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Build Your Own Ironing Table

It has been far too long since I’ve had a chance to sit down and blog! That doesn’t mean I haven’t been sewing – just more work sewing than fun sewing.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen little bits of what I’ve been up to since I tend to update daily. And you don’t need an account to view what I post there.

At the beginning of January, I decided my sewing room needed a major cleaning/reorganizing. I spent a couple of weeks rearranging the furniture in my sewing room and adding a few new pieces. I think it will really be more efficient in the long run. (More on that to come in a later post.)

I got about 90% finished with the reorg and then I started getting back-to-back jobs and the last 10% has been taking the longest to finish.

But before I got work-busy, I did manage to build myself a new ironing table! Yes, table! No more wimpy ironing board for me! You might recall that I’ve been using the square end of my ironing board and ignoring the pointed end for years.

I’ve always loved the large tables set up in costume shops where I’ve worked (there are usually multiple irons sharing one large surface). It was high time I had my own personal table at home!

My new ironing table!

And because I know all of you who sew will want one for yourself, I took lots of photos so you can make one too. =)

I started with a NORDEN sideboard from IKEA:

NORDEN-sideboard-from-IKEAI’m not sure how long IKEA’s carried this, but I just noticed it recently. It was exactly the size/height I’ve been looking for to use as an ironing table base, and it is solid wood. Plus, it even had the bonus of drawers and shelves!

So for $149.00, I had the perfect table base and I didn’t have to engineer anything from scratch. (I still find it amusing that the least expensive large piece of furniture in my sewing room is the cutting table!)

The dimensions of the NORDEN sideboard are 47½” long x 16½” wide x 35⅜” tall. The height was perfect but the top surface was a little small. I needed something that wasn’t too big and would fit along the wall where I already had my ironing board without blocking the closet door.

First, I constructed the sideboard table exactly as the IKEA comic book instructed because I had come up with my own simple plan to make the surface bigger without having to alter the original design.

I wanted a surface area that was significantly larger than my ironing board, which measures 13½” wide x 53” long (to the narrow pointed end). I decided 60” long would be a decent size to fit my space while still being long enough to iron fabric yardage in one pass from selvage to selvage.

I also determined that 19” wide would not take up too much space in my room – I had to be careful not to make my sewing room feel crowded with the other furniture rearranging.

Norden sideboard assembled and placement determined in my sewing room.

Then, my husband and I went shopping to buy some supplies at the home improvement store:

  • 1 piece of 19” x 60” plywood ¾” thick (we bought a full 4’ x 8’ sheet but had the store cut it to size)
  • 2 square dowels 1” x 36” each
  • 10 flat headed Phillips machine screws size #6 – 32 x 2 in
  • 10 nuts to fit the #6 machine screws (ours came in packs with the screws)
  • 10 flat washers size #6

Plywood rectangle cut to finished size, two square dowels, and hardware.

We already had these but you will also need:

  • Drill
  • 1 wood drill-bit 5/32”
  • Measuring tape or yardstick
  • Staple gun & ½” staples
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Adjustable crescent wrench or socket wrench (to fit nuts)
  • Nail setter or a piece of flat metal you can hammer to completely set the staples
  • Any kind of (power or hand) saw that can cut 1’ square dowels
  • Gloves (recommended for handling the plywood)
  • Safety glasses/goggles

We cut each square dowel into 3 pieces measuring 3”, 14.5”, and 18.5”. The small 3” pieces were a good size to keep the dowels from blocking the drawers on the front of the sideboard. Exact size is not important as long as you are able to frame each corner of the existing tabletop with the dowels.

We turned the IKEA unit upside down, placed it on the plywood top, and marked it so the base would be centered on the plywood lengthwise. (Note: make sure you remove the adjustable shelf before turning table upside down!) We offset the sideboard table a little closer to the front edge so that the dowel would be flush with the edge of the plywood (thus, prettier and easier to cover).

Then we put some extra plywood scrap on the floor underneath everything. This was so we could drill all the way through the plywood top without worrying about drilling into the carpet beneath.

A spare piece of ¾” plywood protected the carpet from the drill nicely.

Starting with the two small front dowels, we butted them up to the edge of the sideboard and drilled one hole all the way through the dowel and the first layer of plywood that would be the new top.

Then we unstacked everything and put bolts through from the top (the part that was facing the floor while drilling) and attached them with washers and nuts on the dowels on the bottom.

After that, we did the same with one dowel on one side – drilling one hole on each end because this piece of dowel was longer.

We continued drilling, unstacking, and attaching one dowel at a time so we could make sure everything fit perfectly and would be tight around the sideboard.

Last dowel drilled!

Finally, we had the dowel frame all attached. It didn’t matter that the bolt heads weren’t perfectly flush with the top surface because I knew the padding I would be putting over everything would smooth any height difference out. As long as the dowels were secure on the plywood, it was perfect.

Dowel frame completely attached.

I initially had plans to secure the plywood top to the IKEA sideboard after covering it with appropriate ironing fabric, but it ended up fitting so snuggly we didn’t need to. For once, one of my crazy IKEA hacks actually turned out to be less complicated than originally planned! Win!

My NORDEN has a bigger top!

Here’s a size comparison of my new ironing table to my old ironing board.

You may have noticed I was able to move my fabric tubes from under my cutting table to under my new ironing table. This was perfect because with my new furniture arrangement, the tubes were a little more in the way under the cutting table.

Next came the hard part: waiting for specialty fabric to come in the mail so I could cover the plywood top.

The best ironing tables in costume shops are covered in a drapery interlining fabric called English bump cloth. I read somewhere (apparently I failed to save the link) that it was first used as a curtain interlining for British royalty in order to better insulate palaces from the cold and damp.

Bump cloth is a thick, somewhat flannel-like fabric that adds body and structure to fancy drapes.

English bump cloth fabric.

I found some at Fabric.com in my first search and placed an order. Even though the website said there was around 40 yards in stock at the time, I received an email a couple days later saying they were sold out. Grrr. (I have had such rotten luck with Fabric.com completely filling my last few orders!) If you feel like taking a chance with them, here’s the link for their Hanes Drapery Interlining Bump Cloth listed as item #UK-528.

Once I learned I wouldn’t be receiving my first order of bump cloth, I started looking elsewhere. I eventually found some at BuyFabrics.com and it was less expensive than Fabric.com’s! I quickly ordered 2 yards (I was planning to use two layers to cover my plywood top) and they shipped within 24 hours! Here’s their link for English Classic Bump Natural Interlining.

While I waited for my bump cloth, I went to my local JoAnn Fabrics and purchased 2 yards of aluminum coated ironing board fabric in their utility fabric section. (You can also buy it on their website.) I knew I wanted another silver ironing surface like I had on my ironing board before because it looks better for longer. Most costume shops cover their ironing tables in muslin, but leakage from irons stains muslin.

Ick! stained muslin on a costume shop ironing table. My silver cover never stained so visibly in all the years I had it despite an occasional iron pee.

As of yesterday, Fabrique! (the little fabric store where I work part-time) also started carrying silver ironing board fabric! You can order it from the website as well. From what I can tell, this fabric might have a slightly heavier muslin backing for the aluminum than what JoAnn sells. Too bad I wasn’t able to buy it from work when I needed some!

Finally, my bump cloth arrived and I could finish my ironing table!

The following steps can be used to cover any wooden table surface to create an ironing table if you already have a piece of furniture and don’t want to buy a NORDEN sideboard.

I cut two strips of bump cloth slightly wider and longer than the plywood top and laid them pebbled side down (slightly ribbed/striped side up) on a paper covered work space on the floor. Then I placed my plywood tabletop on top of the fabric.

Then I folded and stapled both layers of the bump cloth (at the same time) to the plywood, starting with one long side and then attaching the opposite side to make sure it was tight. The handle end of a metal nail setter allowed me to hammer staples all the way down along the dowel edges. After securing the long sides, I neatly folded the corners and stapled the rest into place.

I discovered, even after pulling the bump cloth tight, there was still too much slack when I rubbed the top surface. So I pushed the extra up toward the front of the tabletop while my husband held and spring clamped the excess in place.

To correct the slack, I pushed the extra fabric to the front edge and stapled it down. Then I moved the extra fold of fabric to the underside. This ended up working well because there was no dowel across the front and the little ridge of extra fabric created a nice little lip to mask the front edge of the sideboard top.

I used scraps of bump cloth to cover the nuts and screw ends so nothing could catch on them while I ironed later. Then I covered everything tightly with a layer of silver ironing board fabric stapled on through all the layers.

Once the plywood top was completely covered, we just pushed it in place on the sideboard. It fits nice and snug. If I ever need to recover it, I can just take the top off and change out the fabric that needs to be replaced. Super easy. =)

I love my new ironing table!

Bonus: I no longer need to iron yardage in steps before I roll it – I can roll as I iron! And all my ironing tools fit in one drawer while my press cloths & ironing products (aside from interfacing) all fit in the other drawer. I chose to hook my sleeve board over the right edge of the tabletop because I use it often and it makes the tool drawer a bit crowded. I don’t need to leave everything on the open shelf above where it gets dusty – now I only keep spray bottles and sizing etc. on the shelf above.

Ironing and rolling fabric in one step! And everything fits in the drawers!

I just need to clean up the used gravity-feed industrial iron I bought used years ago, and I’ll have totally finished my ironing upgrade!

I hope you find the above tutorial helpful and are inspired to build your own ironing table! Send me a photo or link if you do – I’d love to see!

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Are You Ironing Backwards?

I used to iron backwards… at least according to history.

I once came across a TV documentary partly about British butlers (I think it was on PBS and unfortunately, I don’t know the title). During the little bit I watched, the butlers were talking about pressing the laundry. They claimed that everyone who has not attended butler academy uses their ironing board incorrectly – the tapered end should be on the right, and most ironing should be done on the other, square end. I witnessed a demonstration on how to properly set up and use an ironing board in the traditional way that a butler does, which they said makes it easier to iron (especially when ironing a man’s button-down shirt).

The idea of turning my ironing board around intrigued me – had I gotten stuck in a modern paradigm when there was an old-fashioned, easier way? I decided to find out for myself by experimenting with my own ironing board.

My ironing corner with the ironing board reversed.

I fully expected to hate my board being turning around. It just looked wrong. The tapered end had always been on my left! How could my perfectionist father have shown me the improper way to set up the board?? (Kidding! Dad, thanks for teaching me to iron so well otherwise!)

After a few ironing sessions, I discovered that I agreed with the butling way! There are many advantages to predominately using the square end of an ironing board:

Man's shirt on the square end of the ironing board.

    • It’s faster to iron most button-down shirts because each half of the front fits neatly on the square end (just like they demonstrated in the documentary!).
    • Yardage of uncut fabric (and bed sheets) can be ironed easier and the taper will not leave strange diagonal wrinkles in the middle of a large piece of fabric.
    • Fewer things fall off the board as you are ironing. (You just have to be a little more careful when putting down your iron on the smaller, tapered end.)
    • You add to the size of your ironing board by increasing the surface area of your ironing space. (That pointy end of the board really cuts out a lot of surface!)

My various ironing tools

Many costume shops I have worked in have custom built ironing “tables” with a tapered board off in a corner as a secondary place to iron.  I realized that I never really used the tapered end of an ironing board because I have other more useful ironing tools like a tailor’s ham, sleeve board, seam roll, clapper/point presser, and various items from the hardware store.  So now I prefer to iron with my board pointing to the right because I have found it to be faster and easier.

I was curious about how the modern standard of the square end being on the right came to be. After all, most “deluxe” modern ironing boards have the fancy iron rest attached to the square end of the board – meaning that the right-handed person would place the wider end to their right. (Not to mention wall-mounted fold-down boards!)

Typical "deluxe" modern board with iron rest attached

My curiosity led me to the aptly named website oldandinteresting.com, which is about the “history of housekeeping, household antiques, and domestic objects”. According to the website’s “History of Ironing Boards”, the early versions of ironing boards were just that – boards covered in fabric and often balanced on the backs of chairs.

Apparently, a tapered ironing board was historically called a “skirt board” and made it easier to press the skirt of a dress since a full skirt naturally narrows at the waist while the hem is wider. But for most everything else besides a skirt, the square end of the board was favored. And it seems that even as late as 1940, women were still using their ironing boards in the traditional way – with the square end to the left!

Woman Ironing in North Dakota, 1940, photographed by John Vachon

So sometime in the last 70 years, I guess some manufacturer decided it was a good idea to add an iron rest to the square end of an ironing board, call it “deluxe”, and charge extra for the iron rack addition. But then you lose the usefulness of the square end of the board while increasing the price!

I did find this folding ironing board (labeled as a “home ironing table”) with a removable square end and iron rest:

I’m not exactly sure how the square end-attachment works, but you can save yourself the money (it’s over $250!) and just turn your tapered board around!

So give it a try and turn your ironing board around. You might find you like it better. 🙂

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