Upholstery Cutting Table

One of the most important tools of any upholstery shop is a cutting table. A cutting table is used for many things beside just cutting fabric. Here we will look at some of the ideas behind the sizes and how it is used. Because the tables for upholstery is very specific, and it's not very easy to find one the right size, most upholsterers build their own tables. But, how big should you make it?

Table Top Size

A 10 to 12 foot table is a good size, but it depends on your use and the amount of space you have.
Because most upholstery fabric is 54" wide, plus the selvage, having your table 60" wide is very efficient. You want the table to be wide enough to hold the fabric width, but you also want to be able to reach the middle of the table from either side. For the table length, you need it long enough to hold the roll of fabric plus the full length of the cut-lengths of the sofas (inside back, outside back, etc.). But, it you only have room for an 8' table, you can make a hinged section for the ends that folds down to the floor. Then, for the times when you need the length, you can fold it up while you are using it, then fold it down again.

Some people have their tables 48" wide, while others may have their tables 8 foot by 8 foot. Some tables are very short 6', 8', or 10', while others may be very long. The size depends upon your space, needs and preferences.

I use a 5' X 10' table. If I had the space, I'd rather have a 12' table. But the 10' table does the job. In my last house, when I had even less space, I made the last 2' of the table fold down (on hinges) for the times when I needed a longer table. I'd recommend you having at least a 10' table, if at all possible.

Table Height

Having your table the correct height can make your job of cutting much more enjoyable. You will spend long hours spend bending over this table, so make sure you build it the correct height. How do you figure that out? One way is to to your kitchen table (or another utility table) and bend over it, as though you were cutting fabric on the table. Get some blocks of wood and put under the table legs and try it at various heights. Or, if the table is too high for you, stand on various thicknesses of wood until you find the right height. Then measure from where you stood to the top of the table. As a note, I'm 5'11 and my cutting table is 34" high. It could even be up to a couple inches higher for me.

Another consideration of height is that sometimes some of us climb on the table to cut some of the fabric. In this case it helps to not have the table too high to climb on (although having a stool handy is also helpful)

A third consideration is your correct ergonomic height* (see note* at bottom of page), which says that the table height should 1" below your elbow.

A fourth consideration is: Will you be using the table for anything besides a cutting table? In my little shop, the cutting table has many uses. Sometimes I put a chair or footstool on the table to work on. If the table is at the correct ergonomic height*, then the chair will be too high to work on comfortably. So, in planning your height, consider how you will be using your table.

Building the Table

You can make your cutting table any size you want. Figure that you'll need to have room for your roll of fabric and whatever you'll be putting on your table. The cutting table is only one part of the equation. How much other tables and equipment will you have in your room.

Before I laid out my shop, I made a "to scale" layout of where each item was going, like this:

(click on drawing to enlarge)

When you do a layout, measure you room, doors, windows, etc. Then measure the floor size of everything that needs to be in the workroom. I used a drawing software to make the drawing. (the software needs to be able to draw to scale) Then you can keep rearranging until everything fits. This will also help you to see how large your cutting table can be. Putting in the effort to plan it out at the beginning can save you a lot of grief in the end.

The Table Top

How you make the top of the table depends upon how you will use it. The table top is often make out of plywood. If I remember correctly, in the past I have been able to get 5' X 9' plywood sheets. Nowadays, when I'm building a cutting table, because other sizes are much harder to find, I usually use 4' X 8' plywood sheets. Depending upon the length of my table, I cut 2 or 3 sheets off at 5' length, and then run the 5' length across the width of my table.

Because I also use my cutting table as an ironing table, and I also use it to pin fabrics in place, my cutting table has a pad, with canvas over the pad..

(Note, the drawing only shows the padding and the top.
The drawing doesn't accurately represent the construction of the table itself.)

Then, over the top of the canvas is a vinyl slip cover that slides on and off. Whenever I have something to iron, I take the vinyl cover off and do my ironing. Then I put the vinyl cover back on. So, you can say I have a 5' X 10' ironing table. However, most of the time when I have something small to iron, I'll just lift up a corner other the vinyl to expose a corner of my ironing surface.


Table In Use

My cutting table is well used essential part of my shop. It always has stuff flowing on and off of it. From my perspective I prefer to have the cutting table be as large as my small shop can handle, because it is the most used area of my shop.
My big table does often get cluttered with stuff, but it's mainly with the parts of the job that I'm working on. Here's how I use my table.

  • Firstly, I thoroughly clean off my table (and my shop) between jobs. When I'm finished with a job, I put everything back into the cupboards, shelves, and tool racks where they belong
  • Next, while my table is clear, I measure all the cuts needed and do a layout.
  • Then I roll out the fabric and cut all the pieces needed, As I cut them I lay the pieces aside.
  • When all the pieces are cut, I organize them, by laying each group together on various piles on the table. For example all the cushion pieces (welts, cushion tops, zipper pieces) all go in one pile, etc., the arm pieces in another, the IB pieces in yet another pile.
  • Then as I do the job I'll grab each pile and put the pieces together as needed, and, if needed, trimming any pieces down to an exact size.
  • Sometimes, if my shop is full, after the fabric is cut, I'll put a chair or a chair seat on the table and work on it there.

Cleaning the Table
One thing to keep in mind, if you have a large shop, you might want to have two cutting tables, which is very handy. However, if you only have ONE table, as I do, it's much easier to keep it clean because you have to keep it clean for the next job. There is no place else to do your cutting.


Thanks to Dede, Jan, Bern & Bob at Carrscorner.com for some of the ideas and inspiration used in this article.


*Table Height

Optimum Height of the Workstation

In developing an industrial workstation, a designer shouldtake into account the height of the workstation. When the area is too high,workers must frequently lift their shoulders up, and this may cause painfulcramps near the shoulder blades, and in the neck and shoulders. On the other hand, when the working height is too low, the back must be excessively bowedand this causes backache. Therefore, the work table height must be compatible with worker height, whether standing or sitting. Konz (1967) found that the best working height is about 2.5 cm (1
below the elbow, however, the working height can vary several centimeters up or down without any significant effect on performance. For determining proper workstation height Konz (1990) has recommended three
different approaches; (1) make available several work surface heights, (2) adjust the operator’s elbow rather than the height of the workstation, which can be adjust by utilizing an adjustable chair or providing a platform to stand on if necessary, and (3) adjust the height of the work on the workbench.

(Advances in Industrial Ergonomics VI, Editor F.Aghazadeh, pg 279)