Somewhere around the seventh- or eighth-grade I learned to sew. It was part of art class. There were these pillow kits that came with fabric, a pattern and few tools.
I’m gonna call them tools, okay?
We did get to choose from a few kits, and luckily there was a skateboard.
If I had to learn to sew, at least I’d get to create something I was interested in.
It was one of two things I didn’t want to learn but really came in handy later in life.
The second was typing.
Anyway, I’ve hemmed pants, reupholstered some automotive seats and maybe fixed a seam or two since the skateboard pillow.
So while sewing probably isn’t on my honey-do list…ever…making your own sewing table did make the list.
My wife makes great stuff. Quilts and the like. Clothes. She creates. And she’s good at it.
I believe you need the right tools for the job, so I set out to make her a better sewing and quilting table.
Which brings me to this post. I searched Pinterest and the web and whatever else to get some ideas, but found that most sewing tables fit into two categories:
- An Ikea tabletop over two Ikea drawer/shelf unit-things, with a sewing machine plopped on top
- A crazy-expensive-specialty-motorized-table from the sewing store
I wanted to be somewhere in-between. Like, the cost of Ikea, but the features of the pro-grandma-sewing-table.
It needed to allow the deck (or whatever you call it) of the machine to sit flush with the table. It needed to accept different machines—my wife’s current machine, my mini industrial walking-foot machine and maybe some new machine sometime down the road.
I sketched some stuff and came up with a really loose plan. The plan was to build a box, flush-mount the box in the table, and make a box top insert that was interchangeable and fit seamlessly around each sewing machine.
Although not a step-by-step, I’m covering enough here to allow anyone familiar with a router (or not) and simple woodworking concepts to creating something similar. Because there are so many variants in sewing machines and materials, I don’t think sewing table plans are appropriate, but if there’s enough interest, I might be able to create some “universal” diy sewing machine table plans.
Depending on your thrift factor, you might be able to make a sewing machine table really cheap, maybe only $50 if you find a used table, have some wood laying around and buy a can of poly. If you buy all new materials, I think you’re in the $125–$150 range (not including the table legs or your chosen base.)
Here’s how it went.
Build Your Own Sewing Table
We started with the top. We picked up this Gerton table top at Ikea for about $80-90. It’s made from beech, unfinished and was reasonable. While I could have made a glue up of some wood I have stashed, the labor savings alone was worth the Ikea Gerton table top hack. I did scour my local craigslist looking for a table. I had seen this same table used on CL for like half the price, with legs and all. The timing wasn’t right I guess. Oh, the top is about 61” long, 30” wide and 1.125” thick. We have a set of Ikea legs from the tabletop this is replacing, and we’ll use an Ikea drawer thing to hold up one side. You could even throw it over two filing cabinets.
I built a box from MDF. Why MDF? Because it was free—I had it laying around. It finishes nice.
If I were to purchase wood for this I probably would have used some birch plywood. I think for the weight of the machines, .5” thickness would suffice, but the MDF I had was .75”.
The box is about 2.375” deep on the inside. I came to that depth by measuring the height of the “deck” on my wife’s machine. I then calculated the thickness of the insert that would sit flush with the deck.
For the width and length, I measured both of our sewing machines and added a few inches to allow for cords and access around the machine when the insert is out. The box is about 18” x 8” inside.
I setup my router table with a .75” roundover bit and rounded all of the edges on the box. Since the box would sit under the table, I wanted to knock the edges off in case you banged a knee on it. And it would give the top insert a nice look with rounded corners. (You can see this in a later photo.)
I cut out two top “inserts,” one which will be cut to fit my wife’s machine and one that I will use to mount my mini-industrial machine. Here’s the kicker. I made the tops wider than the box. The reason is that my machine will surface mount and uses hinges to tilt the machine back, so I need the extra width.
I thought I’d tackle the hole in the table top for the “box.” I’ll then rabbet out the rear to accommodate the wider insert. More on that in a moment. To get a good cut, I first created a template from hardboard and will use it as a guide for my router with a template bit. I traced the template onto the tabletop, drilled a hole and did a rough cut to remove most of the material with a jig-saw.
With some double-sided tape (I use carpet tape) to hold down my hardboard template, I fired-up the router with a top-bearing template bit and cut the hole to final size.
Here’s the finished hole that will fit the box.
And the box (note rounded corners) about to be test fit into the table top. You’ll notice some threaded brass inserts along the front and back top edges of the box. I epoxied the inserts in so I could fasten the top insert with machine screws—I mentioned my mini-industrial sewing machine tips up on hinges to access the bottom and I need everything to stay put. If you are just dropping in a machine, the top insert will stay put without mechanical fasteners.
So here’s the box with some “wings” to attach it from underside the table top. I used some wood screws to fasten it from the bottom on the front side of the box. The backside of the box was fastened with t-nuts and machine screws through the top of the table—more on that later. Let’s remember that the box, with top insert that surrounds the bed of the sewing machine, needs to sit flush with the table top. See the little diagram that follows:
I glued and screwed the wings on the box about .375” down from the box top.
Fast-forward to a semi-finished table. So I neglected to take a few pictures to get to this step. Honestly, they’d look pretty much like the previous photos in this post, or it would be shots of watching paint dry (actually lacquer and polyurethane). Allow me to explain.
I mentioned earlier that I made the top inserts wider than the width of the box, so my industrial machine would have a place to mount hinges. This required me to rabbet a small area behind the hole for the box to allow the top insert to sit flush with the tabletop. I approached this the same way I routed the hole for the box. I used a hardboard template, a template bit in my router and made some wood chips. You could make your top insert the same size as the length and width of the box, and you won’t need to use a router to rabbet the tabletop.
You can also see the machine screws that fasten to the back mounting “wing” with some t-nuts.
So after some test fits of the box, and fine tuning with sandpaper, I applied 4 coats of polyurethane to the tabletop, sanding after the 2nd and 3rd coats with 220- and 320-grit paper respectively.
The MDF box got maybe 6 coats of matte lacquer. And I sanded between coats again with some 220- and 320-grit paper. Why lacquer? I only had enough poly for the tabletop and after a quick scrounge through my bin of paints and finishes, I found a spray can of lacquer.
With the tabletop dry, and the box in place, I set out to cut the top insert to fit flush with the machine. But first, I test fit the machine and marked where the power cable needs to enter for the machine.
Then I took some cardstock, scissors and tape and made a template that outlines the sewing machine so I can cut the top insert.
I used a spade bit and a wood rasp to make a hole for the sewing machine power cable.
I transferred my paper template to the top insert. I don’t have it sitting in flush at this point because it fit so tight I wouldn’t be able to get it out. I also didn’t plan to close the right side of the top insert as the machine motor has a vent on the right and I need a way to slide the insert in the table once the machine is in the box—the insert won’t fit over the top of the machine.
I cut shy of my template lines and then went from the sewing table to my workbench about 100 times fine-tuning the insert. This will take all the patience. All of it.
I took the largest cove profile router bit I had and ran it around the underside of the template. I then had to use rasps, a dremel tool with a sanding drum and even a grinder with 36-grit paper to sculpt the material to allow it to sit flush around the edges of the sewing machine.
So much of it is trial and error.
I would have used something like ¼” acrylic for the top insert, if I didn’t have to worry about the need to mount my industrial machine from the top. Thin stock would be easier to finish and sculpt around the edges of the machine.
This detail shows how close the template fits around the machine.
Satisfied with the fit, I sanded off my pencil marks and put about six coats of matte spray lacquer on the insert.
So there’s the sewing table.
Thoughts on Building a Sewing Machine Table
Here’s some stuff I may not have mentioned:
Make everything smooth and snag-free. Break sharp edges with some sandpaper. Sand between coats. Round corners. Not only did I countersink the screws for the insert, but I polished the heads of the screws so they wouldn’t snag material passed over the top of them.
Templating tools. I didn’t capture photos of the paper template I made. I use a number techniques to make templates or fit something to something else. Paper, tape, scissors and an x-acto knife work great. Cut out shapes of paper and tape it all up to make a template. I’ve also used a contour gauge to capture weird shapes. Welding wire or any kind of wire can be bent to make curves. I’ve even used modeling clay and auto body polyester filler (bondo) to capture compound curves.
I never glued the box to the tabletop. Just a few screws. If my wife gets a new machine and it has a shallow deck height, I’d probably make some kind of lower insert for the box to shim the machine up to sit flush with the tabletop. If some other machine was too tall of the box, I’d need to make a deeper box. So I could unscrew this one and pop in a new box.
Don’t use plywood for the top insert. I mentioned at the beginning that I probably would have built this from some birch plywood had I went out and bought materials. Just not for the tabletop insert. The ply would probably split and splinter too much and create opportunities for snagging fabric.
I didn’t finish the insert for my machine. I know I kept mentioning my mini-industrial machine, but I didn’t get around to finishing my insert yet. I’ll update this post when it’s completed.
Future Plans for a Sewing Table
I do have some thoughts about how I would do this differently, and may still call this a work-in-progress:
I never finished the inside of the box. With sewing machines requiring lubrication, there’s a chance the interior of the box might receive a few drops and drips of oil. Liquids and MDF don’t really mix. I’m going to take care of that, perhaps with a coat of finishing wax, instead of introducing some serious fumes to the inside of the house.
The thickness of the top insert is a little bulky. While I need the strength for my industrial machine, I might just make an acrylic insert out of ¼”-thick material and space it to fit flush with the tabletop for my wife’s machine.
Adjustable height. With a little more time, I might have made some kind of adjustable platform within the box. Maybe some hand-cranked mechanism that can be locked. This would probably require a new box and maybe I’ll tackle that if she gets another machine that warrants the ease of adjustablility.
Okay. Let me have it. Your questions, comments. Tales from sewing’s glory days. I don’t know.