Introduction: How to Convert a Regular Ironing Board Into a Quilter's Ironing Board
My wife and some of her friends are avid quilters. The blocks they make as they create new quilts need to be ironed along the way and a regular ironing board is a bit too small for their tastes. They wanted something wider that also has a consistent width along its full length (no more pointy end for them).
I've seen a few plans floating around the internet showing various solutions, but I didn't like the way they attached the new bigger top to the old ironing board. Velcro, clips, grips…too bulky, too unsightly, and difficult to store during those rare moments the pointy end of the original ironing board is actually needed for normal laundry.
My wife's ironing board is a fairly new model, so the top is made from plastic…that ruled out the bulky clamping approaches. Using velcro just didn't seem sturdy enough to keep an oversized board in place.
Fortunately, when I peeled back the cover on her ironing board to see what might work, I discovered the plastic top had a great pattern of holes…and a simple solution was inspired! You can see her ironing board, minus its original cover, standing next to the new top in the first picture. The second picture shows the new top in use.
I've made three of these at the TechShop in San Jose. For more info on TechShop, see their website at: http://www.techshop.ws
Step 1: Materials & Tools
- 5/8" plywood (you may have to settle for 19/32", just call it 5/8", it's close enough)
- 4 @ 10-24 threaded inserts (Woodcraft item #12K10, ~$4 for a pack of 10)
- 4 @ 10-24 miniature knobs with 1/2" studs (Woodcraft item #27R11, ~$4 for 2 packs of 2)
- 4 @ 1/4" washers
- Heat-resistant ironing board cover material (Bo-Nash.com's "Extra Large" with foam pad)
- tape or Scotch brand Super 77 Spray Adhesive
- Ironing board that desperately needs a bigger top
- Drill w/ 3/8" diameter bit
- Tape measure
- Panel saw or table saw
- Jig saw
- Random-orbit sander w/ fine and very-fine sand paper
- Slotted/standard screwdriver or 10-24 T-wrench (Woodcraft item #12K15, ~$5)
- Silver Sharpie (or similar permanent marker)
- Dust mask (use while sanding)
- Tarp (or old newspaper if you can still find that stuff)
- Razor knife (box cutter)
- Staple gun (not the stapler from your desk at work!)
Step 2: Measure Your Current Ironing Board's Top
A normal ironing board is typically about 54" long and 14" wide. There are different lengths and some variation in width so you'll need to measure your ironing board before deciding how big to make your new top.
The larger your new top, the easier it will be to make your ironing board tip over. I suggest adding no more than two or three inches in width and/or length.
Test the stability of your ironing board after installing the new top to make certain it's stable enough to not cause problems.
For my wife's ironing board, the original top was 14" wide and 54" long. The new top is 17" wide and 57" long.
Step 3: Cut Your Plywood to Size
The width and length don't need to be very precise. That means we can get away with using the panel saw to cut the plywood down to size. Rip for width, then reset the saw, position your plywood, and cut the desired length.
Use a push stick to feed the last of your plywood through the panel saw when ripping! The first photo included with this step shows my plywood ready to be ripped to width on the panel saw.
The ends of my plywood had orange paint on them. The color and number of stripes of paint on the end told the cashier how much to charge me when I bought it. The paint was ugly so my first crosscut left my piece an inch longer than needed. Then I trimmed that spare inch off the other end and the ugly orange paint went into the scrap bin. That's why the second picture included with this step shows 58" instead of 57" (the top's final length as mentioned in the prior step).
If you use the table saw and your plywood is more than a few inches wider than you need, rip it slightly wider than your final width. Then, reset the saw's fence to the final width and rip again. This reduces the weight and bulk you have to manage as you feed a large piece through the tablesaw. Then crosscut the plywood to your final length.
Step 4: Round the Corners & Sand the Faces
Sharp, square corners on your new quilter's ironing board are a bad idea! A nice, big quarter-circle looks nice and doesn't hurt when you clip the corner of the ironing board while walking too close to it.
Let's keep this simple and low tech. No fancy layout or compass work required. For each corner, position and trace any round object you have handy that's about 5" in diameter. I used one of the sanding disks for the random-orbit sander. A new disk is much easier to trace but I didn't have one handy when I took the first photo included with this step.
Using the jigsaw, cut just barely outside the curved line at each corner. You can see a decently close demonstration in the second photo.
Put a piece of 100 or 120 grit sandpaper on your random orbit sander, grab your dust mask, and sand all four corners right to your lines. It took only a minute or two of sanding to clean up each of the corners I cut.
Keep the sander moving so you don't over-sand too badly and don't worry if your corners aren't perfect…the silver reflective cover we'll add later will hide all but the worst flaws.
Replace the paper on the sander with a very fine grit (220 grit is about right) and lightly sand all four corners.
Sand the edges, as well as the top and bottom faces of your plywood.
Make certain you wipe off the sanding dust. Otherwise, it can interfere with the adhesive that will hold the silver reflective material in place.
Step 5: Mark the Center Line & Drilling Locations
Measure and mark the center line along the length of the bottom face of your new plywood top. Position the new top on your workbench or the floor with the center line facing up.
Remove the cover from your old ironing board and position the old ironing board, upside down, on top of the center line. The center line should help you quickly align the new top so you can mark it for drilling. You should be able to see the center line in the first photo included with this step. It's sticking out to the right past the tip of the old ironing board.
Note the second picture included with this step…there's not much room at the back (wider) end of this ironing board due to the built-in holder for the iron. So, the bulk of the extra length of this new top has to hang off the front (narrow) end. If your ironing board lacks the iron-holder, adjust your top so it hangs off evenly on the front and the back.
Find four convenient locations on the underside of your old ironing board that provide enough clearance for the miniature knobs to fit (allow a little space for your fingers too). I used two holes near the front (one on each side of the center line, a few inches out from the center) and two holes near the back (also a few inches out from center and one on each side of center).
If you look at the closeup photo of the underside of my wife's board (third photo in this step), you can see that most of the holes are too close to vertical reinforcement strips to allow the knobs to be easily used…but there are holes roughly centered between the reinforcement strips that work just fine).
Use the silver permanent marker to circle each of the four holes you just identified. This makes it much easier to align the new top each time you have to re-install it because normal laundry needed the old pointy tip of the original ironing board.
Use the pencil to mark through the holes you just circled with the silver marker. Take care here to center your marks accurately. The last picture in this step shows two marked holes straddling the center line after I moved the ironing board out of the way.
Step 6: Install the Threaded Inserts
Set the old ironing board aside and slip a scrap block under each pencil mark before drilling. The scraps help you avoid drilling into your workbench. The first photo included with this step shows a test hole being drilled…use a test hole in scrap to verify that you're using the right bit for your threaded inserts. It also gives you a chance to practice installing a threaded insert if you haven't used them on other projects.
If you were working on the floor for the prior step, add really thick scrap blocks so you don't drill into your floor!
Avoid the temptation to just hold the board over thin air as you drill…when the bit exits the bottom of your plywood, it can tear a nasty chunk out of your plywood. Since we marked the bottom of your new top, the torn section will be on the top of your new ironing board. Please take the time to use scrap blocks and minimize tear out.
Grab the drill, chuck up a 3/8" bit, and drill as straight as you can right through your plywood (but not into your workbench, floor, leg, or other important items). You can use the drill press if you prefer though standing there with a nearly 5' long workpiece is generally more hassle than just holding a hand drill reasonably vertical and drilling into scrap at your workbench.
The second photo for this step shows a closeup of the threaded insert. Notice that one end has a longer unthreaded portion than the other end. The unthreaded portion helps guide the insert as you twist it into the hole.
I find that installing threaded inserts is easier if you spend the five bucks to get the T-wrench. You can of course cobble up your own version from a spare 10-24 bolt and a couple of nuts. Or, you can use a slotted/standard screwdriver…but the T-wrench actually works well enough to warrant recommending it instead. You can see it in action in the third photo.
Twist the T-wrench until the threaded insert sits just below the surface of your plywood. If they're too deep, they'll stick out the other side and interfere with the iron wielded by your quitler. If they're too shallow, they might prevent your new top from sitting flush against your old ironing board.
The inserts are 1/2" tall and your plywood is 5/8" thick. That allows the inserts to be positioned approximately 1/16" below the surface of your plywood without sticking out the other side.
Once in a while, a threaded insert falls in love with the T-wrench and wants to back out of the hole in the plywood when you try to remove the T-wrench. When that's happened to me, I find that a quick/sharp turn counter-clockwise with the T-wrench usually gets it unstuck from the threaded insert. Worst case, back it out and reseat the threaded insert with a slotted/standard screwdriver…it will go in fairly easily since the hole in the plywood was threaded when you used the T-wrench.
Use your random orbit sander if needed to clean up the edges of those holes. Check both the top and bottom of each hole. The last picture for this step shows how ragged the edges can be after installed the threaded insert. A few seconds with the random orbit sander will clean that right up.
Step 7: Test Fit Your New Board
Now is the best time to test fit your new board to your old ironing board. If your threaded inserts don't line up reasonably well, you may not be able to screw in all four knobs.
It's much easier to pick a new location for a misplaced threaded insert before you cover the top of plywood in the next step. Just repeat Steps 5 & 6 until you get all four holes to line up well enough to be able to attach all of the knobs. So far, I haven't had to resort to this, but if you're not careful to center the bit while drilling for Step 6, then now is the best time to correct that misalignment.
Step 8: Cover the New Quilting Board's Surface
Before performing this step, I highly recommend discussing how much padding your quilter likes on their ironing boards. The reflective material has a very thin layer of padding built in so we tried just that on the first attempt. It was judged to be much too firm.
You should have that discussion before you order your reflective material since it can be ordered with or without the foam.
My second attempt added two layers of thin cotton batting between the plywood and the foam that came with the cover from Bo-Nash. So far, that seems like a good combination but your quilter might find that too squishy. It's best to have that conversation before you attach the reflective material.
I used Scotch Super 77 Spray Adhesive to attach the first layer of thin cotton batting to the plywood, trimmed the edges, sprayed the top of that batting and the sides of the plywood, applied a second layer. But for the second layer, I trimmed the batting wider/longer so it could wrap under the board and pad the edges a bit as well.
Then, I sprayed the top of the second layer of batting and attached the foam. I trimmed the foam flush with the top edges of the plywood.
It really helps having a second person on hand while trying to attach the layers of batting and foam to a sticky surface!
Your quilter may very well like just the optional foam that comes with the reflective cover material. The price difference with or without the foam is pretty small so I suggest ordering the foam-included version. You can always leave the foam out if your quilter wants a really firm top.
Please be careful to order the correct size. With a 17" wide top, I found that the 19"x59" (smaller, cheaper) version didn't leave enough material to grip the bottom of the board like I wanted. Remember, the plywood is 5/8" thick, so you'll end up with only about 3/8" on the bottom along the sides.
You'll have a tiny bit less than that if you include the foam pad under the top and even less if you've added layers of cotton batting. I tried a similar project with the reflective material adhered right to the plywood and was told it needed more padding.
If you make your board longer than mine, you may not have enough to cover the ends securely if you order the smaller size.
The website that sells the website that sells the reflective, heat-resistant material has a short video showing how to apply it over an existing ironing board. There's not much point in trying to convert that to yet more long-winded text here, so I'll provide the URL which has links for ordering the material as well as the installation video which is at the bottom of:
If you want the foam held in place more securely than the tape-method shown in the video, I suggest spraying your new top with Scotch Super 77 Spray Adhesive (craft stores, hardware stores, etc). Do this outside, over a tarp or other surface that you won't care may end up all sticky afterwards.
The overspray from applying the spray adhesive is not something you want on the side of your house, your driveway, a window, etc. If you forget and make a mess, your local hardware store will sell you a can of denatured alcohol that should help you clean up the mess faster than using rubbing (normal household) alcohol.
After spraying the adhesive, have somebody hold one end of your foam a foot or so above their end of the plywood while you press the other end against your end of your plywood. Move towards your helper, pressing the foam down neatly into the sticky surface of the plywood until you've reached the other end.
Trim the excess foam with a razor knife. If you used spray adhesive to hold the foam in place, avoid using a pair of your wife's good scissors to trim the foam. Scissors will likely get very sticky and you'll have to clean them.
If you didn't brush away the sanding dust earlier, or you're just not getting the silver material to stick well enough to the underside of your plywood, a few well-placed staples will hold things in place. Arrow makes a nice staple gun for about $10 and you should be able to find it in any decent hardware store. Make certain the staples you use are too short to go all the way through your plywood!
Step 9: Attach New Top to Old Ironing Board
Lay the new top face down on the floor and position the ironing board on top of it. Line up the threaded inserts with the holes you marked in Step 5.
Slip a washer onto the threaded portion of a knob and thread the knob part way into any one of the four waiting threaded inserts.
The first picture shows one knob already in place and you can see the threaded insert peeking through the bottom of the left side's hole. You can also see why I suggested marking these holds earlier instead of after the knobs are installed (which is what happened in the photo used in this step).
Only put the knobs only about half way in until all four of them have been threaded into their holes. This makes it easier to tweak the position of the ironing board to line up the holes with the threaded inserts.
Once all four knobs are partially installed, tighten them reasonably snug (hand-tight only). The knobs should be "monkey tight" not "gorilla tight" since you may need to remove the top some day.
Turn the board over and invite your nearest quilter to give it a test.