Not Martha

to make: cutting table

My cork.

We cut the hardboard in three panels to cover the table top. It cut easily enough by scoring it with a utillity knife a few times.

The hardboard layed out and screwed to the table in the corners of each panel.

We traced the table directly onto the cork sheet, pencil marked well enough.

The cork cut nicely with the utility knife.

We positioned the cork exactly as it was to be glued down, then weighted it with books.

We used contact cement, rubber cement’s older, more serious relative. My Lovely Assistant is giving the contact cement bunny ears for it’s debut photo.

We flipped up one end, brushed contact cement onto the tabletop, and the cork, let dry, then carefully smoothed it down in place.

One end is glued, working on the middle.

Gluing the last end.

Cross section, cork on top, hardboard, table.

Wrapped the table top like any box.

Brown paper secured underneath withe masking tape.

Ta da!

To see even more pictures of the process (which I put together more for my own reference) click here for a pop-up window with all the details.

Having the right tools for any project is so very nice. Now that I’m starting to sew more I found I had the same problem as everyone else, lack of a work surface. The costume shops I worked in (in the distant past) were outfitted with brown paper covered cork surfaced tables. Big tables, usually made of 8′ x 4′ theatre platforms up on 3′ plywood legs. They were perfect for laying out fabric, securing it down with draping pins (those heavy silver push pins) and tracing patterns. You can also jot notes directly onto the table top, have no fear when using those needle sharp tracing wheels. You don’t have to worry about nicking the table (or your super sharp scissors). And whenever the brown paper gets ripped up or dirty you simple take it off and re-cover the table. I needed one, I had to have one of these tables for my very own. I happened to have a table top from Ikea I had been lugging from apartment to apartment with me for years. And so the plan was hatched.

to sum up
Get or make a table which is kitchen counter height, glue a sheet of 1/4″ to 1/2″ cork down to cover the entire top surface, cover it with brown paper which is secured underneath with masking tape, and there you go.

a bit more information
In The Costume Technician’s Handbook by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey they talk about the cutting table.

“The ideal cutting table should be a flat, sturdy surface, wide enough to lay out a 45-inch wide piece of fabric, and between six and eight feet long. It should stand about waist high. You should be able to stick pins into the cutting table surface to hold your patterns and fabrics in place. In many shops the cutting tables are covered with 1/2-inch thick cork sheets. Cork makes a beautiful working surface, but it does have some disadvantages. It’s expensive, hard to clean if something is accidentally spilled on it, and, after a couple of years of use, cork bits begin to chip away. A practical cutting table surface can be created with a sheet of homosote (also called wallboard, fiberboard, or building board) covered with muslin, brown paper, or plastic sheeting. When you need to fashion temporary cutting tables, use folding banquet tables or ping-pong tables and set them up on wooden blocks, bricks, or cinderblocks. Cover a sheet of homosote, lay it on top, and you’re in business.”

The only example of a costume shop cutting table I could find online is this A Wardrobe Cutting Table at the Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology. This article focuses on the construction of the table, with a lip around the table top and storage drawers at each end. “The top is made of a full sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, with the cork work surface glued to that.” In this picture you can see the brown paper held down by masking tape. And 4′ x 8′ x 6mm bulletin-board cork is listed in the list of construction materials.

I had the table top already – 31″ wide by 59″. I decided that adjustable legs from Ikea would be great – they have a few which are adjustable up to 36″ or so.

After some pathetic poking around Home Depot and office supply places, Lisa (thank you Lisa!) pointed out that The Cork Store sells rolls of cork in small amounts. This was exactly what I was looking for. I ordered BB13, which is an cheaper composite, 6.0mm thick, roughly 1/4″. My table is just under five feet long, so I ordered 6′ to have plenty.

I wanted something to protect my pins from possibly getting dulled by hitting the table top underneath the cork. In hindsight I probably don’t need this. At Home Depot we found hardboard (which is like pegboard without the holes), which came in 4′ x 2′ sheets for pretty cheap. We bought three to fit over the table. These cut very well using a utility knife. We screwed the hardboard to the table top.

We bought contact cement, rubber cement’s more serious older brother, to secure the cork to the hardboard. We used it along each end of the table, and on either side of the middle. I was worried about getting the ends of pins sticky so we left the middle of the cork without glue.

Altogether this project took about 4 hours, with all of our bumbling around finding the right screws and tools. This doesn’t count the two (!) trips to Ikea in the attempt to find suitable table legs. And best of all I have plenty of cork left over.

And, I just realized, this would work very well as a blocking table for knitting projects. I could mark a grid on the paper, cover it with a sheet of clear plastic and just pin the item down. Now I just have to knit something which is big enough to require blocking.

To see even more pictures of the process (which I put together more for my own reference) click here for a pop-up window with all the details.

what I would do differently
If I had more room in my house I would have used a 48″ wide table, my Ikea table top is about 31″ wide. After having used it for a few days I would suggest putting a layer of homosote (instead of something like hardboard) inbetween unless you have cork thicker than 6mm. I’m finding I need the extra surface to dig into with pins. And I probably would have glued the hell out of the cork, using a wood glue which one can squirt out, brushing the contact cement on was tedious.

Perhaps I wouldn’t cut the cork exactly to size before attaching it to the table top. It makes sense to cut the cork with about 2″ of overlap on all sides, gluing it down flat, then flipping the table top over (so the cork is underneath) and trimming off the excess. I didn’t think about this until after the fact, of course. My table worked out fine but there was some worry about getting everything to line up nicely.

07.10.02: On a recent trip home to visit family I discovered my Dad is years ahead of me on this. My brother builds (and flys) radio control airplanes. My father built him a large working table, 3′ high, the suface covered in a huge sheet of 6 or 8 mm homosote. This table is uncovered, since it’s meant to be messed up, and has lasted at least 6 years of paint, solvents, gouges, hot irons and major power tools. I should have consulted higher up on the Reardon Project Family Tree before I set out!


30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 anita // Dec 22, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    This is so smart. I hate for my honey to spend money we don’t have. And you provided the the answer. Thank-you…and Happy Holidays!!!:)

  • 2 Linda // Feb 13, 2007 at 8:09 am

    I am looking to purchase a roll of cork to use behind a dart board and can not seem it 1/2 inch thick. Can you help?

  • 3 Kelly // Jul 12, 2007 at 11:40 am

    I have used homasote (sp) in the past, do the pins sink into the cork far enough?

  • 4 megan // Jul 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Kelly – I find it to work out great, but I’m not certain how much of my pins are biting into the homasote.

  • 5 Jenn // Jul 24, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Great idea for a cutting table! Seems like you could use a peice of cheep cotton or muslin in place of the paper, it might last a bit longer and you wouldn’t have to wory about marking it up with pin holes. Of course you can’t realy write on it then..

  • 6 megan // Jul 24, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Jenn – Part of the appeal of a paper covered table is that you can slide large lengths of delicate fabric over top and arrange it flat so that the fabric isn’t pulling one way or the other. That way you know your cut pieces won’t be distorted. With a muslin topped table I’m afraid arranging a yard or more of fabric would be tricky.

  • 7 Wendy // Sep 7, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    When I was setting up a similar project my Dh suggested using a large piece of 2″ thick foam insulation left over from a construction project. We wrapped it in butcher paper, and voila–super cheap, very easily replaceable, and definitely deep enough for draping pins. After 5+ years I replaced it for about $4, and still had enough foam left to make a huge quilt design board (about 6 ft by 4 ft).

  • 8 minemee // Oct 16, 2007 at 6:08 am

    I’m trying to make the same table. Why do you have to wrap the table with the paper or muslin? Wouldn’t a rotary cutter just cut right through the paper?

  • 9 megan // Oct 16, 2007 at 7:45 am

    Minemee – I have a large plastic cutting mat, I prefer the Olfa ones, which I pull out to use whenever I have to cut something. Otherwise, I use the table primarily to pin fabric in place while I’m marking it. This works well for slippery or very delicate fabrics that shift around quite a lot.

  • 10 Snow Bird // Nov 9, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Folks in my studio ( aka the utility room but it’s got windows, built in shelves and a cement floor that I can’t ruin) I have 2 found pieces of hard wood that my dad made into tables. They are supported by the wall with a hinge on one end and 2 lengths of chain hung from the rafters at the other. I can disconnect them drop the tables down when I don’t need them. This has not happened yet though….
    Since they are up against the wall cutting large fabrics was a challenge- even with O Weights. That is until Dad came up with an idea of attaching a smooth copper rod to the wall just above one of the tables and about a 1/2 inch away from the wall. ( It will spin) Now I put the end of the fabric under the rod and pull it over – and the selvages line up with no problem – and they stay there since the rod holds the fabric in place! The chains by the way make a handy place to hang garment pieces on a hanger while you are working, or with clothes pins .

  • 11 excited » kelleyroooooo // Mar 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    […] I’ve got a really great idea for the empty bedroom in my house. It’s going to be part craft room, part studio! I found an awesome diy craft/cutting table that I’d like to try out for sewing and making my jewelries. Then I’ll use the opposite wall to hang backdrops and setup lights and things. It’s going to be fabulous I tell ya. Just fabulous. […]

  • 12 Foil : Simple + Handmade » Add Height to Your Cutting Table // Sep 2, 2008 at 11:27 am

    […] […]

  • 13 Nikki // Nov 12, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I LOVE it. I had been thinking of something very similar, but the brown paper cover is a new idea for me. That would really help in moving projects along faster. Now I can sketch out and pin down my ideas to the same stable surface. Neat.

  • 14 Kris // May 28, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    What a brilliant idea. Why don’t we borrow from the pros more often??? Thanks for all the detail. I learned from this!

  • 15 tbrew // Sep 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    can this table also be used for ironing? the cork will be okay?

  • 16 megan // Sep 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    tbrew – No, you cannot iron on this table. I don’t know if cork could take the heat of an iron but I suspect not, especially not the type of processed cork mat I have used here.

  • 17 Carole // Sep 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Great article, love the brown paper idea. Perhaps first covering the table with foam core (inexpensive, lightweight, comes in large sheets, about 1/4″ thick – find it at Staples or Office Max) and then using the brown paper. I use foam core to construct my quilting design walls. I cover the foam core with low loft batting and flannel and use 1″ finishing nails to nail the board to the wall. You can stick pins in the foam core with no problem – doesn’t hurt the pins. My last design wall lasted 5 years and the only reason I took it down was to make an interstate move.

    You can’t iron on foam core, but I use a shelf from a melamine bookcase covered in flannel as an ironing surface and it lays on my table all the time. If I don’t need it, I just lift it off and store under the table. Hope this helps someone out there.

  • 18 Emma // Oct 5, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Actually, you CAN iron on it! Or at least that’s what we do at our costume shop. Our cutting tables and our ironing tables are both exactly the same – huge sheets of cork. But we cover them with canvas, not paper.

    Of course, it’s a university costume shop with a dozen employees and two dozen students, so we’d be replacing the paper constantly! As it is, the muslin canvas gets changed out every year or so.

  • 19 Judy // Nov 19, 2009 at 6:45 am

    you can also use the homasote covered with a layer of felt and then cover it with shower curtain fabric(nylon) bought by the yd. You can iron on it, make lines and pin all you want:-)

  • 20 Tina // Oct 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Ok, but can you use these tables with a rotary mat and rotary cutter? Is it firm enough? I sew clothing and quilts. I even use my small rotary cutter to cut out patterns sometimes. If I lay the mat over the canvas covered cork would it be firm enough for cutting with a rotary cutter?

  • 21 megan // Oct 8, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Tina – Yes, I simply put a large rotary mat on top and have been cutting fabric that way for years now.

  • 22 Michelle Brown // May 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    What about using cork floor tiles? They would be thicker, and you can get 18 square feet tiles (approx) for around $60 at our local Lowes dept store. Also, don’t they make cork pot trivets? I am wondering to what temperature they are heat resistant (for ironing on)

  • 23 megan // May 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Michelle – If you’re mostly planning on pinning fabric down I think cork tile would be fine, but the way I use this cutting table I do a lot of tracing onto fabric and I think even the seams from tile would cause enough frustration that I would regret it. If cork is unavailable using the suggestion cited above to get a sheet of homosote from a hardware store would work better.

    I will also mention that I do not use this table for ironing. And watching shows like Project Runway I see those designers use normal hard topped tables so perhaps the method I learned on is out of date or specific to the theater. I worked in a few professional theater costume shops and they used cork topped tables at the time.

  • 24 Kim // Jan 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    I’m by no imagination a seamstress, and don’t have a “sewing room” or “design studio”. I do have a dining room table, but would need to put my sewing materials away at the end of each session. I like the idea of wrapping a sheet of foam insulation with the craft paper, because it would be really lightweight and portable. Would the 2″ thick insulation be thick enough to protect the wood finish on my table? Would you suggest gluing felt along the bottom to prevent the craft paper from scratching the table surface? Please advise.

  • 25 megan // Jan 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Kim – I wouldn’t suggest you use a nice wood table to pin things the way I do, instead get a set of weights to hold your fabric in place. And if your table is delicate enough that you’re afraid of craft paper scratching it I would suggest maybe getting some oilcloth instead. Something you could roll up, but whose surface is smooth enough that you can slide your fabrics across it. Have fun out there!

  • 26 mamadobble // Mar 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I just bought my cork for a lot cheaper at Just thought I would pass that along :P

    Thanks for the awesome DIY!!

  • 27 Bill // Jun 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great DIY table! I’ll make a little larger one for scratch built RC planes, thanks! I have an alternative covering scheme for fabric cutting tables: I worked in my father’s tailor shops operating within his men’s clothing stores when I was a kid where I handled trouser alterations. Of course I used a rule, yardstick, tailors chalk (wax) and shears so I would have needed a cutting mat for pattern cutting with rotary cutters like the Olfas. All plywood topped work spaces were covered with natural (not dyed so a buff color) heavy cotton canvas twill over a 1/2″ layer compressed from about a 1″ of polyester spun padding such as furniture makers use for the wrap on sofa cushions to separate the inner foam from the covering fabric. The canvas, stretched tightly and so compressing the padding underneath, was secured with 1/4″ staples applied liberally on the underside of the table tops near the edge of the canvas, which was folded back about 3/4″ at the edges and heat fused with 1/2″ fusing tape forming a hem for maximum hold at just under an inch from the edges. Notes and quick sketches could be made with the white tailors chalk and erased with a short blast of steam from the iron. Pin all you want with no deterioration of the surface which was firm with give. The work spaces, benches, tables, small sleeve ironing boards, everything was identically covered and changed easily as needed since nothing was glued down but never more often than every couple of years and that was due to soiling more that deterioration. These were volume shops whee every garment sold passed though the tailor shops for at least cuffs and pressing. I walked in to find 100 pair of trousers waiting for me one Friday after high school all promised for Saturday pick-up since a goodly share of Monday – Thursday’s sales are usually promised for Saturday but there had begun a big sale on Monday and the problem hadn’t been caught until that morning when the next days pickups were pulled for marking. Waws glad to finish at 7:30 AM on Saturday earning overtime on $2.25/hr. According to my dad that’s how the shop tables were covered when he bought the one store from grandfather in 1945 and how they are covered today and also just like every tailor shop for men’s clothing Ive ever seen, are covered today. Years later, and ago in my leather factory where I manufactured belts and other things from leather straps, a half dozen 4′ x ‘8 tables had the hardboard glued down over plywood and we used large Olfa cutting mats as needed.

  • 28 Mary // Jun 26, 2012 at 8:13 am

    From the comments on this blog I just ordered a sheet of NovaCork made from homasote and covered with a layer of cork for the two tiered cutting table I am making. the bottom tier will be storage with the whole table being about 37.5 ” tall :)
    Looking at the other creative things Megan has on here I don’t know which one I want to try next!!

  • 29 Mardee // Jan 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    The cutting tables in my old costume shop were covered with a layer of homasote, and then muslin was stretched over it and stapled down. After that, the muslin was painted with a thin coat of white paint. The paint kept the muslin from eventually stretching and had the advantage of providing a writing/drawing surface for the draper and first hands.

  • 30 Rapunzel // Aug 24, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for this! I’ve seen a tailor working at what she called a theater costume table and wondered how it was made.

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