Introduction: Folding Sewing Machine Table

I’ve always had trouble trying to find the right table to set my sewing machine on: dining tables are too high, and coffee tables are too low. I got some good ideas, here, for custom-built tables that let you mount a sewing machine on a shelf below the main table top, making the working surface of the sewing machine the same height as the main table. The problem is that I don’t have room for a dedicated sewing machine table.

I found a good sturdy folding table at a yard sale, and combined ideas I got from other instructables to make this folding sewing machine table. This table is more stable than most folding tables because the legs are mounted at angles to the top, giving the overall table the stability of a triangle-ish base. The tricky part was figuring out how to build a recessed shelf to set the machine on, and still to be able to fold the whole thing up for storage. To solve this problem, I made hinged side pieces that fold flat, with a shelf that drops down and hooks onto the side pieces with brackets. The final table works and still folds up to fit in a small space.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools: jigsaw (with assorted blades-use a very narrow "scroll" blade to make tight turns), marker, utility knife, rotary saw, drill (assorted bits), sander, files.

Materials: French cleats (these were six-inches long), 1/16th x ½-inch aluminum bar, 12-inch piece of continuous hinge, assorted screws, cardboard, ¾-inch plywood scraps, 5/8-inch plywood scraps, marker, utility knife, folding table,

“French cleat” brackets are a two-part mounting system used to hang pictures. Each part is a “z” shaped piece of aluminum, with screw holes along one side. One cleat attaches to the wall, and the other attaches to the thing you want to mount. The two cleats hook together for a very secure mounting system.

The shelf that the sewing machine sits on is just the cut-out piece from the tabletop. Because the cleats are over an inch wide, there really isn’t room to mount a cleat on the edge of the shelf piece without the cleat getting in the way of folding the table. Instead of using a cleat on the side of the shelf, I mounted a piece of 1/8-inch by 1/2-inch aluminum bar material to the ends of the shelf, and cut out some material behind these bars to allow the cleats to hook under the aluminum bars to hold up the shelf.

Step 2: Make a Template to Fit Your Sewing Machine

The first step, assuming you already have a folding table that will work for your project, is making a template to cut out the shelf for the sewing machine. The goal is to have a very small gap between the sewing machine and the tabletop. The way I did this was just to set the sewing machine on a piece of cardboard and trace the outline, guessing a little in areas where the base of the sewing machine was different from the working surface of the sewing machine. Cut out the template and check the fit. Make notes on the template for how much to cut the next version of the template. It takes a few tries to get the right shape. Also, be sure to make room for the power cord and to access the on/off switch.

Step 3: Trace the Outline From the Template and Cut Out the Shelf

Once the template fits the upper surface of the sewing machine to your liking, trace the outline on the table top, being sure that you won’t be sawing through any metal parts on the underside of the table. Cut out the shelf piece, being careful to stay as close as possible to the lines. Ideally, you will have a wide enough shelf that you can use a fairly wide piece of the cleat material for better stability.

I didn't take pictures of the cutting process, but you can see from the other photos that the particle board material tends to chip when you're sawing it. The result is a pretty ugly cut, but this project is about utility, not beauty.

Step 4: Cut Side Pieces and Mounting Strips

The next step is making the hinged side pieces that the shelf will mount to. These need to be long enough to attach the cleats. Also, one side needed to extend far enough below the shelf to mount the foot pedal for knee operation. Because these side pieces need to fold inward, you need to mount the hinge on a strip of wood that attaches to the bottom of the table, allowing the side piece to lay flat against the underside of the shelf, when it’s in the folded position. Note, the hinged pieces are 5/8-inch thick, but with the cleats mounted to them, the side pieces need 3/4-inch space to fold flat. Mounting the hinge to the table with a 3/4-inch spacer allows the side pieces to fold flat.

I did not take pictures of the side pieces and 3/4-inch spacers for mounting the hinges, but you can see them in many of the other pictures

I cut the pieces of “continuous hinge,” and mounted the hinges to the underside of the table with the 3/4-inch spacers under them. Be sure to use longer screws to anchor the side pieces securely through the spacer strip and into the tabletop. Also note, the "hinge barrel" (the round part with the hinge pin) takes up a bit of space when the hinge pieces swing down, you need to include this "hinge barrel" space (about an extra eighth of an inch on each side) when you are deciding how far apart to mount the hinges, so the side pieces will be far enough apart for the machine to fit between the sides.

Step 5: Cut Slots at the Ends of the Shelf, and Add Support Brackets

Having cut out the shelf piece, you will need to cut slots along the ends for the cleat to slide under the aluminum strips you’ll be attaching to the ends of the shelf piece. I just marked a line about an eighth of an inch from the edge and cut out the material with the jigsaw. Sand, or file to clean up the cut section. Also, Sand the cut edges of the shelf piece and the cut edges of the table. Don't forget to sand the aluminum parts to remove any sharp edges.

I didn't get detailed photos of this process, but you can see the cut-out and the bracket mounted to the shelf in this photo. The photo also shows how the hinges are mounted to the table.

Step 6: Mount the Cleats to the Side Pieces

Mounting the cleats to the side pieces is almost the last step, and it's about the easiest step. I just clamped the cleat parts in position and mounted the machine in place to check the fit. When you get the sewing machine in the right position, mark the bottom of the cleats, drill the mounting holes and screw the cleats in place.

Step 7: Mount the Foot Pedal for Knee Operation (optional)

I don’t like using a foot pedal to operate the sewing machine because the pedal seems to skate around on the floor, making it hard to control. I made one of the hinged pieces longer so that I could mount the foot pedal below the sewing machine shelf and operate the machine with knee pressure instead of foot pressure.

For mounting the foot pedal, I drilled holes in the underside of the pedal, large enough for the heads of screws to fit through. Then I just filed short slots so the pedal could slide down about a quarter of an inch to lock it in place. To be sure I wouldn’t mess up any electronics and avoid getting plastic crumbs in the mechanism, I separated the lever part from the plastic housing so I could see inside. The plastic is well reinforced, so I just made sure there was room for the screw head to slide into the slot when marking the hole locations. After making the keyholes, I held the pedal piece up against the side piece to mark the screw locations. Be sure to allow enough space for the pedal to slide into the latching slots. I snugged the screws down against the inside of the pedal, and then backed the screws off about a quarter of a turn. Finally, I brushed out the particles before snapping the pedal mechanism back together.

The second photo shows the pedal mounted in position.

Step 8: Add a "toggle" Piece to Hold the Side Pieces Down for Transportation

There is not much to this "toggle" hold down. I just drilled a hole in a little piece of scrap aluminum bar, and used a long screw to hold it to the underside of the shelf. This works well enough, and it doesn't get in the way when I'm using the sewing machine, but I'm thinking about making something more secure.

Step 9: Conclusion

Here is the machine all set up on it’s funky table. The particle board is not my favorite material to work with, and I really don’t expect it to last. I do plan to mix up a batch of epoxy to seal all the cut edges. I’m also thinking of painting the table to cover up all the chipped places, but I’d rather just use this ugly thing until I have some good quality scrap plywood to replace the top. I’m planning a project that uses high quality birch plywood, and I’ll figure on having some leftovers to build a nicer tabletop.

I kind of lucked out with this yard sale table because the arrangement of the legs allows the shelf to be cut out without interfering with the attachment of the legs. If I was using a larger table, I would have set the machine back from the front edge of the table. I’m considering whether I could attach a strip of plywood along the front of this table to extend the work surface in front of the sewing machine. Another option would be just buying a larger piece of plywood and mounting the table legs on a new top piece. After looking at my finished project, this seems like a better idea. I don’t have a lot of faith that the particle board will hold up, and I don't think it would support the weight of an added section. If this one breaks I will definitely use the legs to build a new table.

Note, I considered making the shelf wider and cutting a filler piece to allow for using the “free arm” of the machine. This would have allowed more "knee space" under the table, which is a bit cramped in the current configuration. I decided not to make the shelf wider because I didn’t think I could mount the required filler piece securely to the particle board around it. If I redo this with good quality lumber I think I will make the whole table wider, to allow the machine to be set back from the edge. It would definitely be nice to have more knee room, if I do it again, I'd also add a removable section for accessing the “free arm.”