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Renovate & Repurpose an Oak Dining Table Into Sewing Table

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.


Why I Repurposed My Dining Table

A relative recently gave us an old oak dining table that was in a poor state of repair—it was even missing the supporting gate leg for one of the drop leaf flaps, and the associated box stretcher had snapped off.

If nothing else, being solid oak, I could have just dismantled it and recycled the wood in future DIY projects, but before doing so my wife and I wanted to explore all other possibilities in the event that I repaired and renovated the table.

The two options we came up with were to either replace our existing dining table or repurpose the oak dining table as sewing table.

We dismissed the first option as my wife loves our existing drop leaf dining table because it has cupboards and drawers on both sides of the middle section of the table, which my wife finds extremely useful.

However, the second option was appealing because our existing sewing table is a large pine dining table (with drawer) which, although it makes a brilliant sewing table, takes up a lot of space in our conservatory. But if I could modify the oak table to make a suitable sewing table, then (when it's not being used for sewing) its leaf flaps could be folded down to save space.

Step 1: Identify the Issues

In deciding whether to proceed with this project, we first needed to ascertain the issues and consider potential solutions. To achieve this, in the first instance I temporarily replaced the pine table with the oak table so that my wife could try it out as a sewing table.

From this quick trial test run, my wife quickly ascertained that:

  • If she had just one leaf flap up, the gate leg got in the way of her feet.
  • Given that she is partially disabled e.g. weakness in the hands and arms, and a bad back and knees, that any solution for supporting a leaf flap (without table legs being in the way) had to be relatively easy for her to operate.
  • The table was wobbly. The leaf flaps, when up, needed to be steady e.g. not rock or wobble when the sewing machines were in use.

Step 2: Develop an Action Plan

The last issue identified (wobbly table) was predominately due to all the joints being loose, which could easily be rectified by regluing them.

The first two issues would require a redesign of the way the drop leaf is supported that would avoid having a supportive leg that would get in the way when sewing.

In discussing the issues with a close friend, who’s also a DIY enthusiast, we came up with a number of possible options to consider. My first choice was hinged ‘arms’ (Plan A), and my second option was ‘removable arms’ (Plan B).

Step 3: Source Recycled Wood for Table Arms Supports

Both my ‘Action Plans’ A & B would require sourcing suitable hardwood that would have the structural strength to support the drop leaf without bending or breaking. For this I decided to recycle the wood from our old mahogany front door, which after having our windows and doors upgraded to modern double glazed units, I’d left propped up outside my workshop pending breaking it up to salvage the wood.

Step 4: Prepare the Recycled Mahogany for Use

Having sourced the mahogany wood recycled from our old front door, I then cut it into suitable strips for making table arms, and potentially arm supports.

  • I initially planned to cut the wood into strips using a bench saw, but the saw blade was just slightly shallower than the thickness of the door hardwood, so I resulted to marking up the wood and cutting it with a hand held circular saw.
  • Then when cut into strips I cleaned up the first piece with a belt sander, and
  • Rounded off all the edges with an orbital sander.
  • Finally using a mitre saw to cut the strips into lengths as and when required.

Step 5: Proof of Concept

Before proceeding with a full table renovation, I wanted to be sure I had a workable solution that fully met my wife’s brief e.g., a stable table that would be relatively easy for my wife to set up for use, and where there was no table leg that would get in her way.

To achieve this, I needed a ‘Proof of Concept’, e.g., try out a few ideas and see how well they work.

Plan A

Having prepared the hardwood, I then used heavy duty bar hinges to fix a couple of short arms to either side of the drop leaf flat with the missing gate leg.

However, the hinges were not strong enough to take the weight of the solid oak drop leaf table top. I could have tried resolving the issue by either using another piece of wood that wider so that I could have fitted two hinges to the table’s knee; or making small gate legs on either side. I decided against these two options because for the first option, even with two hinges it’s still a lot of weight for the hinges to support; and although small gate legs on either side would have kept the legs out of the way when one flap was up, they would be in the way if the table was turned around and both flaps were up. So I opted to try Plan B next.

Hinged arm, first experimental attempt of supporting the drop leaf table top.

Hinged arm, first experimental attempt of supporting the drop leaf table top.

Plan B

This option was to make a couple of removable arm and fixed arm supports; one on either side of the table.

However, before fixing the arm supports in place, I first had to re-glue the loose joints around the tables skirt and knees.

Once the skirts had been re-glued and left to set I then:

  • Cut the arms to size, making them the same length as the table legs.
  • Cut the arm supports to size; the same length as the side skirtings’.
  • Drilled four pilot holes in the arm supports; two at each end.
  • Drilled countersinks into each pilot hole for the screw heads.
  • Clamped the first arm in place; under the table top.
  • Butted the arm support to the arm, to guarantee a tight fit.
  • Screwed and glued the arm support to the tables skirt.
  • Then repeated the process to fit the arm support on the other end of the table.

The reason I made it a tight fit is that the mahogany hardwood had been outside, and once indoor will dry and shrink; making for a looser fitting.

Step 6: Test Proof of Concept

The purpose of making the arms the same length as the legs is that rather than my wife struggling in trying to hold up a heavy oak drop leaf table top flap with one hand, while trying to slot the arm in place with the other hand, to support the table top; one arm could temporarily be used as a support prop for the drop leaf flap, leaving my wife free to use both hands to slip the other arm in place. Then once the flap is supported by one of the wooden arms, she can then remove the other wooden arm and slot that in place on the other side of the table.

One of the arms used as a prop to free up both hands for sliding the first arm in place.

One of the arms used as a prop to free up both hands for sliding the first arm in place.

Having made the arms and with the arm supports fitted, it was time to test it out:

  • To see how easy it is to use the removable arms.
  • That it supported the drop leaf table top securely.
  • Whether there were any issues with the design.

On test, it proved easy to operate, and functioned as envisaged; except for a tendency for the table tilting forward when any substantial weight was put on the edge of the table top, e.g., like the weight from a sewing machine.

Therefore, I decided that a couple of simple removable chrome legs, to slip into the ends of the arms, would resolve this issue; while keeping the operational setup easy for my wife, and their location would mean that they would be well away from my wife’s feet when she was using the sewing machine or ovelocker.

Arm slid in place, to support the drop leaf table top, and supported by the arm support fitted to the table’s side skirt.

Arm slid in place, to support the drop leaf table top, and supported by the arm support fitted to the table’s side skirt.

Step 7: Design Modification (Chrome Legs)

To support the arms, when in use, I repurposed a chrome rod I found spare in my workshop, cutting two pieces to length to act as leg supports. I took the measurement from the underside of the arms to the floor, and added 10mm (½ half an inch) to allow for a recess in the arms for the legs to slip into.

The rod was 19mm (¾ inch in diameter), but I wanted the hole in the arm bigger than that so my wife doesn’t struggle to fit the rod into a tight fitting hole. Therefore I made the hole in the end of the arm 25mm (1 inch) wide, and 10mm (½ inch) deep, using a 25mm (1 inch) forstner drill bit.

Step 8: Reglue All the Loose Joints

Having a workable design (Proof of Concept), I was now content on renovating the table, with the first step being regluing all the loose joint, and then sanding the top and re-staining and polishing.

To re-glue the loose joints I:

  • Placed a tarpaulin sheet on the ground.
  • Placed the table upside down on the tarpaulin sheet.
  • Used a wooden mallet to partially separate all the loose joints, just far enough to get glue into the joints.
  • Generously applied wood glue into each joint in turn.
  • Clamped up the joints tightly, placing scrap wood between the clamps and table to prevent the clamps from damaging the table.
  • Wiped off surplus glue with a damp cloth.
  • Left to set overnight.

The only wood I didn’t glue back in place was the broken box stretcher that used to be part of the missing gate leg; as I intended to replace this with a shelf. Instead I just placed the stretcher in place while clamping up so as to help keep the table square while the glue was setting.

Step 9: Add an Under Table Shelf

As an enhancement to the design of the table, in repurposing it from a dining table to sewing table, I decided to add a shelf across the box stretchers.

The benefits of adding the shelf included:

  • Serves the same purpose as the broken stretcher, e.g., helps to keep the table square and sturdy.
  • By not needing to re-fit the broken front stretcher, which is lower than the side stretchers, it provides sufficient gap below the shelf for temporary storage of large objects on the floor, under the shelf.
  • The shelf itself creates added storage space, and reclaims what would otherwise be wasted space, e.g., maximise on the use of space.
  • Any opportunity to recycle more scrap wood in my workshop; making good use of it.

Recycling Scrap Wood to Make the Shelf

For the shelf itself, I utilised the plywood base from a redundant jig that I’d made for a previous project; albeit, the width of the plywood was 25mm (1 inch) narrower than the gap between the legs.

However, in searching around my workshop I found some beading on a piece of scrap wood that was originally part of a pine wardrobe, that was 10mm wide; and an old shoe rack that we were given that was made from 15mm wide pine wood. So I used these for front and back edging for the shelf; the added bonus being that they hide the layering in the plywood edges.

So once I had all the wood together the next step was to prepare the plywood before assembling it all, and fixing it in place under the table:

  • To prepare the plywood I temporarily screwed it to my worktop so that I could make the surface smooth with a belt sander.
  • I then cut the plywood to length, e.g., to fit across the two side stretchers.
  • Then glued and nailed the edging to the front and back of the plywood.
  • And finally screwed and glued the assemble shelf to the two side stretchers.