My previous cutting table was a length of solid oak benchtop sitting on adjustable height trestles. Beautiful, and handy that you could also convert it to a standard height table, but at 61x150cm narrower than I’d like and hard to move around, which was necessary because my sewing room doubles as my study and spare bedroom. I was also finding it rather annoying that I had nowhere handy to put scissors, patterns, pins etc once fabric was laid out for cutting. So, off to the internet to look at ideas for cutting tables. After coming across the Ikea Hackers site I also added a secondary project: to use an Ikea product for my cutting table and post my hack on that site*.
My initial thought was to get an adjustable height desk such as the Ikea Skarsta or Bekant, and add lockable castors and a shelf underneath for scissors etc. The main downsides of this option were the expense of the base unit and potential difficulty making modifications to a metal frame (my experience is mainly working with wood) plus it was proving tricky to find castors with the correct thread size to fit into the existing mounting holes on these desks which were also suitable for use on polished wooden floors and with sufficient load rating, in part because of pandemic-related supply chain interruptions in Australia. Another option I considered was to add castors to a drop leaf table such the Ikea Norden – a more compact storage option but not that easy to move when fully unfolded, no capacity for height adjustment, and the particular castors I thought would work best were again hard to source (these castors attach to the side of the leg via a bracket rather than being mounted on the bottom and so are better for skinny wooden legs).
Accepting I’d have to compromise, I eventually decided that adjustable height was the least important feature. I also realised that if I started with a table that had a fairly low-profile frame and omitted the under-table shelf, the finished cutting table could be stored by nesting it over the top of my Horn sewing cabinet.
Step 1: the base table
I purchased and assembled the simplest, cheapest Ikea solid wood table I could find: Ikea Ingo, 120x75cm, $99.
Step 2: raising the table and making it mobile.
The available lockable castors which were sufficiently heavy duty and also suitable for use on polished wooden floors only came as a screw-on-plate option which put the fastening screws too close to the edge of the timber legs, risking splitting.
I came up with a novel solution to attach the castors which is height adjustable and also completely reversible: slip-on castor boots.
These are made from dressed pine, with a central core which has the same cross section as the table legs. Handily, Ingo legs are 42mm square which is a standard size for dressed pine, so all I had to do was cut a purchased piece to length (length of core = total height raise minus castor height). This is wrapped in 4 pieces of 12mm thick dressed pine cut to twice the length of the core to create a socket at the top for the table leg to slide into. You could use 12mm MDF instead for a cheaper but slightly less attractive result. All joints were glued with pva then pinned through with tiny dowels cut from bamboo skewers. The castor plate is screwed onto the bottom of the boot, which is 66x66mm compared with original table leg size of 42x42mm. Pre-drill all holes to avoid splitting. I also drilled a small hole near the bottom of each socket to vent it – it’s not a major problem with the Ingo legs which have the sharp corners rounded off slightly, but if you use table legs which fit tightly into the boot you will tend to get a piston effect which makes the boots hard to get on and off.
The boots I made are 150mm total length with a core 75mm in length, and in combination with the castors raise my table height to around 87cm – a comfortable height for me for patterning and cutting, and giving 1-2cm clearance over my sewing cabinet when packed away. It is possible to raise the table height further by adding removable “biscuits” (cut from timber left over from the boot cores) into each socket. These biscuits should have a hole drilled through the centre to stop them getting jammed due to the piston effect discussed above, and also so they can be hooked out with a piece of coathanger wire if they do get stuck.
Step 2: fold-down table extension
The Ingo table is only 120cm long, which is ideal for fitting over my sewing cabinet with the least amount of wasted space, but a bit short for a cutting table. Ideally you want your table to be at least 160cm (long enough to be able to lay out a pattern piece for a full-length garment). I decided to add a fold-down extension at one end, using spring loaded folding brackets rated to 50kg and a 46.5x76cm pine panel (an Ikea Ivar cupboard shelf left over from another project). This shelf was the same thickness as the table top and required only minimal cutting down to make it the same width as the table top. The extension does not have to be the same thickness as the main tabletop, as you can simply adjust where the bracket is mounted to compensate. If you don’t already have a suitable panel and don’t want to pay $20 for a brand new Ivar shelf, a cheaper option would be to find a flat cupboard door or cover panel in the Ikea as-is section.
The brackets are mounted onto the table legs – note that unless you have a helper it’s really difficult to position the brackets on the legs to mark the screw holes while you have the full weight of the extension top on them, so use a smaller strip of wood the same thickness as your top to gauge how far down the legs to attach the bracket (so that the top of the extension panel is level with the top of the main table). Attach the brackets to the table legs first, and then attach the panel to the brackets. As the screw holes will be fairly close to the edge of the panel, pre-drill all holes to avoid splitting, being careful not to drill right through! When you mark the screw holes, make sure that they are lined up parallel to the edge of the panel, as the bracket has some sideways movement until all the screws are fastened. Also, I did need to slightly notch out the underside edge of the table to allow for the swing arc of the bracket mechanism. I haven’t put any bracing under the extension top at this stage, but may add it in the future if I notice that the part which isn’t directly supported by the bracket starts to sag (the largest bracket available is 30cm and the panel is 46.5cm)
Step 3: tool well
I could have added a second fold-down extension at the other end of the table, but having had to give up on my original plan for a shelf or drawer underneath in order to allow the table to nest over the sewing cabinet I needed an alternative for easy access to scissors and pins. I took inspiration from woodworking benches and decided to add a tool well instead, just deep enough to keep the tallest item (brass pattern weights adapted from curtain rod finials) below table level. The tool well is basically just a butt-jointed open box made from 140x20mm thick pine boards plus some other scrap timber I had on hand, mounted so the top edge is flush with the table surface. The joints on this were glued and nailed (nails punched in and holes filled). You could use thinner timber, but this heavier weight helps to balance out the table extension at the other end. I sized the tool well in such a way as to minimise the amount of cutting required because I don’t have a band saw and had to hand cut/plane all the pieces. It was easier to have a simple flat back design that fit between the table legs and then to add a couple of filler pieces on top than to try and make the well full width with a complex shaped back to accommodate the table legs. The well attaches to the table frame using 3x low-profile hex-socket bolts. This provides a much sturdier fixation than screws, and it’s a lot easier to get an allen key into the tool well than a screwdriver. Tip: make sure you site the bolt holes so they don’t clash with any of the existing table frame screws or brackets.
Step 4: finishing, table top tape measure and ruler storage
I finished the table with two coats of an oil-based satin varnish (water-based varnish would be equally ok, but this was what I had on hand). The main reason for finishing (especially the table top) is to stop fabric snagging on the surface and to reduce superficial damage from pins and scissors – pine is annoyingly soft and marks easily. If you were making this project from scratch, one option would be to substitute a laminate top for the main table, and then cut up the pine top to make the extension and tool well. Another option would be to attach a thin, replaceable sheet of masonite (which is already nice and shiny) onto the table top using double sided tape.
After finishing I added a screw onto one of the table legs under the tool well to hang my 60cm straight edge, and attached a 1m length of self-adhesive metal tape measure along one long edge of the table. This is fairly low profile, but if I find that the corners are tending to catch on fabric I’ll put clear contact over the top (recessing it into the table top is waaaay too much trouble).
castor boot timber $30.50
4x 50mm lockable castors $25
2x folding brackets $22
table extension – from my stash (a new Ivar shelf 83x50cm costs $20)
tool well timber $15.50
self-adhesive tape measure $5.10
screws, nails, bolts, pva glue, varnish, sandpaper – from my stash ($40-45 to buy new)
Tools: hand saw, mitre box, plane, drill, screwdriver, allen key
TOTAL COST: $197.10 (approx $260 if you have to buy everything)
Possible future modifications:
One thing I’ll definitely do is install a shallow (magnetised?) tray which sits at the top of the tool well to hold my container of dressmaking pins. I’ll keep my eye out for something that’s a roughly suitable shape before I try to make anything from scratch.
I’d also like some sort of fold-away document holder (or at least a mounting point for one) to use for holding sewing instructions, and a collapsible rubbish bag holder attached to the side of the table so I can easily clear away fabric and paper offcuts as I work.
I’ve thought about adding additional storage below the tool well. I’m not entirely convinced this is a good idea as things will tend to rattle around and possibly get damaged when the table is moved, but one option would be to attach an Ikea pegboard panel to the legs at that end (I’d need to to trim down the panel width from 76cm to 72cm) and then use the matching pegboard hooks and containers. Or maybe a stack of very skinny drawers?
*Woohoo! Article has been posted by the Ikea Hackers site as of 9 Feb https://www.ikeahackers.net/2021/02/fabric-cutting-table-sewing-patterning.html