keyboard trays offer benefits to users, doesn’t mean they are perfect for everyone’s needs. The problems listed below are the most common problems we’ve experienced over the last 13 years while using and selling keyboard trays. The goal with our post today is help you decide if a keyboard tray is a good fit for your ergonomic needs.
Full Disclaimer: We are an office furniture dealer and sell some of the products we review. To learn more about the products we sell, our review process and why you can trust us, please visit: Why we’re different. Who is BTOD.com and The Breakroom Blog?
Top 7 Problems & Solutions Summary Video
1. Knee Clearance Issues With Keyboard Trays
One of the most common problems with computer keyboard trays are the knee clearance issues they create. When you consider that a keyboard tray is mounted on the underside of your desk, it is inevitable that bulky keyboard tray units pose the risk of getting in the way of your knees. Depending on the thickness of your desks surface, plus the height of the desk, you might not be able to use your desk in the seated position while the keyboard tray is stowed under the desk.
Depending on your desk’s setup and how you currently use the desk, this might not be a real problem. Some users find that most of their day is spent typing and mousing on the keyboard. If you are doing minimal writing tasks on your desk’s surface, you might not even use the desk with the keyboard tray stowed.
For those users that find themselves writing frequently, we would highly recommend looking at a computer keyboard tray with thin profile. There are several ergonomic keyboard trays offered today that are thin enough that you only lose about 1” to 2” of space underneath the desk’s surface. Pairing your keyboard tray with a thin keyboard and mouse will help to stow the tray closer to the underside of the desk.
2. Limited Keyboard / Mouse Area
As you search for the perfect computer keyboard tray, you’ve likely found there are a lot of options. Depending on the amount of clear space under your desk, the keyboard tray you select might be limited in space for the keyboard/mouse. There are several keyboard and mouse combos that are small, but there are plenty of larger setups too. Split keyboard designs from Microsoft are one of the more common large keyboard designs. Upright ergonomic mice also tend to be larger than average, requiring more space for proper use. When you use big keyboards and mice, you will likely find stock keyboard tray systems to be a bit small.
The first thing we recommend is getting an idea of the minimum space required for comfortable use. Placing your keyboard and mouse on a large flat surface, you should be able to measure how much area you typically use. This will give you an idea what type of keyboard tray can quickly be eliminated from your search.
There are a lot of different styles of trays available. If you are someone who requires a lot of space, the single platforms are a good place to start your search. With one large tray, you can manipulate the placement of the keyboard and mouse area. If you don’t require as much space, alternative trays with separate mouse platforms are something to consider as well.
3. Keyboard Trays Can Be Awkward
One of the most common reasons a keyboard tray is returned is that the user has a hard time adjusting to their new keyboard tray. This can be for a host of different reasons, but if you’ve never used one they can be a bit awkward to get used to. Some of this awkwardness comes down to a limited amount of work space you have and the restricted feeling it creates.
Most keyboard trays offered today include wrist supports that are designed to provide support for the keyboard area. Some tray’s wrist supports will extend beyond the keyboard to the mouse area as well. Depending on the thickness of your keyboard, these can be an annoyance. Apple is a great example; with one of the thinnest keyboards available, the typical bulky wrist supports found on keyboard trays are almost unusable. The opposite would be Microsoft keyboards that have a built-in wrist support. Having a wrist support on your keyboard tray will ultimately push the keyboard further away from the front edge of the tray. If you have a wrist support on the keyboard tray, you will have to awkwardly reach for the keys.
The same is true for the wrist rests that extend to the mouse area. Depending on how you like to use your mouse, a wrist support might prevent you from moving your mousing hand as much as you normally would. This can create new issues as you try to adjust to use your mouse.
I would suggest that you first look at the height of your keyboard versus the thickness of the wrist support on the keyboard tray. Technically, users are not supposed to actually rest their wrists on these, but that is pretty tough to avoid. You want to make sure the wrist pad that is included on the tray creates a comfortable fit.
Some keyboard trays come with wrist supports that are removable. If the wrist support on your keyboard tray isn’t a thin enough profile, looking at a tray with a removable wrist support is the best option. This is the best option for keyboards like the Microsoft natural products that have built in wrist supports. It is important to note that if you remove the wrist support, there is a good chance the exposed portion of the tray won’t be as comfortable for your wrists. If your keyboard has a built-in wrist support this isn’t an issue, but if you’re on an apple keyboard this could be uncomfortable.
4. Users Tend To Set Keyboard Trays Up Incorrectly
Having grown up in a family that produced ergonomic keyboard trays for over 30 years, I tend to notice how keyboard trays are used more than most. My family’s products have been used throughout the city I live and grew up in for as long as I can remember. One of the most common places that I see our keyboard trays is in the local hospitals.
I’m not kidding when I say that almost all of the keyboard systems I find in the hospital tend to be positioned incorrectly. Because ergonomic keyboard trays can be tilted, most users seem to always tilt the keyboard tray positively. Unfortunately, this is the wrong meaning of the word, because a positively tilted keyboard tray is bad for your wrists. This position puts the portion of the keyboard tray furthest from you and higher than the edge closest to you. When this is done, users tend to bend their wrists, which significantly increases the wrist for problems like carpal tunnel. Because of this, I find myself adjusting each keyboard tray I see while visiting the clinic. This can make for an awkward situation, but rest assured knowing that I’m an expert at proper keyboard tray adjustment.
Not only do we find that keyboards positioned in a positive position raise the risk for carpal tunnel, they also tend to create discomfort for users over time. What might feel like a comfortable position at first, tends to create issues that will ultimately lead to discontinued use of the tray.
The proper way to use your keyboard tray is in a flat or slightly negative position. This will create a neutral position for your wrists, reducing the stress that is found when users have a keyboard tray in a positive tilted position. If you’ve been using your keyboard tray incorrectly for an extended period, this can be a tough habit to break. Just like slouching in your chair, over time you’ll find that better posture will improve the way you feel sitting at your desk.
5. Keyboard Trays Can Be Bouncy
When you look at the design of most computer keyboard trays, you’ll notice they almost all are designed with an extended arm system. As this arm extends out to the tray, the amount of bounce found in the system increases. This is especially true when you push down on the far left or right ends of the keyboard tray. Because the mouse tray is typically positioned at the widest point on the left or right side of the keyboard tray, this will be the portion of the tray that has the most bounce.
This keyboard system design creates bounce issues for almost all keyboard trays, although some products are definitely worse than others. Keyboard trays that are made from thin phenolics/plastics tend to be the worst offenders with bouncing because of the natural flexing that occurs.
Depending how hard you type or the amount of pressure you put on the tray, you may or may not notice the bounce as much as other users. The first solution would be to work on typing a little gentler or putting less pressure on the tray when typing and mousing. Of course, this is easier said than done with habits that have been part of many of our daily routines for years.
Looking at keyboard trays that are made from steel like the Myriad systems from RAProducts is a good option. This formed steel tray minimizes a lot of the flexing that is found on their less expensive Myriad Jr and 245E board systems. The Myriad tray system still has some flexing and bouncing issues from the extended arm design, so it isn’t perfect, just an improved alternative.
Some keyboard systems are available with a thick piece of wood for their platforms. These systems will provide a large firm flat area for keying on the keyboard and mousing. We’ve found they limit the amount of flexing you would normally experience with plastic trays. One drawback to this system is the thickness of the wood creates some additional knee clearance issues.
The last option would be looking at an arm system that connects on both sides of the tray. Often sliding keyboard drawers are designed this way, but most will not offer any type of height or negative tilting adjustments. The arm system on the NewHeights XT split surface is a great example of the ideal solution. Paired with a height adjustable desk, there is plenty of height adjustment available. The mechanism also provides a tilt function to get your wrists into a neutral position. This exact system creates a full width keyboard tray which will provide a lot more working space for your keyboard and mouse. The biggest drawback with this system is the cost, since it requires a full adjustable workstation.
6. Keyboard Trays Can Be Expensive
If you’re looking for a high quality computer keyboard tray, you might end up with a case of sticker shock. While some of the lower end keyboard trays at big box stores are inexpensive, high quality commercial products are quite a bit more expensive. Even the least expensive commercial option we offer is $159.99. This features our most basic mechanism, which is also the most cumbersome to use. If you want a setup with a nice platform and an easy to use mechanism, you will find yourself north of $200.00.
Unfortunately, the easiest solution for the pricing problem will leave you with a lower quality alternative. There are quite a few low-cost items that are available on Amazon and in the big box stores. For some this might be okay, but for those looking to make one investment, cheaper isn’t a good option. We have customers that are still using keyboard systems purchased from RAProducts 15 to 20 years ago. They call BTOD looking for replacements of the wrist supports and mouse pads, but not the actual track or mechanism. Like most things in life, you pay for what you get and this is true with keyboard systems as well.
7. Depth Required For Mounting Keyboard Tray Track System
Width is not the only dimension that you need to be concerned with when picking out the perfect keyboard tray. Something that many do not consider is the depth required for properly mounting a keyboard tray system. Depending on the arm mechanism, the depth can vary from 14” to over 20”. This means to properly mount the track system, there needs to be at least 14” front to back of unobstructed flat space. More advanced mechanisms that are easier to adjust tend to be larger and will require more depth.
While the depth required isn’t as big of an issue on traditional sitting desks, we’ve found that standing desks pose a bigger problem. Most of the standing desks that we have tested, including our own VertDesk v3 and NewHeights XT will have frame components running between the legs. 24” deep standing desks tend to be worse than 30”. C-frame designs are better than most T-frame designs as well, with the leg placement set back of center. This leg position will move the under-frame components back of center as well.
This first thing you should do is make sure to measure twice and verify the depth requirements with the brand you are purchasing. If you do this you are more likely to avoid getting the wrong size system.
If you purchase a computer keyboard tray and the depth is an issue, one of the most common solutions is to shim it to the bottom of the surface. Customers will generally use blocks of wood to span the frame section that is an issue. It is important to note, this can create serious knee clearance issues, so buyer beware.
Alternatively, keyboard tray manufacturers have been producing what they call trackless keyboard systems. These keyboard tray mechanisms require significantly less depth and fold out and extend. Many will also provide some amount of height adjustment and full tilt adjustments. Because these keyboard trays do not slide, they also tend to stick out past the front edge of the desks surface. We have found that some of these trackless systems do not tuck as nicely under the desks surface, potentially creating knee clearance problems.
If you’re looking to free up some desk space, or create a more comfortable computing experience, keyboard trays can be a nice addition to your workspace. Like all ergonomic accessories, there are some specific problems that you will want to consider before making a purchase. Carefully consider each of the problems listed above and you should be able to make the decision whether a keyboard tray will be a good fit for your needs.