fold-away cutting table

In 1995, I started my own line of linen and hemp clothing, Perennials. Twelve years later, I closed it down, when I moved from North Carolina to Virginia. I had considered re-opening–at least on a part-time basis–once I got settled, but one of the biggest challenges was that I no longer had a dedicated studio/workroom like the one I had in North Carolina. There, I had a 5′ x 5′ cutting table that I used both to draft patterns and cut out garments, enough room for both of my sewing machines, an ironing board, and plenty of wall space to hang all of my patterns.

A shot of my old design studio. I’d just re-painted the room in preparation for putting the house on the market, so all of the stuff on the walls (my patterns and pattern hooks, etc.) had been taken down and a lot of other things were already packed away

Currently, I live in a two-bedroom cottage, which I adore, but the only place that’s really an option for a work space is the guest bedroom. However, in order to be able to actually have guests from time to time, I needed to figure something out that would allow me to have a work surface for cutting and drafting that would go away when I needed it to.

Back when I was just sewing for myself, I used to have one of those folding cardboard cutting boards that you could buy at the fabric store for a few dollars. I would set this convenient (but relatively flimsy) cutting surface up on my bed (or even the floor) and cut out whatever I was working on. Which was okay for occasional sewing projects, but not for long-term, daily usage.


…maybe I could build a sturdier work surface that would use the guest bed as a base and that I could fold away and stand against the wall when I wasn’t using it.

So I got to thinking. I knew I’d need a way to raise the table to a good working height…some blocks or something. I also knew I’d need two sheets of plywood to achieve the minimum 5′ x 5′ dimensions of the table (to allow for 60′ fabric widths), so I sat down with a sketch pad and started figuring out the cuts that would be needed.

This is what I came up with:

Each sheet of plywood would yield one 30″ by 6′ section , which combined would create a surface measuring 5′ x 6′ (I figured the bed was at least 6 feet long, so I might as well take advantage of that and increase the length by a foot). That would leave two pieces measuring 18″ by 6′, plus two leftover sections measuring 2 feet by 4 feet. (I planned to have these three main cuts done on the big vertical saw at Lowe’s, since I wouldn’t be able to transport two full, uncut sheets of plywood home in my Honda Element.)

After doing some more calculating, I realized that if I cut the 18″ x 6′ pieces lengthwise down the middle, that would leave me with two pieces measuring 9″ by 6 feet—which could then be cut into one-foot lengths, giving me a total of 24 pieces measuring 9 by 12 inches. Which could then be assembled into six piers/pillars that would raise the table to the perfect working height. (I have to say I was pretty surprised when I measured the space from the top of the mattress to the desired table height and discovered that it was exactly 9 inches.)

Here are some pics of the table in process (sorry, I forgot to get pics of the guy doing the big cuts at Lowe’s and my neighbor cutting the small pieces). (I used 3/4 inch plywood, by the way.)

Table top panels ready to sand

Small pieces, soon to become table supports.

Panels, painted.

Small pieces, primed (sitting on freebie garden bench, another DIY project-in-waiting).

I only primed one side of the small pieces, mainly so that I could identify the “good side” when I started assembling the supports.

Ready to be assembled…

Taking shape…

 I used butt joints…a lot easier than mitering the corners (although my neighbor did offer). I drilled pilot holes for the screws first, but I’ll admit I did a quick and dirty job of it. There was a little splitting around some of the screws, but nothing major. Two screws at each corner, and…done!

Ready to sand…

 The support piers, being strictly functional, really didn’t need to be perfect, but I at least wanted to get rid of the rough edges, so I gave them a quick sanding.

Sanded and ready to paint…

Painted…almost ready to go!

 I didn’t see any point in wasting paint on the insides of the supports. Again, they’re strictly functional and are unlikely to be seen by anyone but me.

In place for a trial run. You can see the table top panels standing against the wall.

Hinge close-up (yes, I know it’s not perfectly straight!)

 I connected the table top panels with two hinges, placed about 8 or 9 inches from the ends. The hinges are supposed to have removable pins so that I can separate the panel (I haven’t been able to achieve this yet). Below is a shot of the table panels simply laid on top of the support piers, before the hinges were attached.

Before hinges…


…at last…


Ready to go to work! (I slid a sheet between the tops of the support piers and the table temporarily…the paint is still slightly tacky due to the humidity.)

I’m pretty pleased with the way the table turned out. Given that the guest bed mattress isn’t very firm (my mother, however, insists that it’s extremely comfortable), the table is surprisingly sturdy. I think the weight of the wood—both the table panels and the supports—probably serve to compress the mattress a bit so that it doesn’t wobble much.

All in all, it was a pretty easy project, in spite of the fact that rainy weather forced me to haul everything down to the basement to finish the painting and assembling and then haul everything back upstairs to the guest room. All of the hauling made me realize how heavy and unwieldy the table panels are, so I’m going to add a couple of handles to the underside of each panel to make it easier to move them when it’s time to disassemble the table and get them out of the way. The support piers can be easily be stacked in a corner when not in use.

This entry was published on August 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm. It’s filed under DIY projects and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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