As promised, today I’ll be sharing how to make the greatest cutting table of all time. I may be a tad biased since I built this sucker with my own two hands, but after a few days of woodworking research I think this is one of the easiest, cheapest ways to build a mobile, durable cutting table that actually looks good.
If you sew a lot, there are few things in the world more desirable than a sturdy table you can work at without stooping over. I have lower back issues from years of sitting at a desk and postponing yoga, and my dining room table was slowly killing me and my body. A comfortable working height is 36 inches for most people (hence why it’s the standard counter height in kitchens) so that’s what we’re aiming for here, although the shorter or taller among you may want to tweak the height accordingly. Just keep in mind that stools are designed to be used at 36″ and 42″ countertops, so sitting may be awkward if you stray too much from those dimensions.
The great thing about this project is that it requires minimal tools. You will have the bulk of the cutting done at your hardware store, which makes it much easier to get stuff home. This tutorial will provide you with a table that is 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. If you want something smaller, you’ll have to tweak the dimensions. In case anyone wants a different take, here is the tutorial I used for reference, although with substantial modifications.
I had a few pieces that were a little too big so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes if you use the following guidelines. Here’s what you’ll need:
- an electric drill with a drill bit to match your screws (I love this one – cheap enough that it’s worth it just for this project!)
- an electric sander (I prefer one like this model – you can just use sheets of sandpaper rather than having to buy special shapes)
- a level (I use a level app on my iphone)
- measuring tape
- a handsaw (something this simple is all you need)
- one sheet of 3/4″ plywood for the tabletop cut down to 3 feet by 6 feet. I used spruce. You can also use pine or maple – just make sure you like the grain. Higher grades of wood are more pricey. This tabletop will overlap each side by about 2″.
- one sheet of 3/8″ plywood in the same wood as above cut to 67″ x 31″. This will be the bottom level of your table. Make sure to find a sheet that isn’t cupping.
- (6 x) 2×4’s that are 8′ long in spruce or pine. You will ask all of them to be cut at 5′-4″ – this will give you 6 pieces to act as your long support posts, and 6 additional pieces at roughly 32″ long. 4 of these will act as your vertical legs – the other 2 pieces should be cut down to 31″ to provide the additional horizontal support for your castors at the very bottom. Make sure your 2 x 4’s are nice and straight – you can eyeball them by looking down each side, or ask someone for help. Bowed 2 x 4’s do not a straight table make.
- (1 x) 2×4 that is 10′ long in spruce or pine. Ask for 4 cuts of 24″ each (the saw takes off a little so you want to use a slightly longer piece of wood). These will brace your legs.
- (4 x) heavy duty castors, 2 of them locking. I bought 3″ castors that had an overall height of almost 4″. This plus your legs and the tabletop will give you a total height of just over 36″. This set includes everything you need.
- (8 x) galvanized steel rigid ties exactly like this. You can find them in the hardware section of the Home Depot or buy them online. These are great because they let you join all your 2 x 4’s easily and accurately. I also think they look industrial and awesome.
- A large box of #8 1 1/4″ long wood screws. Get at least 200 – each rigid tie takes 20 screws.
- A small box of #8 3″ long wood screws, at least 20. You will use these to secure your long and short support posts.
- 1 can of stain, if you want it. I am in love with Minwax White Wash Pickling Stain– it lets the grain show through while lightening the wood. And it looks Scandinavian and sexy as hell. I don’t suggest paint for this project. It’s not a good finish for tabletops that get a lot of use – it will look terrible within a few months.
- 1 can of water based polyurethane. I suggest Minwax Polycrylic; it dries totally clear. Most polyurethanes have a yellow tint.
- A couple of foam brushes.
- 3 kinds of sandpaper. At least 3 sheets each of 120, 150 and 180 grit. You will use each one at different times in the sanding/sealing process.
- a dust mask
- lint free cloths
All in, the supplies will cost around $200, not including any of the tools. I thought this was very reasonable, especially after looking into getting something custom made (OUCH!) It took me a day and a half to complete the project, a worthwhile investment to save my weary back muscles.
- Once you get everything home, you’ll need a good place to start sanding. I used my balcony. If you do it inside, try to seal off one room of your house because you will get dust EVERYWHERE! Start with your 2 x 4 pieces. Sand each long side with your 120 grit paper. You may have to work a little harder to sand off any of the markings on the wood. The only bottom and top edges you need to worry about are the ones for the 2 x 31″ pieces. These are the only edges you will see in this project. You basically want to sand off any splinters and rough edges and get a somewhat smooth finish but don’t go crazy. 2 x 4’s are notoriously imperfect.
- Finish sanding the 2 x 4’s with your 150 grit paper. This prepares the wood for the stain.
- Wipe all your wood down with a barely damp cloth to remove the dust. Once they are dry, use your foam brush to apply stain to all the long sides, rubbing it off with a dry cloth as you go. The only short sides you need to worry about staining are on your 2 x 31″ pieces.
- Let your stain dry for a few hours and sand them again, this time with the 180 grit paper. It smooths down the wood that expanded and got rough from the stain.
- Wipe with a barely damp cloth again and use a fresh foam brush to apply your sealer. Check when you’re done each piece to smooth out any drips. You’ll want 3 coats total; sand again with the 180 grit after the first and second coats to smooth out any bumps. It seems like a lot of sanding but it actually goes by quite quickly! I wrap my foam brushes in saran wrap in between coats so they don’t dry out. Pro tip: Blare some classic rock and feel like a badass while using your sander.
- You are going to repeat the exact same sanding process for your two sheets of plywood, but you only have to finish one side of each, since the other will be mostly invisible. Before you sand your 3/8″ plywood, cut each corner so that the plywood will hug your 2 x 4 legs with a handsaw. Be sure to sand the edges of the plywood well, since you don’t want your lovely fabric to catch on snags!
- Now that you’ve got everything sanded, stained and sealed, we’re ready for the fun part. ASSEMBLY! Before we get started, you may want to remove the stickers from the rigid ties with some Goo Gone. The Goo Gone will also help remove any grime or oil on the steel – wash them with soap and water and let them dry.
- Lay your 24″ pieces on the ground and thread your 32″ legs through the rigid ties. Add two long supports so you can make sure everything lines up.
- Start screwing in the 1 1/4″ screws with your power drill. Make sure you go in nice and straight, and back off the drill when they tighten up so you don’t thread your screws. Don’t forget to screw the inside corners too.
- Once your legs are screwed in, you’ll want to attach the bottom 2 x 24′ bracings. They should start 6″ from the bottom of your legs. Use a measuring tape, pencil and level to keep everything straight.
- Attach the remaining long supports, using your 3″ screws.
- Drill your 32″ cross bracing to the inside of each set of legs, making sure your 2×4 is level with the bottom of your legs.
- Screw in your castors. In my case, I had one castor edge hanging out, but 3 screws per castor should be plenty if the same thing happens to you.
- Flip that baby right side up. Shed a single, proud tear. And then turn up the classic rock.
- To get your 3/8″ sheet of plywood in, you’ll have to do some creative angling but don’t worry, it will fit.
- Lay your tabletop on the frame. I didn’t want to secure the table in case I wanted to pull it out and create room for my legs when I’m working, and also for ease of dis-assembly if I ever move to a bigger studio. If you’re staying put, you can use construction adhesive to glue it down, but I found using some silicone furniture pads available at the dollar store prevent it from moving around too much.
- Finally, you can attach a bar to the sides if you’d like to hang your tools. I got a silver one with some S hooks at Ikea.
And that’s it folks! It’s a few days of work, but I cannot even begin to tell you how much this table has transformed my sewing practice. I don’t dread cutting anymore, and it’s a pleasure to unfold silk and watch it slip around on my beautifully varnished tabletop.
And if your friends and family think you’re a sewing superstar now, wait until you tell them you BUILT this!