Introduction: Making a Quilter's Flat-Top Ironing Board

Make the Quilter in your house happy with this Flat-Top Ironing Board.

Step 1: Introduction

My wife is really into quilting and, as I have learned as I watch this art form from the sidelines, one of the most common subtasks related to quilting is ironing. First, the small, individual pieces (I hesitate to use the term “squares” here, because they are often not actually square) are ironed to ensure that they are flat before they are creatively assembled into larger panels. If the seams aren’t straight and in exactly the right place, the quilt pattern just won’t look right.

These small panels are then ironed again prior to being sewn to other similar panels to ensure that they, too, line up correctly. As the process continues and the quilt grows in size, a standard ironing board, with its non-rectangular shape (developed, presumably, to make shirt ironing easier) becomes a problem. Clearly, a larger, flatter, rectilinear shaped ironing surface is called for.

During a visit to the home of one of her fellow quilters, my wife saw the solution to her ironing board problem. The woman’s husband had made her a 24” x 54”, padded, flat-top that attached it to a standard ironing board. She brought home a couple of photos and asked if I could make one for her.

I thought that it was a clever idea but felt that I could enhance his design somewhat. Here is what I came up with.

Step 2: Making the Top

The top is made of 1/2” plywood with two 1x2 ribs running the length. Your dimensions might be different. This one is actually a bit longer than the one my wife saw at her friend's house. I assume that this is due to the size of the ironing board used as the base. These ribs greatly stiffen the top and lock it in from moving side-to-side. I placed an additional 1x2 stringer on each end to provide support and prevent end-to-end movement. I had to use two pieces of plywood for the top rather than one complete piece simply because that is what was easily available, but if you can, I’d really suggest cutting the top from a single sheet. I ended up with a seam across the width of the ironing board. While the slight ripple due to the seam is not obvious (because of the layers of padding on top of it) I did add a couple of small pieces of 1x2 on the bottom to hold it flat(ter). Because these splices came all the way to the edge, they made stapling the cover on a little more difficult and resulted in a bit of a bit of a bump near the one end.

Step 3: Making the Crossbars

I needed to provide for a means of locking the top in place, so I made two moveable crossbars underneath. These bars can be swiveled to one side and locked down to get them out of the way to make installation and de-installation of the top easier.

Trust me; I was not a slave to careful measurement in this project. I just eyeballed the crossbar lengths, cut them to length and drilled holes in one end of each crossbar. I slipped each bar over the pivot on one end and just marked where the slot on the other end should be and cut them.

Step 4: Making and Installing the Crossbar Pivot Blocks

The pivot blocks for the Crossbar Pivot Blocks are just two short pieces of 1x2 glued together. The top piece is drilled and countersunk on the bottom to accept a ~2.5x¼” carriage bolt. I glued them in place (bottom and side toward the lengthwise ribs). For good measure, I also ran a wood screw through the rib into the top of the pivot block.

Step 5: Making the Knobs

I cut twelve 2-1/2” diameter discs out of 1/4’ plywood using a hole saw and drilled 4 of them out to be a snug fit on a ¼x20 nut. Using my bench vise like a hydraulic press, I forced a nut into each of these 4 discs. Make sure that it is in straight when you are done.

Step 6: Assembling the Knobs

I then glued and sandwiched the discs together in groups of 3: one blank disc, one disc with a nut followed by another blank disc. Don’t bother sanding anything yet. Leave it rough for now.

I screwed these sandwiches all together onto a piece of ¼” all-thread (I included a smaller, drilled wood scrap between each group of 3 discs to separate them) and squeezed the whole sandwich together with a washer and locking nuts on each end until the glue dried.

Step 7: Sanding the Knobs

After the glue was dry, I mounted the knobs, one at a time, on a long bolt, chucked them up in a drill and ran them against my belt sander. It took only a few seconds to true them up, round them over and smooth them up. I did go back over them again with my orbital sander to make them nice and smooth. I did not bother to put any finish on them.

Step 8: Completing the Top

I stapled two layers of aluminum foil to the top. Allegedly, this reflects heat back into the material being ironed and aids in the ironing. I’d suggest using foil that is more than 12 wide so that you can use just 2 pieces rather than 3 to cover the top. Also, if I had it to do over I’d use I’d use heavy duty foil. The normal, light duty kitchen foil tears VERY easily.

Then I added a layer of quilter’s batting to the top and trimmed both the foil and the batting even with the edge of the top all the way around. After you’re done all of the stapling, go around with a hammer and make sure that the staples are all down flush.

With my wife’s help we cut and laid a piece of "aluminized" ironing board covering material (available by the yard wherever your resident quilter gets her material) face down on the dining room table. We cut it to leave about 3” of excess material all the way around. We centered the foil and batting covered top upside-down and on the material.

We then went around the edge, folding the edge of the material under to prevent unraveling and stapling it all the way around. The top was ½” plywood, so 3/8” staples worked well. Use your best judgement. It is probably better to use too many staples than too few.

Step 9: Locking the Top Down on the Ironing Board

To mount the cover on the ironing board, loosen the knobs and rotate the bars out to the sides. Then, tighten the knobs down so that the bars don’t flop around. Lift and center the top onto the ironing board and press it into place. Make sure it is completely flat on the top of the ironing board. Loosen the knobs, swing the bars into place and lock them down on both ends.

In my case, the spliced end of the top is positioned over the wider back end of the ironing board for maximum support under the pieced area.