I like making furniture, generally Mission style and Arts and Crafts, where form is as important as function. As a mechanical engineer, I struggle with form and the artistic aspects of woodworking. Just give me a set of plans, and I’m happy.
For this project, I threw form out the door and focused on function. My wife generally doesn’t invite me into her sewing room. It has something to do with the electrical capacitance of my posterior and how it drives her computerized sewing machines into bird-nesting and stitch-skipping. But the other day, I was invited to come into the hallowed space and observe a woodworking request she made.
My wife has an old [but magnificent] teak desk, handed down from her grandmother, with a cutout for recessing a sewing machine. The proposed project was to enlarge the cavity to fit one of her machines. The project was fraught with uncertainties. To cut into the desk top, it looked like I would get into some of the table’s structural elements, which could be a real problem. In addition, she wanted to switch this table with another table sitting next to it. This other table probably weighs a zillion tons. So I made a suggestion to come up with another approach to solving her problem. She has been working at a pop-up plastic table which she oriented perpendicular to the aforementioned tables. She found this to be really convenient, but she had to move a machine over to this table each time she used it.
What might have been an easy project with a little bit of risk, ended up with me committing myself to a major sewing room overhaul. Fortunately I didn’t have to pull a building permit or bring in a survey crew. I grabbed a scrap of paper and drew up a plan.
First: covering the two existing tables with a sheet of melamine would seal up the hole in the sewing machine table and hide a charred pit in the other table. [Side note explanation: when I had two snake-loving children at home, the sewing room was a snake room. A heater under the bottom of one of the snake cages overheated and burned a fist-sized crater in the formica desk top.]
Next, I would construct a table on wheels which could be moved back and forth, perpendicular to the newly-covered tables. My wife could easily slide a machine onto it as she changed sewing functions from machine embroidery to quilting to other sewing. I also designed a trough in the rolling table, similar to the recessed cavity in the teak desk, for a sewing machine to slide into, allowing its throat plate to be level with the table. An insert would be made to cover the trough when a level surface was needed. Can you now see how I moved from the prospect of enlarging a small hole to a major construction project? Fortunately my wonderful wife was more interested in function than form, so I began visualizing how all this could be accomplished using construction lumber from a big box store, Heaven help me if I would have to dig into my umpteen thousand board feet of wood I have stored in my shop or air drying in my back yard! And I wasn’t even going to elevate myself to the use of domino loose tenons or pocket hole screws! This was going to be held together with a butt joint, glue and screws.
I made a materials list:
6 @8 Ft. 2×4’s,
4 @8 Ft. 1×6’s,
a 2 Ft. X 4 Ft. sheet of ½ inch plywood
2 sheets of 4 Ft. X 8 Ft. melamine particle board.
Then call a friend with a pick up truck and head out to a big box store.
Earlier I had taken my wife to Harbor Freight to pick out two furniture movers to provide the rolling base for the table. My wife was very impressed how I could walk into a store, go right to the location of the furniture movers, pay and be out the door in less than 5 minutes. Contrast this with the hour it takes her to complete the transaction of buying a zipper at Jo Ann’s.
Then the fun part of the project, chopping wood! After building the support structures and mounting them on the furniture movers, I decided to add a minute bit of form…I pulled out the rattle cans and painted the structures white to match the melamine surfaces. You will note that the structures were built in different configurations. The reason for this was to allow a cutout on one end of the sewing table to house the box (trough) required to drop in a machine for free-motion quilting, allowing the throat plate of the machine to be level with the table top.
I rolled the two structures into the sewing room prior to adding the superstructure to tie the two together. I used the 1×6 boards to construct this framework. My wife and I then horsed the table top into the sewing room and placed it on top of the structures. I was going to fasten the top with screws so that it could be removed easily in the future. However, since I didn’t spend a lot of money on the wood, I decided to pull out the nail gun and nail the top on.
The box for recessing the machines was constructed with ½ inch Baltic plywood. I placed a ramp on one end of the box to aid in sliding the machines into the box from an adjacent table. Measuring this box was a trick, one that I couldn’t master, as it turned out. The object was to make the box deep enough that when installed in the table, the sewing machine throat plate would be even with the top of the table.
BUT WAIT, there were two machines of different sizes with different throat plate heights. So the solution was to design for the machine requiring the deepest box and then use a thin insert to elevate the other machine to the proper level. The plan was to suspend this box on the cutout in the table top, to hold the choice of sewing machine. A piece of melamine could cover the opening when the box wasn’t needed, say for a non-sewing activity like pattern layout or quilt basting, or when a machine was in use but the throat plate didn’t need to be flush with the table top.
When all was said and done, minor tweaking was required to level each machine in the box. Small wood inserts were made and labeled to use with each machine.
I have made a lot of furniture for the house, but this was not my finest hour. Function definitely overcame form! But my wife was happy. She liked the new set-up, and because the rolling structures that made up the two ends of the table had places for shelves, she also acquired more storage space.