How to Make a Custom Sewing Machine Case




Introduction: How to Make a Custom Sewing Machine Case

About: Make. Learn. Repeat! I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

We all have funny things we geek-out about.

For me it's sewing machines from the 1940s through 1970s.

I like tinkering with machines from this era as well as sewing with them, specifically Berninas, Pfaffs, and Necchis.

There are a lot of "old sewing machine" geeks out there, and we have a lot of fun with our vintage machines.

This is how I make simple, sturdy cases for my old sewing machines. I also make custom hinges to mount the machines into the cases.

If you've got an old sewing machine that you love, you should give it a proper home! : )

This is how I do it. Thanks for reading!!

Step 1: Some Old Machines

These are some of my old flatbed machines that are fully up-and-running, ready to use. I might keep these or sell them at some point.

I have fun fixing them up, and when I need space I'll often post them to sell via local classified ads. I don't make much when you factor in the time and effort; it's a hobby and more about the enjoyment I get from the process, than trying to make a profit.

My instructables username was more apt when I joined the site way-back-when . . these days you're more likely to find me taking apart an old sewing machine than actually sewing with it. Follow your interests, I say.

Step 2: A Note Regarding Hinges

A key to these cases are the hinges that mount the machine to the case.

These keep the machine in place but also allow it to tilt back for cleaning, oiling, and ease in bobbin swapping (which is more or less critical depending on the model of machine).

You can buy hinges similar to the ones shown in the first photo or salvage some from an older sewing table or case. I had a couple sets of these to use, and the installation is shown in the following steps.

However, I came up with a way to make my own low-profile hinges which are shown in the 2nd photo, and the process to make these is outlined later on.

These are a slim and minimal design that work great and are ridiculously easy to install, but they do require a bit of metalworking to produce.

I prefer securing my machines with hinges, but you could forgo hinges altogether and just rest the machine in the case, perhaps on little support blocks at the corners. So that is an option.

Step 3: Tools

Okay, let's get to it.

I used a variety of tools to complete these sewing machine cases and hinges.

For the cases:

  • tablesaw with cross-cut sled
  • brad nailer with air compressor
  • drills and sanders
  • router
  • scroll saw
  • oscillating sander

For the custom hinges:

  • portable metal bandsaw
  • drill press with vise
  • Dremel-style rotary tool

Materials are noted in the individual steps that follow.

Step 4: Base Measurements

The cases are made from 9mm (7-ply) baltic birch plywood along with a few pieces of hardwood.

The exact measurements needed may vary based on the size of your sewing machine, but almost all older flatbed-style domestic and industrial sewing machines I've seen have a depth front-to-back of 7 inches. The width varies more often; in my collection of machines, some have a base width of 14 1/2" an others are 16 1/2".

Remember to take into account space needed to fit the handwheel which on some models sticks out further than the base.

So I made the inside opening on my bases just a hair over 7" deep by 18" wide. This allows room for the handwheel as well as a little room for storage of the foot pedal or cords.

I began by cutting a scrap block of wood to be 7 1/64ish" to use as a spacer. This helps make sure the interior depth of the bases are made precisely as needed (see photo 1).

For the back piece of the frame I used oak, and the thickness used depended on the style of hinges I planned to use for that case (so some photos show a thicker doubled-up piece, and others show a thinner piece).

The remaining pieces of the base are made from 9mm plywood, with the sides layered to create a lip that registers the top cover piece in place.

The frame pieces are 3" and 1 3/4" tall respectively, and cut to length as needed to create the interior opening sized as noted above.

All of these pieces were cut using a table saw for long cuts, and table saw with cross-cut sled to cut them to length.

Step 5: Base Assembly

The pieces for the inside layer of the base were glued and nailed together using a brad nailer, as shown.

A bottom piece was then cut and glued/nailed in place.

Then the outer frame pieces were added in the same fashion. Note in the photos how I lapped the ends of the pieces to increase strength.

An 1/8" roundover bit was used in a small palm router to remove all of the square edges. Wood filler was used to fill the nail holes, followed by a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 6: Cover

The cover was made to fit onto the base, with side pieces that are 12" tall. This is assembled using glue and brad nails similarly to the base.

Pieces or hardwood scraps are used to reinforce the interior corners however, and cut shorter than the height of the cover walls to keep them from hitting the base when the cover is in place.

The built in handles are explained in the next step.

Step 7: Handles

I considered several options for adding handles to these cases, and decided that built in cut-outs on the ends was the best option.

They're free and allow the cases to be stacked and packed away easily.

The areas to be removed were marked and cut out roughly using a scroll saw, then made more smooth and precise using an oscillating sander. Then the edges were routed with a roundover bit from both sides.

This is all done before assembling the covers.

Step 8: Cover Assembly

The case cover was assembled using glue and nails as shown. Edges were routed, nail holes filled, and then everything was sanded with 220 grit sandpaper.

Step 9: Lacquer

To finish the cases, I sprayed them with several light coats of semi-gloss lacquer with a light sanding between coats.

Step 10: Adding Commercial Hinges

To add this style of hinges, you need to precisely drill or route out a recessed area for each hinge to sit in.

These are just a little under 1 1/8" so I used a spade bit to drill these holes. It helps to fasten the hinges into the machine first, and then prop the machine into the case opening to mark the exact position where to drill the hinge recesses.

To keep the spade bit inline I drilled a 1/16" pilot hole first.

The area to the front the holes is carefully sawed and chiseled away to make clearance for the hinge pins.

With the hinge recesses created, you can then prop up the machine so it is level with the base, and then fasten the hinges to the base with screws.

One or two support blocks can be made as needed and glued in place under the machine's feet so it will sit level within the case (last photo).

Step 11: Making Homemade Sewing Machine Hinges

The following few steps show how I make these custom homemade sewing machine hinges.

I show how to make one, but obviously you'll need two per machine : )

They are made from 1/2" square tubing, 1/4" and 1/8" metal rods, and tiny 4S brass washers.

Step 12: Hinge Housing

To make the housing for the hinges, square tubing is cut to length to match the thickness of the back hardwood piece of the sewing machine case.

For me, this was about 7/8". This cut is done using a small portable metal bandsaw.

Using a drill press and vise, an 1/8" hole is drilled through two sides of the tubing piece, centered 1/4" in from one end.

Using a small pair of locking pliers the piece is held and a non-drilled face is removed from the tubing piece using the bandsaw.

A dremel style rotary tool is used at this point to remove any burrs and sharp edges from this piece.

The piece is then returned to the drill press and another hole is made in the back of the bottom face of the piece, through which a screw will be fastened to attach the hinge to the case later on.

Step 13: Hinge Pins

A piece of the 1/4" metal rod is cut 1 1/2" long, and a piece of the 1/8" rod is cut about an inch long.

An 1/8" hole needs to be drilled through the end of the larger rod, about a 1/4" in from the end. This is tricky and might take a few tries to get it right! Use a dremel with a sanding drum to create a spot for the drill bit to start, which is helpful, and use cutting fluid.

The bottom side of the end with the 1/8" hole will likely need to be ground down a little to allow the pin to swing freely up and down in the housing. Take a close look at the first photo to see what I mean.

Step 14: Assemble Hinge

The hinge is assembled as shown. It helps to gently round over the edges on one end of the 1/8" rod to help feed it into place in the housing easily.

It also will help to have a pair of tweezers handy to help get the tiny washers in place, along with a little patience. It's a little puzzle, but it gets easier to put them together with a little practice.

The excess 1/8" rod is then trimmed off, and any additional burrs are sanded away with the dremel.

A dot of super glue on the ends of the 1/8" rod will keep it in place if you're afraid it might slide out before you have time to mount the hinge in a case.

Step 15: Mount Hinges to Case

The beauty of these hinges is how easy they are to mount to the case, IF you have access to a cross-cut sled in a table saw.

The hinges are mounted to the machine, and location is marked on the base of the case.

Using a table saw cross-cut sled with the blade height set as needed, the channels for the hinges to fit in are carefully nibbled away pass by pass with the blade.

The hinges are fastened to the case with screws into pilot holes, and support blocks are added as needed to keep the machine level in the base.

Step 16: Add Clasps

Clasps are added to the outside of the case to attach the cover to the base. These are attached carefully using pilot holes to ensure precision.

Step 17: Add Names!

Since I've got a handful of machines, I decided to add names to the cases using vinyl letters.

I got a package of miscellaneous letters and numbers for $4 from a Home Depot store (this).

Step 18: That's It

I hope you found some useful tips and ideas in this instructable.

Thanks for reading!

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    4 days ago

    Super nice build and awesome aesthetic! Im going to make one of these because Im resto-modding a 15-91 clone and adding a servo motor to it!!!


    11 months ago on Step 18

    This is the greatest ever! I hate the plastic cases and finding a wooden one in good shape is sooooo difficult. Thank you for posting and being crazy thorough!


    Reply 11 months ago

    Hey there, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! :D


    Question 1 year ago

    This is awesome! I love those "naked" machines. How do you strip em out? Do you have a tutorial? Thank you!


    Answer 1 year ago

    Hi, thanks! I don't have a tutorial on that, sorry. But I think I tried paint stripper and it worked to a degree, and then later I ended up using a wire brush wheel in a power drill for a lot of it to remove all the stubborn bits. I had removed all of the external parts and taped off all the openings to prevent gunk and crud getting inside.

    It was a huge mess I recall though.. honestly I'd probably not recommend it! :D


    1 year ago

    Beautiful cases! I am definitely going to look into housing some of my hoard in this manner.

    I have one suggestion that's mostly aesthetic,
    For the reinforcement inside, instead of using square scraps, you might consider using a bit of corner molding. That way you have the extra strength but with a smooth angled corner instead of the square sticking out into the box.


    Reply 1 year ago

    That's a good idea! For the box shown in this instructable I used square scraps, but I believe for all others I cut 45-degree pieces of scrap hardwood, which indeed look better. Thanks for the comment, hope you make some : )


    2 years ago

    I have a few comments to add to this Outstanding Project!
    1. I love your cases and the stacking capabilities. You can also add Rubber Cushions to the bottom corners to protect the bottom of the case.
    2. Please estimate the cost of materials needed for one case.
    3. Great idea for homemade hinges! Hinges are readily available all the time, exept when you need some.
    Thank you.


    2 years ago

    Good job! "Step 10: Adding Commercial Hinges."... Do you know if these or similar hinges are made new today?


    Reply 2 years ago

    It looks like they can be found online - here's one similar style I can find on amazon currently.


    2 years ago

    .Omigosh! I have been looking for plans to do this, couldn't find a thing. Thank you so much for sharing this! <3


    2 years ago

    Where did you get those clasps? I am building my own boxes and those look great...

    Phil B
    Phil B

    3 years ago

    Very nice work. Things I do never look quite so neat.
    A few months ago I worked on a similar machine for someone, but much newer, probably from the early 2000s. I think it was a Pfaff. The motor did not run at all. The shop the owner she trusts was steering her to a new machine for $700 and telling her how expensive it would be to install a new motor. I looked at the old motor and held some very fine sandpaper against the darkened copper commutator sections while I turned the armature by hand. It took a while, but as soon as the commutator was clean and bright the machine ran like new. This could easily be a problem on a machine from the 1930s or 1940s, too.


    Reply 2 years ago

    For those leary of disassembling a motor, or with some vintage Japanese motors the sometimes challenge of a disassembly, electronics cleaner can sometimes be used to clean out residue from the brushes wearing. It will depend on the design of the motor case and a path to the commutator bar end of the armature where the brushes are. This is usually where the wires enter the motor case.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you. Yes indeed, a deep clean can do wonders! I've cleaned up a few old motors in some of my machines, and had good luck using a small wire wheel in a dremel to clean up those blackened copper sections. It's incredibly satisfying to clean something up and get it back to working order.. especially if you're saving someone a good chunk of money in the process : )


    2 years ago

    Very, very nice! I have wayyyyy to many machines, and struggle with space, some need cases, and the need to service many of them to sell them in good conscience . . . too many projects, too little time.


    Question 3 years ago

    Do you know where one can find sewing needles for vintage sewing machines? I have access to one but the standard needles seem to be to long.


    Answer 3 years ago

    Maybe you could even cut the needles with a rotary tool or wire cutters?


    Reply 2 years ago

    Sorry, no. The critical factor is how the "lock" stitch is formed. After the need/thread passes through the cloth and starts to return upward, the friction and lack of spring tension makes the upper thread form a loop that the hook catches and pulls around the lower thread. So the timing, which even after decades is often just fine, of the hook catching the thread loop is critical and all the gaps/lengths that put the needle and hook in the right places at the right time. The position of the "eye" of the needle is standard on most, but not all machines and some needles are very hard to come by. Shortening the shank from the top won't change the tip to eye distance. Needles are very strong and also brittle, they can and do snap off. So trying to change the tip to eye distance is very hard. And then you have to resharpen it and maintain the shape. There is also the depth of the notch in the needle the hook passes through as it catches the thread loop, and the length of the channel in the needle that carries the thread through the cloth.