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.
The inset box is genius. The lift mechanism runs about $250 and up. It would be really nice to have, but I hate to spend that much fabric money on a lift. (I have a large machine that weighs about 30 lbs) I would love to see what else you have done to make a better sewing table. And a more efficient sewing room.
Misty-Anne R Marold
Can you show a picture of your industrial insert and the machine in the table? I’m having trouble understanding how it works.
Hi Misty-Anne, my industrial is a tabletop machine, a Thompson, which is similar to Sailrite (Sailrite bought them), so it actually sits on top of the recess. It’s self-contained, like a tabletop sewing machine, there’s no separate clutch/servo motor or belt so it’s not like a larger Consew or Singer 111. My wife has her machine setup in the table now, and I don’t have a pic of it in the table. It’s almost identical to this machine, so imagine an insert, much like the wooden box they have, dropped into the top of my table: https://www.sailrite.com/Sailrite-Ultrafeed-LS-1-BASIC-Walking-Foot-Sewing-Machine
this is pretty tricky and you two are suPer handy… your partners are VERY lucky!!
What a great tutorial! I have two sewing machines, a “vintage” Bernina and a new Juki. I would like to interchange them as needed. My woodworking skills are limited, but I am good at measuring as any quilter should be, so I really want to try this with my existing sewing table. I was wondering if using a removable layer of material under the machine in the box to adjust for the height of the shorter machine might work, it might be a little fiddly, but could work maybe. Question: how much weight do you think the box will hold? my Machine is heavy. Thanks for your tips!
Kim, thanks for your comment, those Berninas are nice. My wife got a new Juki and already the box is too small so I might be redoing the table soon. I had planned to insert something in the box to allow some of the shallower machines to sit flush with the top of the table. Perhaps another wood insert under the machine, a little square under each machine’s rubber foot, but I think you could use anything that is rigid to elevate the machine. My machine is an old Thompson walking foot and it’s about 47 lbs and it has no problem. If the box is glued and screwed together, and mounted to the table with screws, I imagine you’d have no problem with any machine you could fit. I have other tools in my workshop sitting on 3/4″ wood that weigh a couple hundred pounds…
Nice job Marty!
I’m planning something similar for my wife’s quilting/sewing projects but need a flexible drop-in design that supports two different sewing machines, each with their own footprint.
My plan is to build two fixed-size (20” x 24”) rectangular “inserts”, each with their own drop-in box and custom cut-out for a specific sewing machine. The inserts, made of the same 3/4” melamine material as the table, will drop into a matching cutout in the table and sits flush with the table top. I can then easily swap out the inserts as needed for the different sewing machines. I’ll also create a “blank” insert (no sewing machine cutout) to use when my wife wants to use the table for piecing, layout, etc. — something other than sewing.
An advantage of this design, given my mediocre woodworking skills, is if I botch the cutout for one of the sewing machines, I’ve only ruined a 20 x 24” insert, not the entire table!
An added challenge is that both my wife’s sewing machines — a Juki and Brother — requires an opening to the left of the machine to access the bobbin below. Rather than simply extend the cutout to the left of the sewing machine, I’ll create a small (3” x 4”) “panel”, made of the same melamine material as the top, that sits flush with the top on a slightly smaller sized opening to the left of the sewing machine cutout. My wife simply lifts the panel to get at the bobbin compartment below. Hope I can make that fit and work well.
have you thought of a spring loaded push down mount to hide the machine and close doors? I have been given a great bernina cabinet, but the machine has to be tilted onto its side to push into the cavity.( the “hide” action looks like that of an attic pull down ladder access.) Gate springs look like they will work , but I’m having trouble identifying the hardware to affix it to the cabinet.
This is great work. Can you please show pictures of how you used the router and pictures of the router bits. This is a fantastic job.
I am trying to figure out something like this and I wondered if butcher block might work. I have looked at the cheap and the expensive systems, none of them fit my needs, nor fit my machines. Right now I have the “Wall-O-Vintage-Sewing Machine” cabinets… but that doesn’t work either, because most flip open to form a table and sitting next to each other, won’t flip open, so I have to pull them out into the room to use each one. Yes, the vintage cabinets are beautiful, but not functional for multiple machines. I think the big difference between vintage machines and new machines, new machines were meant to sit out on a table or be in a table with a lift system, vintage machine are hinged, they flip up and out. Since I want to have several to use, I am thinking five of them mounted in a wall long table, I want to be about to flip them out, then put them away where it creates table work space where all the non-in-use machines are at. Like the expensive systems, I would like to create this with a built in shelving unit across the back of the wall. Some would call this storage for notions, I would call this shelves for display, ha! I have about 15 fully restored vintage machines (more waiting in the wings to be restored), all of which aren’t just pretty, they all sew like a dream. About 10 years ago, I had a nice new Singer, she was about $1200, not top of the line, but not cheap, I called her “The Gobbler”, because she loved to suck fabric down into the bobbin assembly. My Grandmother passed away about 7 years ago, back in the 1940s she took in half the towns laundry and mending to buy herself a sewing machine. I found out my parents had just thrown it in the barn. I rescued her 1946 Singer 15-91, gutted and cleaned it, put it all back together and my obsession with vintage machines started. Yes, people with new fancy machines laugh at you, they think you are crazy, until you force them to sit down and sew on a vintage machine that is filled with steel gears instead of nylon gears that are meant to wear out so you have to buy another one in about 7 years and the motors are 5X stronger. My Mother was visiting, at the time I had about 5 vintage machines already by this time, she was one of these people, an avid sewer and quilt maker with a $13K Pfaff and a $9K Brother, she thought I was crazy. I made her sit down and sew on my Grandmother’s machine she had thrown in the barn. She said, “it’s nice”. Not a raving review, but funny enough, she returned home and two weeks later she text me a picture of the Singer 15-91 she had just bought and was so proud of! Now she admits, that 95% of her sewing is done on the 80 yo machine while her fancy pants machines just sit there. The lady that lives behind me, also one of these people that laughed at me for using old machines, she has some insanely fancy Juki, I have no idea what it cost, but she teaches sewing at the High School. She thought my collection was beautiful, but useless… until she sat down in front of my Singer 201. After about an hour and I couldn’t get her off it, she offered to buy it from me! Not that I would ever sell one of them after I put all the time into restoring them, ha! Like she said, 98% of the time, all you are doing in sewing is straight stitch and and even her Juki didn’t stitch that beautifully. Having multiple to use sounds insane… but I like certain machines for certain things. The model 15s are great for just about anything, the 66 and 99s are good for tight projects you need to turn on a dime with, I have a Viking model 21 that is great for big bulk projects because the arm is long and high and nothing beats a Singer 201 when working on upholstery. I recently recover a vintage ottoman. It was covered in a vinyl to look like leather, I recovered it in a fake alligator vinyl that was really thick. With cording, I had to sew through 4 layers, about 1/2″ of tough vinyl most of the whole project, the 201 glided through it like it was butter. Where the cording and pieces all joined, I had to go through 8 layers, still did it! I am utterly sure none of these new machines would be able to even punch a stitch through something like that, much less the annoying safety feature that if the foot gets to high, the machine just stops, because it thinks your finger is under the foot. But I recently started collecting the Japan knock offs of the Singer 15-91… the only difference between them, the Japanese painted them in tons of vivid beautiful colors, unlike Singer, who stuck mainly to black. Like my sister who has a fancy new Brother, that is a year old, been in for service twice already… I like to remind her, that Juki, Janome, Brother and pretty much all Japanese sewing machines wouldn’t exist without the Singer model 15 and 99 plans the U.S. government handed over directly from the patten office after the war, to help Japan rebuild, ha! I asked her if she wanted to borrow my 1950 Brother model 12 in sea foam green (which was Brother’s knock off of the Singer 15), when her new machine died for the second time, it is only 72 years old and still works. So I want to build something very functional, yet at the same time, work as a display for all these beautiful vintage machines that I personally think deserve to be shown off, they are simplistic, most only do straight stitch (unless you add the zigzag foot, which is an engineering marvel on its own) but they were built before companies learned the term “planned obsolesce”, most of these machines are between 70 to 100 years old and still sewing like a dream. As I asked my neighbor, my Mother and others… “Do you think your fancy new machine will still be sewing in 100 years”? They all know the answer to that, because they all have had to replace machines, ha! Not to mention, what most people don’t know today, why does is say on a pack of needles “Standard 15” and most machines take class 15 bobbins? Because how your new fancy machine works was patented by Singer in 1895, the model 15 set the standard of how machines of even today work. I will admit, I mainly sew on the Singer machines… but the display part going up the wall I want to build will be for the colorful Japanese knock offs. Of coarse, these cast iron enamel painted machines will look great for years to come, long after the new machines plastic has yellowed and ended up in the dump… LOL! People with new machines hate me! Ha! Specially when they find out some of my machines, like my 201 I picked up for $15 at a garage sale and it will long out last their machine that cost as much as a small car.