How-to Multipurpose Tea Trolley as Sewing Table
Space Saving Ideas
Sometimes furniture just lends itself to multi-purposing, and this was one such occasion. A friend gave us a tea trolley at about the same time as I was thinking of making a bespoke sewing table. Instantly I saw the potential of the tea trolley becoming a sewing table, it was just the right dimensions and design; lower shelf, drawer and table top height matching the height of our dining table allowing for a natural extension to the work area for large sewing projects, and it looks smart.
However, on putting my ideas to my wife we also liked it as a tea-trolley so we did not want to just convert it to a sewing table we wanted to multipurpose it so it could be a tea trolley (as originally made) or a sewing table, when required. This was my brief for my design as fully detailed in the rest of this article.
Concept of the Design
Multi-purposing the Dining Room
My original concept was to build a bespoke sewing table with a lower shelf to store the sewing machine and some mechanism of easily raising it to table top height when required. There are sewing machine lift mechanisms on the market which you can buy for about $170 which would have done the job.
However, as I was in the process of researching this idea and considering all other options a friend of ours gave us an old tea trolley which had been collecting dust in the back of his garage for years; which he came across while having a good clear out. I instantly saw the potential, especially as our sewing machine is such a light weight that you can easily lift it with one hand and therefore do not really need the expense of a fancy lifting mechanism. As a dry run I placed the sewing machine on the bottom shelf of the tea trolley and asked my wife to lift it onto the top surface; which she did with ease.
As it stands the tea trolley has raised edges on all sides whereas for a sewing table you need a flat surface. So it was obvious we would need to fix a piece of wood on top, but we wanted it such that the flat surface could easily be placed on top, and to be solidly fixed or locked into place to be stable when in use, but which can be easily and quickly be removed when we want to use the table as a tea trolley; as originally designed.
Also, as the tea trolley, as it stands, is almost the same height as our dining table I did not want to simply place a piece of wood on top with battens on the underside to fit around the tea trolley posts (as a means of holding it in place) as this would raise the height of the sewing table just that little bit too much. My concept was to make a hole in each corner of a piece of wood that would slip over the four corner posts of the tea trolley as a means of locking the work surface into place and bringing it down to the correct height so that when placed next to the dining table the dining table itself becomes a large extension to the work surface for sewing. Thereby multi-purposing the dining room as a sewing room when required for sewing projects, large or small.
The only compromise to the tea trolley is taking just an eighth of an inch off the top of each post to make it flush with the work surface top when the sewing table top is fitted in place over the tea trolley.
Tools and Materials
Which you may need to complete this DIY conversion project
This is a comprehensive list of tools and materials which you may need, dependant on how you tackle a similar project and your choice of finish e.g. varnish, wood stain etc. the tools and materials you use may differ slightly to those listed here.
Materials: Tea trolley; 18mm (3/4 inch) pine timber board; Wood Stain; Beeswax Polish; Wood Glue; 1 inch Panel Pins;
Tools: Drill; Jig saw; Handsaw; Circular saw; Sonicrafter (specialised electric saw); Band saw; Tape Measure; Square; Pencil; Paint brush; Cloth (rag); Wire Wool (Steel Wool), Fine grade; Duster; Electric Sander; Belt sander; Sandpaper; Wood file; Wood chisel; Wood Mallet; Hammer; 2 x small G-clamps e.g. 6 inches.
Step by Step Guide
To Multi-purposing the Tea Trolley as a Sewing Table
This project to work properly requires precision wood working to ensure the final fit is snug so that table top slips onto the four corner posts of the tea trolley to support the table top firmly and prevent movement when in use. My forte is woodworking rather than carpentry otherwise I would have just cut the four holes required straight out of the pine wood top. So my approach was to cut four initially holes as guide and then precision make a square tube and cut that into the pine board; which with a sonicrafter I can do. I used this approach because the blade of the sonicrafter is wider than the posts on the tea trolley; whereas making a wooden square tube to snuggly fit the posts then using the sonicrafter (which does a precision cut) I can make these tubes snuggly fit into the table top; as described in detail below.
Marking Table Top for Tea Trolley
Measuring and Marking
1. Cut your pine board to size to allow a generous overlap around the entire tea trolley. The bigger the board the larger the work area for sewing but the more cumbersome the top becomes; with a risk (if the top is too large) of it tipping up if too much pressure is placed on one edge, and looking silly. For the best aesthetic look and most practical use I opted for a 2 inch overlap as a good compromise.
2. Place the tea trolley (upside down) onto the pine board and position it with an equal overlap all round e.g. 2 inches, and with a pencil mark around each of the four posts onto the pine board so that you know where to cut the initial holes.
Cutting Out Square Holes
Square holes in pine board to fit tea trolley leg posts
3. A simple way to cut each hole is to drill a large hole in each corner of each marked out square, the drill bit should be larger than the blade in your jig saw. Then use the jig saw to cut between each of the four drilled holes, following the pencilled marked line of the square to cut it out.
4. Place the pine board over the tea trolley to test for fit, and if required e.g. if one or more holes are slightly too small, make any adjustments using a mallet and chisel and or wood file etc. However, if using a mallet and chisel place the pine board on top of some sacrificial wood to reduce the risk of undue damage on the underside.
Making Wooden Square Tube
To fit around corner leg posts of tea trolley
5. Using surplus wood from the offcut of the pine board cut four pieces wood of which the width should be the same as the thickness of the post plus the thickness of the table top; and the length should be in excess of four time the thickness of the pine board plus excess to allow for the thickness of four saw cuts; see the images below for a visual guide.
6. Loosely fit the four pieces around the leg post of the tea trolley sticking through the pine board to gauge a good fit; make any minor adjustments if required e.g. sanding down if the wood pieces are a little too wide, or discarding this first attempt and redoing it with a fresh piece of offcut.
7. Once satisfied with the loose fit, while the square tube of wood is positioned around the leg post glue and pin; using the minimal number of pins because later when it comes to slicing this tube into four square rings there is always a risk of having to saw through some of the pins. At this point you are aiming for a square tube that does not fit tightly over the corner posts but with just a little give e.g. about 1 millimetre overall so that when fitted properly and in use it will be a firm fit but with just enough give so that it will lift off and go back on without too much effort.
8. Clamp the square wooden tube if required and leave it overnight to ensure the glue is fully set.
Cutting Square Wooden Rings
To fit into pine board around tea trolley corner posts
9. Using a cut off from the pine board pencil mark the thickness onto the side of the square wooden tube, square off and pencil mark on all sides with a square.
10. Use a band saw or fretsaw to cut the first square ring, ensuring you cut on the outside of the pencil line so that the wooden square ring is slightly wider than the thickness of the pine board e.g. so that once fitted it can be sanded down flat with the surface to ensure a good finish. Repeat the process to cut the other three square rings.
11. With the pine board in place on top of the tea trolley and the corner posts protruding through the holes previously cut, place the first wooden square ring over one of the protruding posts and pencil mark around the outer edge.
Sonicrater and Tool Kit
A Versatile electric Tool
In this DIY project I use the Sonicrafter to cut precision square holes. The Sonicrafter is one tool I use almost as much as any other these days. It also has attachments to cut, saw, scrape, sand, shape, polish, and remove grout; albeit I use it prominently for sawing.
Cut Square Holes With a Sonicrafter
And fit wooden square rings into pine board
12. Use a sonicrafter to cut precisely on the pencil line, rather than on the outside of the line (as you normally would) to ensure a tight fit of the wooden square ring. This is my favourite bit as the sonicrafter is a precision saw ideally suited for this type of task, which guarantees a precise and clean cut.
13. All being well, when you offer the square wooden ring to the square hole just cut out with the sonicrafter it should be a tight fit; if so just add a bit of wood glue to the sides of the square hole and lightly tap the square wooden ring into place, so that it is flush on the underside and slightly proud on the upper side of the pine board (this will get sanded flush later). If it is a loose fit also secure with a couple of panel pins, driven in from the side on the inside of the wooden square ring; or if it is too tight then file the inside of the square hole slightly until you achieve a good tight fit.
14. Place the pine board back onto the tea trolley top to test the fit of the newly fitted square ring and to line the pine wood board up on the tea trolley for repeating the process for marking out the position of each of the other square wooden rings and cutting the square holes in the pine board to fit. It is important to repeat the process one at a time of retesting the fit and marking out for cutting the next square hole rather than cutting all the holes all at once; as you are looking to achieve an overall fit which will be firm but not too tight, and by fitting one square ring at a time the pine wood board will be realigned each time by just a fraction of an inch which can be accommodated for in the next hole cut.
How to use a Sonicrafter
I find this tool extremely useful for projects like the one in this how-to article, and as demonstrated in this video of mine for making fitted shelves.
The power of the sonicrafter is it is a precision tool that cuts neatly and is very useful for cutting wood in awkward places that would be hard to do using more conventional tools.
Fitting Table Top to Tea Trolley
Final fit and finish
15. Once all for square wooden rings are fitted, sand them all level and smooth (on both sides of the pine board) with a belt sander; and round off all sides and corners of the pine board with a sander or by hand with sandpaper. Optionally, you could round off the edges of the pine board with a decorative finish using a router and suitable router bit.
Final Finish and Ready for Use
Wood Stain and Polish
16. Finally, make good with your desired finish e.g. varnish, wood stain or paint; add a good coat of bees wax and buff up ready for use either as a tea trolley and or sewing machine when required. And because the finished trolley conversion is the same height as the dining table for large sewing project the dining table can act as a handy extension table to the converted sewing table.
Visual Step by Step Guide - How to multipurpose your tea trolleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Beyond the Original Concept
Design exceeding all expectations
A simple design of placing a board of wood over a tea trolley to convert it into a sewing table; and the removable top also makes a handy serving tray which could be used to carry plates and food from the kitchen onto the patio and or be used as a serving area placed as a centre piece on the patio bench. The only thing missing are feet, which is easily resolved as I had previously bought a pack of 1/4 inch high clear plastic self-adhesive feet for another project, and still have some spare in the shed.
Also with the new top fitted the tea trolley also makes a handy additional work surface in the kitchen; just remove the sewing machine from the lower shelf (and leave it in the dining room) and wheel the trolley out to the kitchen. or use the tea trolley on the patio, especially when having a BBQ, it works equally well for presenting food (rolls and nibbles etc.) with or without the new top fitted.
Therefore the simple addition of an easily removable flat surface top to the tea trolley certainly does make the original tea trolley multipurpose for a variety of uses.
Multipurpose vs Dedicated Furniture: Space Saving Ideas
Is your preference to multi-purposing furniture or buy furniture dedicated for a specific purpose?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Arthur Russ