Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How High is My Cutting Table? And How Big is TOO Big?

Now that I've bored you all with my dry-as-dust discussion of ergonomic sewing table heights (click here if you missed that one and can't bear to go on without it), we're moving on to the second-most-important work station in a sewing studio: The Cutting Table.  Dum, dum dum dum.....

New Cutting Table In-Progress

This is my fourth custom-built cutting table, believe it or not.  It consists of a kitchen drawer base cabinet that I bought and painted red for the sewing room in our last house, along with two ClosetMaid modified wire drawer units on either side.  I saw these wire mesh drawer bins in Carolyn Woods' book, Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter, which I reviewed here yesterday.  These are the bins that Alex Anderson uses to organize her own fabric stash, and I bought two of the 40" tall, 17" wide 5 Drawer Kit units online and then had Bernie cut them down for me. 

The surface of my cutting table, for now, is an old 67" x 35 1/2" Pottery Barn kitchen table top that was previously repurposed as a kiddie arts and crafts table in our play room. Honestly, I'm torn about the cutting table size, which is why I want to try this setup out for awhile and see if I can live with it.  My former cutting table (below) was a whopping 54" x 72".  That table was sized large enough to accommodate 54" wide bolts of drapery fabric and was a nice size for quilt basting, but it ate up a lot of space in the room since it was positioned as an island, accessible from all four sides.

Previous Cutting Table, 54" x 72", 35 1/2" height

The old cutting table was impossibly heavy and was balanced on four little wooden book cases with dead space at the corners and beneath the center of the table where all sorts of stuff would get piled and forgotten.   I rarely ever sew any drapery stuff anymore, but I liked knowing that I could if I wanted to.  I also liked having a table roomy enough that I could be rotary cutting on one end and sorting/staging my project on the other side of the table. 

However, one of my major goals from this rework/remodel is to free up enough space for a small seating area.  It's nice having a Room of One's Own, but who wants to quilt in solitary confinement, after all?  So we're testing out a much smaller (and much more NORMAL) sized cutting table, and I've positioned it up against the wall beneath the window to free up even more space.  If I decide I can live with this size, then Bernie will morph this into something sturdier with additional storage space, perhaps on casters with a drop-down leaf in the back so I can pull it out and get additional workspace every once in a blue moon when I need that larger size.

OSHA Cutting Table Dude
The height of my new work-in-progress cutting table is currently 37 5/8".  Of course my attempt to find a consensus about the "ergonomically correct" cutting table was a big flop -- recommendations ranged anywhere from 34" to 40" for me.  Everyone says to stand and bend your arms at about a 90 degree angle, and have someone measure from your elbow to the floor.  One book said that my cutting table should come up to the bottom of my elbow, but most sources, including the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA guidelines, said that the table should be at elbow height or just a few inches below that, and a couple sources suggested slightly different ideal heights for cutting tables depending on whether you'll be cutting with shears or with a rotary cutter (elbow height if you cut primarily with scissors or shears, and a few inches below that if you primarily use rotary cutting tools).

I knew the table had to go a little higher than the 35 1/2" I had before, because I had that lovely red base kitchen drawer cabinet that I wanted to use and it didn't fit beneath my old table.  So I decided to go up about 2" to a 38" table height -- remember that I'm 5'8" tall, my elbow height is 40" from the floor, and your mileage may vary!  The idea is that I will be able to cut longer and more comfortably (sans back pain) if I don't have to bend down and stoop constantly at the cutting table. 

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.


Anonymous said...

I am also 5'8". I use a kitchen cabinet that I bought from Ikea as a cutting table. The top is a butcher block. I didn't oil it when I got it which was probably a mistake, and it is slightly cupped now. But I really love it. I figure that someday I can get a new top for it. I do love your red cabinet. It is very clever at maximizing storage.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

I understand the push/pull over table size and having enough room to roam. I'll be interested to see what you think over time, and if you miss your big table. Maybe someday I will be planning my own studio...sigh.

Shafika said...

Where was your old cutting table from?

Rebecca Grace said...

My husband built the old one, too.

Janine S. Domingues-Vasquez said...

I'm currently trying to build a sewing table with Ikea shelves (Kallax), casters and a large piece of scrap wood I found. I'm 5'4" and my table is coming in at 34" high which seems low for me. I'm going to try it and hopefully it works... wish me luck!

Unknown said...


lgolds said...

I am 5’ 3” and my cutting table is 39” tall, 5’ long X 24” deep.. At first it took some stretching but in time it has become very very comfortable and no more stretching. My back hasn’t ached since I built this. I did not build to anyone’s rules, only my comfort.

psc said...

i have limited space for a permanent table . so i came up with o movable one !!
i found a keyboard stand @ goodwill . when set up it looks like an "X" that is adjustable in height. i then added shelving mat on the top bars so the table top wont slip. i use an older IKEA table that is hollow and easy to move, and set it up in the corner when needed. i am 5'4 and the middle setting is perfect. I can cut. and piece and then put away when not sewing
keyboard stand $4 , table used $3 ..not bad for under $10 !!!!! said...

Late to the post and comment party... but when you are talking about table height and cutting. Scissor cutting and rotary cutting are very different!!! And use a very different angle for from the hips to the neck. Scissor cutting (think garments/yardage) your table should be at the height closer to the elbow. Rotary cutting, because of the pressure on the ruler and cutter needed for a good cut and anti-slippage of the ruler and the degree of a bend it takes for a 24" ruler, should be a bit lower, so you are working more from the waist, not the shoulder. Personally, I prefer working at a big high table, but like a lower table for cutting. Maybe we should call it a work table because I think I do as much sitting at my table as standing...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your information and that if the commenters also. I recently moved to a new house with what I think is a huge master bedroom. I am going to make a flip down cutting table to go behind the small sofa I am putting in the bedroom. On the wall where it folds up I am going to put peg board and cork board for my rulers and cutting stuff and also my idea area. I am also taking an old treadle sewing table and using the treadle as a base for a pulley system to raise and lower my machine. Since it is the bedroom, and I just sew small projects for fun I want it to be able to be Disguised when not in use.

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