Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Martha Washington Meet Acreage Adventures

As part of our long term storage solution plan for the second floor we really like the idea of a craft area the whole family could use. It started last year by turning the useless closet at the top of the stairs into a computer nook. We have now moved over to the even stranger space adjoining the computer nook just outside the upstairs bathroom. 
Original space outside the upstairs bathroom before our resurfacing the floor and tearing down the closet for the computer nook

For years Megs has been sewing on the living room coffee table, a cheaper than dirt Ikea desk, and any other place we just so happen to have available. She has wanted a nice sewing table but we both agreed we never had the space for one. Viola… weird room turned sewing craft area!

Last year around her birthday I decided I would surprise her with an Andy custom sewing table. I quickly ran into one of my common design problems… I minimally consulted the customer and blazed forward with my own design of what would be useful. After unveiling the rough skeleton to Megs her tepid reaction quickly made me realize that what I had started to build wasn't anything like she wanted and what I currently had was not savable. On the up side that frame became a great shop work surface for the next 3 projects I built. That birthday she got a purchased gift.

All the summer projects tied me up for another season and I just now got back to the intent of building her dream sewing table… mark 2. This time I asked and received design concepts, a wish list and an overall idea of how this table would be used. She gladly provided me with lots of Meg-ish feedback… “I like this design, but not exactly” and “I would like storage on either side about this much (vaguely moves hands in square pattern)”. Away I went, into the cold, to face The First Farm Fatality.

Normally I would be able to work long happy hours in the shop, but this arctic vortex has really put a cramp in my frozen dead cold side. My working plan was as follows: decide what parts I could cut and mill within a 20-25 min time frame, bundle up, actually go out and do the work until my hands and toes ached with pain, run inside with completed parts while making baby bird sobbing sounds, demand my kids put on their “earmuffs” so daddy could swear uncontrollably, warm up, glue and assemble machined parts, start all over.

From long boards to components
Table leg/ shelf support pieces cut and pre-drilled - ready for assembly

In this fashion I was able to build and assemble all sub components required for the table design in one day. Once I tucked in all the kiddos, Megs included, I turned on Lilly Hammer and assembled all the components together.

Table leg sub-assemblies drying overnight

Table top components and outside legs
Assembled and trimmed table top

One of the bigger design requirements of this table included incorporating a fold-able leaf to the rear side of the table. This store-able leaf gives the sew-stress added space to push material when quilting. The table is 5’ wide, which is a long joint to try and get tightly lined up using multiple hinges so i decided a piano hinge would be best. The local stores didn't have what i needed but I was able to find a 5’ long piano hinge online which would add more than needed joint strength and the hinge would act as its own self aligning jig. I flipped the table over on it’s top, lined up the leaf and screwed in all 50 #6 screws along the axis… it worked out great. 
I moved the clamp along as I installed the screws to make a nice tight joint

I had been going back and forth on how I wanted to support the leaf in its usable state: Table leaf supports or folding legs? I finally settled on using legs. In its current location, access to the extended table leaf will be against the wall. However, if we ever move this table to a new location where we would like to use the leaf for crafts, homework, etc the standard table leaf supports wouldn't provide direct support. The table leaf supports depend on counter balance and strength from the table, whereas this table is mostly stick built and doesn't carry a lot of counter weight.

The next night I was able to install the side storage bottoms and finish machining and installing the fold-able legs for the table leaf. The legs are attached to the table using strap hinges and supported with leg support hardware. I also installed screw style leveling pads because nothing is remotely close to level in this house.I used glue and staples to attach the side storage bottoms to the legs, which is overkill for some storage shelves but it does add a considerable amount of strength to the entire table by doing so. 

The next task I had in front of me had been nagging at me since I began this project... I now had to cut the sewing machine relief hole in the table top. Not only is it the most critically functional part of a sewing table but the most aesthetic as well. Most projects, when you cut out a hole you just throw the blank away, but in this project the blank is also used when the sewing machine calls to be mounted on top of the table and not recessed. I spent near an hour tracing, squaring, measuring, and mentally preparing. 

I drilled a 1 1/8” hole to both use as an access point to start my jig saw cut but also for a finger hole to easily remove the table blank later. 
Not going bald yet! Megs says she see gray!
I used a good side up, clean cut saw blade on the straights and a good side up and down, clean cut tight radius scroll blade for the corners as they were radiused. 
This is my weekend outfit...every weekend; I also have a summer version

I probably could have done the whole shebang with one blade but time taken now would make me less crazy when I saw my work for years to come. Megan would never notice the difference, but I would and I am insane.

Throwing my hands in the air like Rocky, I had completed the cuts and more importantly liked how it came out.  
I used my oscillating tool to finish the last two places over the center table support, then removed the pocket screws from underneath
I then used the blank I just cut out as a template to trace on some ¼” plywood I had out in the shop. I need these pieces in order to support the blank when the sewing machine is out of the table. Once cut and glued into place the last item of work I had to complete was sealing the top.

You can never have enough clamps

Meg’s only request for the top is that it be slick.  In the past she has painted nearly all of my projects, but this one I was determined to keep natural wood, and I am glad I did because the birch plywood I used for the top had great character.Using the handyman’s secret weapon I attached our house vacuum to my random orbital sander, and with a 120grit disk, I set to work. Side note: most tool makers make specific dust vacuums for this kind of work, but it is down on the list for items to buy for the shop even if I had a spare $500.  After wiping down all the sanded surfaces I broke out the water based gloss finish polyurethane and brushed on two coats, sanding with a 220 grit sanding pad between each coat.

No wonder I have poor posture, I am in a constant state of bent over all weekend!
The top is now slick as snot and beautiful to boot.

The absolute last item I need to accomplish on the sewing table is to install the drawer slides on the pull out work surface Megs requested to use as a cutting and storage station. I have the slides and have promised to finish that detail this week. That drawer has caused me more pain than all the other details in the build, simple due to the ever shifting (I swear) size of the Olfa cutting pad Megs owns. I measured it, then it grew so I altered the design, then I measured again and it grew some more! I bought 3 different style drawer slides but finally settled on under drawer style slides which will allow for full support with all the working hidden. Because that damn pad grew the second time it just doesn't quite fit in the space I have I convinced Meg to let me cut off ½” off of it, which I will accomplish by sandwiching it between two boards and running it through my bandsaw. If it grows again I am going to burn it like a White Walker (Thanks Game of Thrones).

Slide out drawer

I also built a book/ storage shelf unit to go along with the sewing table. Two – 2x12x10’ boards make up all the main components plus a 2’x4’ sheet of ¼” plywood for the back complete the entire BOM (Bill Of Material). My customer wanted the shelves to be adjustable so I used my Rockler shelf pin jig on the side components before assembling the unit with my favorite Kreg pocket screws. I’m sure Megs will get her grubby painters hands on this piece of furniture too but for now they make a nice matching set.

Using painters tape makes for a cleaner drilled hole
Bookshelf components ready for assembly in the warm kitchen
Even though this was supposed to be a gift for my beautiful wife, we both agree I will be using this table even more than her. Did you notice above that I converted pair of standard issue BDU pants by altering one of the pockets into a tool carrier and added padded Gore-tex knee reinforcements...I'm taking orders. Just like our musical lives where Megs was trained in classical piano and voice and I in rock and roll and jazz drum set, we also approach sewing the same way. She strictly follows directions and I, for the most part, make it up as I go. This was a great project that we both are going to get years of use from and it really helped us transform our long standing nightmare of disaster-ness we called our upstairs.

Table leaf extended

The finished products!

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