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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.